For 20 years, Curtis Bordenave said he has spotted oncoming trends and gotten out ahead of them. Most recently, that’s involved efforts to profit from a racial slur.
His business, Better Moves Consulting, markets and sells clothing and other merchandise aimed at promoting unity, equality and understanding, he said.
In a roundabout way, he claims that mission is exactly why he is trying to trademark the N-word.
Bordenave of Columbus, who is African American, filed a trademark application in June with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for “Nigga,” shortly following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that now allows trademarking disparaging language. The office accepted his application and assigned it to an examiner for review, a process Bordenave said could take up to a year.
In the meantime Business Moves Consulting is gearing up to produce products for the brand. Bordenave said it had already designed T-shirts and plans to produce soap, shaving cream, moisturizer and fingernail polish. He said a website where customers can purchase the products should be live next week, and the Nigga_brand Instagram page — which had 16 followers as of Friday morning — features mockups for the products.
“Our vision for the brand is not to disparage people, but to change the narrative and the meaning of the word,” Bordenave said. “Products were sold with that name on it many years ago, and to say we can’t change the meaning of that word is not really accurate.
“We give the word more power if we shelter it away, so that if anybody wants to just pull it out, it has a stink,” he added. “We believe that we can change it.”
He said the logo will be discrete on products, which will more prominently feature messages about inclusiveness and unity.
Should the brand grow to be successful, Bordenave said he wants to use funds to help African American students go to college and enable them to give back to their communities.
The trademark application covers a broad range of goods, including perfume, cosmetics, leather goods, entertainment services, DVDs, CDs, movies, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, clothing, headgear and footwear, advertising and marketing, books, paper products, bumper stickers and banners, and promotional material.
The broad application, Bordenave said, should make it difficult for someone else to follow and trademark the word for something else. He also said his trademark should prevent someone from trademarking the “er” derivation of the N-word because it’s so similar to his trademark.
“We just wanted to make sure that this word didn’t fall into the wrong hands,” Bordenave said. “We understand that it’s going be acquired because there’s multiple applications after me, and God forbid if someone got it.
“We don’t have a choice of whether or not the mark can register,” he added. “Our only choice is to educate the public.”
Business Moves Consulting filed a second application, that’s third in line, in order to refine the trademark. Bordenave said the first one is very broad to quickly cover as many categories as possible. If the trademark registers, he said, the second application can be used to refine what was already submitted through the first.
An initial trademark application can cost $225 to $400, according to the USPTO website. However, there are additional fees that can drive that cost up, such as filing for multiple trademark classes.
“You don’t want to spend $35,000 filing 20 to 25 classes and then you find out 20 minutes before you filed it someone else beat you to the punch and you just lost $35,000,” Bordenave said.
Heads of two local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapters are less than thrilled with Bordenave’s ideas.
Lavonne Latham-Harris, president of the Lowndes County NAACP, referred to the NAACP’s burial of the N-word at its national convention in 2007.
“We buried that word years ago in Detroit, Michigan,” she said. “I know it might not be a point that we can’t stop him, but we will not support it and we will do what we can to protest against.
“That’s going to be a disgrace against us, no matter what color they are,” Harris later added. “That’s like us already trying to get rid of the Confederate flag. It’s going to be offensive to all people.”
Chris Taylor, president of Oktibbeha County’s NAACP chapter, said he didn’t believe Bordenave’s intentions to use the word to spread a positive message mattered.
“That has no validity,” he said. “That should’ve never popped into his head. We’re totally against. I don’t care if you’re black, white, orange or yellow. That’s not to say he can’t do it, but the NAACP will not support it.”
Past efforts and the Supreme Court decision
A New Orleans native who has also lived in Jackson, Bordenave said he moved to his wife’s hometown of Columbus to escape “the hustle and bustle of city life.”
Bordenave told The Dispatch he first tried to register the trademark eight years ago. At the time, he split it up as two separate brands–“Nig” and “g-ga”– with plans to bring them together, because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office wouldn’t register disparaging trademarks at the time. The USPTO granted the “g-ga” trademark but denied “Nig” as disparaging.
However, on June 19, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in Matal v. Tam to throw out the disparaging remark law. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the case that the rule violated the First Amendment.
“We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” Alito wrote. “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”