Warning: If the N-word makes you uncomfortable, don”t read any farther. Or perhaps, you should.

Harvard Law School Prof. Randall Kennedy”s new book “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” (Pantheon Books, $22) not only engages the word nigger head on, but also dissects it culturally and legally, all in a no-nonsense approach that is thoughtful, meticulous and eye opening.

In order for readers to deal with the word and its various uses and meanings on a basic analytical level, Kennedy starts out with simple etymology. In a few pages, Kennedy takes readers from niger (Latin for black), to a 1689 Brooklyn, N.Y. estate inventory list mentioning a niggor boy, to the KKKomedy Central website”s “Nigger Ghetto Gazette” joke list to the use of the word in Frederick Douglass” autobiography and Chris Rock”s comedy routine.

Kennedy bombards readers with the word at every turn to desensitize it, so the word can be better understood. It”s an uncomfortable, but necessary start to a better comprehension of the word.

The second chapter of the book focuses on the effects of the word nigger on U.S. legal history. Through numerous examples, Kennedy shows how the word has played a powerful role over the years in the courts and that even to this day, the American judicial system is still grappling with how the word may or may not affect provocation, criminal motive, punishment and an individual”s sanity during a crime.

In later chapters, Kennedy tackles current struggles with the word. In an increasingly politically correct society in which respectable sectors have shunned the word, where exactly does “nigger” fit? Kennedy explores the more recent battles over the word to show that the controversy over “nigger” will continue for years to come. Bill Cosby chastises “Def Comedy Jam” for the casual acceptance of the word in routines. Schools have been consistently taking Mark Twain”s “Huckelberry Finn” off reading lists because “nigger” appears some 215 times. In 1997, an Ypsilanti computer technician started a petition drive to have it “removed or redefined” from Merriam-Webster”s 10th edition dictionary.

If you read the book to find out if it is OK for a white person to use the word when black people toss it around as a sign of affection, Kennedy does not give any simple answers. Through his thorough examination of “nigger,” Kennedy shows how understanding the word and understanding race in the United States go hand in hand. While some people would like the word eradicated from the American lexicon, Kennedy aptly recognizes “the word is simply to important to ignore.”

As demonstrated in the book, one word can indeed be a very powerful thing. Although “Nigger” is a quick read, Kennedy”s book is packed with hard facts and enlightening analysis. Don”t be surprised if it appears on your syllabus next semester because understanding race relations in the U.S. would be incomplete without engaging and comprehending this taboo racial epitaph.

Kennedy is scheduled to speak tomorrow at 8 p.m. at Shamun Drum Bookshop, 315 S. State St. His book is currently No. 18 on The New York Times best-sellers hardcover non-fiction list.

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