Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The N-Word: Just Say ‘No’

(This posting written with an apology to my friend, D*.)

My friend D* is a white guy who doesn’t understand why black people call each other “nigger” (or more likely “nigga”), but white people can’t.

Yes, this question again.

D*, I’m going to attempt really, really hard to break this down for you, because I believe you’re honestly trying to understand what this is all about, and I respect that.

So here goes.

But first, a small history lesson.

Small, because I’m no historian.

However, Liz Regosin, a professor at St. Lawrence University, is a historian. And a couple of months ago, I attended a lecture with Regosin as the speaker. The topic was “Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation.”

The lecture was excellent. I learned things I hadn’t known. Such as, prior to the Civil War, Lincoln made this statement:

“Blacks and whites should not have perfect social and political equality.”

And this statement:

“Blacks and whites are not equal in color or moral and intellectual endowment; these differences keep us from living together.”

(Hmph. I guess Frederick Douglass was just a flippin’ freak of nature.)

These statements are startling in their boldness. They are startling in their denial of the humanity of black Americans.

And they reflect a worldview, or a belief system, that formed the foundation for race relations in these here great United States.

In my humble opinion.

In FY 2012, the EEOC fielded 33,512 charges of race discrimination, 10,883 charges of national origin discrimination, and 2,662 charges of color discrimination. Considering all the billions of workers in the US, these numbers may seem insignificant. However, I assure you that if you’ve ever been the victim of race, national origin, or color discrimination (I have), the situation wasn’t insignificant to you. I’d also bet cold hard cash that every single one of my readers of color has either experienced or knows someone who has experienced some form of race discrimination in the workplace that went unreported. Cold hard cash.

And I haven’t even touched on the umpteen numbers of microinsults and microaggressions that people of color experience each and every day. Just ask Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips, both detained for shopping while black.

I’m not mentioning this stuff for the heck of it, and I’m certainly not mentioning it to stir up trouble. The point is, there is history here, there is a way that we’ve been taught to interact and view each other, and you could literally jump up and down while pounding your chest and swearing to God until you’re blue in the face that none of this has anything to do with you, a modern day white man, and I will simply respond that you, sir, are a liar.

You are no more capable of being unaffected by the culture than anyone else. We’re all in this mess together. We’ve all been tainted. Period.

So back to the n-word.

It’s simple really. If you are white, just say no. Historically, white people have used the word to demean, denigrate, and dehumanize black Americans. That’s a fact. And like it or not, you D* are a part of that history. As am I.

Perhaps it is hypocritical. Perhaps there is a double standard. (By the way, that’s not my opinion.)

But even if I were to agree that a double standard exists, I’m still perplexed as all get out why it bothers you so damn much. Are you just pissed that someone would have the gall to tell you what you can and can’t say? I don’t get it. Maybe you can write your own article, and then I’ll gain some understanding.

In the meantime, consider this.

There are women who affectionately refer to their girlfriends as “bitches.” (Personally, I have no love for the b-word.)

Now, if a group of women friends are out having dinner, loudly laughing and teasing each other, and one playfully warns the other “Alright bitch, you’re about to cross the line,” is it okay for the server (male or female of any ethnicity) to saunter up to their table, pen and pad in hand wanting to know, “Which one of you bitches is ready to order first?”


Context is everything. Relationship is everything. History as powerful as ours can never be made invalid.

Please D*, just say no.


  1. Well said. Boy, you're articulate. You ought to write a book. I agree completely that historical context obviates the prohibition from use of the n-word for all non-whites at all times. I also think that double standards are almost always wrong. Practically speaking, my use of the word as a black man confers permission to all who hear me use it. My 17 month old grandson dropped the f-bomb a couple weeks ago, because his mom is a potty-mouth. The only way for my daughter to make it right is to set a different example for him. I haven't used the word 'nigga' as an adult; that's the only way I can possibly stand against anyone else using it in my presence. Great post!

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Kevin! (Also, I AM writing a book--Stinky Stew--check out the tab at the top of the page!)

      "Practically speaking" is a good way to put it. Of course you're right. And yet, I try to imagine myself (as a straight woman) ever having the nerve to think that I could call a homosexual "fag" just because I hear one homosexual say it to another. I can't. It's outrageous, and I'd never be so presumptuous.

      Giving my friend D* the benefit of the doubt (why not?) and assuming he's asking the question "If rappers can use the N-word ...." as a way of offering insight to the black community, well, there's a right way to do that, I suppose. But whenever I hear this question, it never sounds helpful to me. It always sounds like the individual is saying "You all are LYING that this word is hurtful. It can't be hurtful if some of you still use it. And furthermore, I don't like it that white people can still get in trouble for using it. It's not fair" and I just can't get with that.

      By the way, my condolences to your grandson and my sympathies to your daughter. I have a potty mouth, too. My children are pretty clean-mouthed, but so was I at one point. However, my mother had a potty mouth, and well ... eventually mine emerged. I'm working on it, honest.

  2. I love this! Excellent. Also, yes I think typically they confuse the n-word with nigga. But I also have to ask myself why would anyone want the right to be able to use the n-word?

    No one has ever used this horrible word against me but as the daughter of a black man who has been called this name it fills me with anger and sadness that it's still used and that so many people just don't get it. What is so hard to grasp about our American history? Racism is also still very much alive and well. I once had what ended up as an argument with a well meaning white man who kept using the n-word and saying it shouldn't bother black people. He said they should take it back. Make it lose it's meaning. How sad that he doesn't even see what he's contributing trying to tell black people how they should feel and handle the n-word? Sometimes, I wonder who is worse? The blatant racists or what I call the unintentional ones?

    1. "Sometimes, I wonder who is worse? The blatant racists or what I call the unintentional ones?"

      They're all a pain in my ass, and I'm not so sure it's unintentional, either. This isn't rocket science.