Domingo Guyton discusses the evolution of derogatory terms

Domingo Guyton, an accomplished producer, director, and writer delivered his lecture, “The N-Word From Slavery to Hip-Hop,” during a Center for Inclusive Excellence event via Zoom Feb. 23. 

Guyton grew up in Boston in an urban environment. His potential to translate his life lessons shine through his many multimedia achievements. 

His music has been featured on national TV, including networks such as CBS, and he produced his own film, “YTF” (Yesterday, Today, and Forever).

Additionally, Guyton was a drummer for six years, playing alongside a Grammy award-winning artist. 

Guyton started his talk by touching upon his experience in the METCO program. He was bused from Boston to Framingham Public Schools for 11 years. Guyton said he has a “great connection” to Framingham and thanked the audience for the opportunity to speak. 

He asked the audience if they knew the difference between pronouncing the n-word with a hard “R” at the end, or with an “A” at the end – which is common in rap music. 

He then offered an analogy for the n-word. 

“Do murda and murder mean the same thing?” he asked. 

He offered Merriam Webster’s definition of the n-word, “Used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a member of any dark-skinned race.” 

Guyton discussed the earliest use of the n-word in the United States. 

He said the word was used in 1619 to describe slaves that came from African on cargo ships.

Guyton touched upon how slaves worked all day long and were abused at night. Their living conditions were horrendous, families were separated, and the women were raped. 

Guyton said the meaning of n-word has always had a negative connotation, regardless of the time period or context it’s used in. 

“It [the n-word] has always been connected to being less than,” he said. 

Guyton added, “It’s an awful word. Slaves made this country who we are today.” 

Guyton explained how Black people “internalized” the word and began using it to refer to each other. 

He discussed the documentary, “Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives.”

Guyton shared a quote from a slave, William Moore, regarding his master, Marcy Tom. 

“He [Tom] was a fitting man for meanness. He just about had to beat somebody every day to satisfy his cravings. He had a big bullwhip and he would stake a n***** on the ground while making another n***** force his head down into the dirt.” 

Guyton recalled another character from the documentary, a slave named January. 

He read lines from the film, “January was a big, fine-looking n*****, the finest I’d ever seen, he was just four years older than me. When the masters began beating him, January never said a word. The master got madder because he couldn’t make January hurt. Finally, January said, ‘Master, have mercy on this poor n*****!’” 

Guyton said he chose to share these examples because he wanted the audience to hear from individuals who experienced slavery. 

“After the Civil War, they got their independence but they spoke about being on the plantation and what it was like being enslaved. You heard all of them using the n-word but it was not something to be proud of – and it wasn’t a term of endearment,” he said. 

Next, Guyton discussed the Reconstruction Era. 

“The Emancipation Proclamation is the first time in U.S. history that Blacks were treated as equals, but this is also the time the Ku Klux Klan started,” he said.

Guyton touched upon how Confederate soldiers were still walking around trying to scare Black people. 

He said once Black people started voting, running for office, and making money, some white people didn’t support them. 

“Some whites wanted to keep things as close to slavery as possible, so some Blacks were still seen as n****** – were still seen as bad,” Guyton said. 

He then discussed the lynching of Black people. 

Guyton said between 1870 and 1920 more than 2,500 Black people were lynched.

He said some white people who were considered “n***** lovers,” were also lynched. 

Guyton discussed how lynchings became town events that were advertised on postcards. 

“Like a Superbowl, lynchings were the event of the night,” Guyton said. 

He touched upon the book, “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America,” and said we need to understand how the n-word was used during this time period. 

Guyton discussed how the word is used today in the rap community and said, “hardcore gangster rap” was created by the music industry. Rappers did not start using the word until 1992, he said. 

“These rappers made millions and millions of dollars primarily from selling sex, drugs, violence, and a love of money with the use of the word n*****. It’s a violent word,” Guyton said.

He shared a quote from Tupac, “N**** stands for Never Ignorant, Getting Goals Accomplished.” 

Guyton said in addition to the music industry, the word appeared in movies and comedians started using it. 

He explained how “whites control the media,” so Black stereotypes have become ingrained in TV culture. 

“You see them [Black people] as dangerous, oversexed animals,” Guyton said. 

He explained how by 2008, only 10 companies controlled the U.S. media.

“When you’re watching Black entertainment television, you’re not watching Black entertainment. It’s actually run by individuals who are not Black. I don’t think that counts as Black entertainment,” Guyton said. 

He discussed how Clear-channels are particularly uneducated about Black entertainment. 

“This ties in with these media outlets pushing the n-word,” he said.

He touched upon the cultural appropriation of Black music. 

Guyton said hip-hop started off with the poor Blacks and Latinos in the Bronx, but it began to mix with the white punk kids.

He said whites have always been part of Black culture. 

“I don’t believe whites being involved with hip-hop is a form of cultural appropriation,” Guyton said. 

He said, “Tupac stated that n****** were the ones on the Rope hanging off the trees. N****** are the ones with gold ropes hanging out at clubs, will soon be dead by their own mental slavery.” 

Guyton discussed how he knows some white people use the word to refer to themselves because they consider themselves to be disadvantaged and poor. 

He said the goal of his presentation is for people to understand there is no difference between the n-word with a hard “R” at the end, and the n-word with an “A” at the end – because the words are inherently violent. 

Guyton said nobody should be using it, including people of color. 

He touched upon other racist words, such as c**n. 

“It doesn’t have the same sting n***** has,” he said. 

Guyton said although c**n is a horrible word, n***** is used the most frequently among Black people. 

He ended the lecture with a quote from Bob Marley. 

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, nothing but ourselves can free our minds.”