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February 07, 2002 - Image 17

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-02-07

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12B - The Michigan Daily - Weekend Magazine - Thursday, February 7, 2002
Deconstructing a taboo: the N-word in depth

The Michigan Daily - Weekend Magazine

Sexy Grandpa: Bursley's
secret star reveals all

By Michael Grass
Daily Arts Writer

black), to a 1689 Brooklyn, N.Y.
estate inventdry list mentioning a

Warning: If the N-word makes you
uncomfortable, don't read any far-
ther. 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 open-
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 ety-
mology. In a few pages, Kennedy
takes readers from niger (Latin for

niggor boy, to the
Central website's
"Nigger Ghetto
Gazette" joke list to the
use of the word in
Frederick Douglass'
autobiography and
Chris Rock's comedy
Kennedy bombards
readers with the word
at every turn to desen-
sitize it, so the word
can be better under-
stood. It's an uncom-
fortable, but necessary

By Randall

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
R: THE this day, the American
NGE judicial system is still
R OF A grappling with how the
word may or may not
LESOME affect provocation,
RD criminal motive, pun-
ishment and an indi-
vidual's sanity during a
n Books crime.
In later chapters,
Kennedy tackles cur-
rent struggles with the word. In an
increasingly politically correct soci-
ety 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 accept-
ance 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 start-
ed a petition drive to have it
"removed or redefined" from
Merriam-Webster's 10th edition dic-
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 eradicat-
ed 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.

By Luke Schmerberg
For the Daily

start to a better comprehension of
the word.
The second chapter of the book

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A look at the
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If you've ever dined at Bursley
Residence Hall (the oft-forgotten,
rarely visited "Quad of the North"),
then you've seen him. He's there for
lunch and dinner every day, and is
always in the second service line.
His presence alone may be consid-
ered the reason for Bursley's domi-
nation of campus cafeterias. He is
instantly recognizable by the hat
which spawned his name, "Sexy
Grandpa." The Daily decided to
decipher the secrets of this mysteri-
ous figure and unearth the ways of
"Sexy. "
The Michigan Daily: Since you
are the University's" most popular
cafeteria worker, we at the Daily
would like to know a little bit about
Sexy Grandpa: Well, I started
here, I believe it was in September
of 1988, and I started as a cook,
went to a kitchen cleaner for a short
period of time, and January of 1990
is when I started this position out
here on the counter serving.
TMD: What made you come to
the University, specifically?
SG: Well, it might sound kind of
silly, but the design of their football
helmets is what fascinated me.
TMD: So are you from the area?
SG: I actually live in Adrian,
probably about 42 miles south of
here, and I've been driving that
back and forth. It takes me about an
hour, either by pickup or by motor-
TMD: Your truck has a license
plate that says "SEXY G?"
SG: That came about probably
four years ago. A lot of the students
said that I ought to get a plate that
said that, and I didn't know if they'd
do it! So I went to the Secretary of
State, and talked to them, and then I
had it.
TMD: Does the motorcycle have
any special plates?
SG: It would if they made them
for motorcycles, but they don't.
TMD: What do you think about
the "U-M Burlodge" T-shirts that
have your picture on them?
SG: It's still pretty overwhelming
to think that they would even do
that. A couple of the Bursley
Council people got the first round
of the shirts, and they had the solid
maize and blue "Michigan
Burlodge" with my picture on the
back. To my knowledge, they
ordered 100 T-shirts to see how
they'd pan out, and 50 of them had
my picture on them. They said that
my T-shirts sold out in an hour and
15 minutes. So, they re-ordered two
or three times, and I think they sold
around 1,200. Some of our foreign
students, they say that I'm not only
University known, I'm internation-
ally known too, you could say.
TMD: And they have the yellow
shirts this year. Which one do you

SG: I think I would prefer the
blue ones. I still can't believe it
really, it's quite an honor, really.
TMD: What's the fun part of the
SG: I like it when the pressure's on.
It adds to it, but it's just serving the
students. I guess it's just my destiny to
serve them. Also, when I get this kind
of response for the work I do.
TMD: Is there any dish that is
more fun to serve?
SG: I guess Chicken Broccoli
Bake is my best. It seems to draw a
lot of requests. I mean, you can
either serve it with rice, or chow
mein noodles. I prefer chow mein
TMD: Is there one dish to be
wary of?
SG: Well, I don't know if I'm at
libertyatobcomment on something
like that, but I can't think of one.
TMD: Obviously, a huge part of
your persona is the hat.
SG: This hat has been in opera-
tion, it's been in the system, for
probably going on 10 years now.
TMD: So it's been the same hat
since the beginning?
SG: Yes it has.
TMD: Ever worked without the
SG: Well, there's been a very few
times that I've been without the hat
- like this last year when the
Diamondbacks took the World
Series, out of respect for my son,
who got me a Diamondbacks hat.
My hat never left the building, it
was downstairs in my locker. I got a
lot of people asking, "Where's the
hat Gramps? Where's the haf?"
Well, it's always in the area.
TMD: When did you start getting
comments on the hat?
SG: Probably about the second
year that I wore it, that was proba-
bly about 1991-92. I got about two
out of every three or four students
would say something like, "Nice hat
Gramps, like the hat!"
TMD: Over your long tenure
here, what's been your best memo-
SG: Probably the first Michigan
home football game I went to. Since
Bursley hous'es most of the marching
band, I asked them how I could get
tickets, and they would tell me,
"Y'know Gramps, don't worry about
it, you take care of us here, and we'll
take care of you down there." So I
got some tickets from the band.
TMD: Like the student section?
SG: Oh yeah. They like for me to
wear the hat down there.
TMD: Favorite Muppet? Any
attachment to the Swedish Chef?
SG: The Muppets? I kind of like
when Kermit gets into it with the two
older guys up in the balcony, I can't
think of their names, but they'd cut
up just like I would. They kind of
remind me of myself.
TMD: Stones or Beatles?
SG: Beatles.
TMD: All the way?
SG: Yeah.

TMD: What exactly is in the buf-
falo burgers?
SG: Well, what they say is they're
about 95 percent beef and about 5
percent buffalo.
TMD: Since you're the Sexy
Grandpa, do you have any special
plans for Valentine's Day?
SG: No special plans, but I tend to
go out of the way with my grandkids,
I like to spoil them. Up here, I get
little cards from some of the students
just showing their appreciation.
TMD: With the snow now falling,
what are your thoughts on traying?
SG: I wouldn't mind it. I'd almost
hand them out if I though they would
bring them back. I like to go out and
play in the snow myself!
TMD: Lastly, all the men on cam-
pus need to know; how do you stay
SG: Well, you had to ask that one,
didn't you? I like to think I'm more
of the athletic type, I like to stay
pretty much active. I get into a lot of
bicycle riding, a lot of benefit riding
for MS. I don't take it serious, I just.
get in and workout, try to stay

Sexy Grandpa struts his stuff and twirls I
Bursley dining hall.

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