Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), the New York congresswoman who is mounting a primary challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, made headlines this week for using the N-word in recounting a phone call from a Puerto Rican upset with Gillibrand's support for English-only education. (Here's how Maloney was originally quoted in New York publication City Hall, where she quoted the caller's use of the full word: "In fact, I got a call from someone from Puerto Rico, said [Gillibrand] went to Puerto Rico and came out for English-only [education]. And he said, 'It was like saying n--r to a Puerto Rican,'" she said, using the full racial slur. "I don't know--I don't know if that's true or not. I just called. I'm just throwing that out. All of her--well, what does she stand for?")
...Too bad Lenny Bruce wasn't around to hear her. He used racial and ethnic slurs purposefully, repeatedly, to deprive them of their power. As free speech stalwart Nat Hentoff recalled in a 2000 interview, Bruce "used to come into the Vanguard Stage, and at this time, that was probably the most integrated audience of all kinds, sexual preference, color, religion, no religion. He'd come up and look around and say, "Any kikes here tonight? Any niggers? And spicks?" The place would freeze. What dybbuk got into this guy? Then he'd say, "All right, now, why do you get paralyzed by words? Why don't you try to figure out why those words have that effect?"