Felipe Luciano ran for City Council two years ago, and he lost by only sixteen votes. Which is too bad, because if he'd won, he likely would have been the only council member to vote against the "N-word" moratorium that passed unanimously yesterday. A generation ago, Luciano wrote a poem that he has since performed widely: "Jibaro, My Pretty Nigger." Jibaro refers to a person from Puerto Rico, and Luciano, who grew up in Harlem, calls himself a black Puerto Rican. "I used the word nigger to defuse its negativity," he told us by phone. "When Puerto Ricans call each other the Spanish word 'negro,' it reflects feelings of love. I think New York blacks picked up 'You my nigger' from Puerto Ricans."
In the sixties Luciano helped found the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican version of the Black Panthers, and belonged to the performance group the Last Poets. Recently, he's worked as a mainstream TV and radio reporter; he spent last year as vice-president of news at Air America. Luciano says he understands "the impulse to put up a united front against words that marginalize and stereotype. But morally condemning a word without looking at the substantive problem simply applies a Band-Aid. If I'd been on the council, I'd have argued for multicultural diversity classes, for more black, Latino, and Muslim teachers, and for more discussion in schools of the history of institutionalized slavery." And will he perform "Jibaro, My Pretty Nigger" under the moratorium? "Of course," he says. "People stop me to this day and quote it word for word." —Debbie Nathan