Warning: This issue is complicated.
First, I’d like to tell you a story about the N-word and my minor experience with it, last night. I was with a group of white women having coffee, I’ve qualified the race of the women for a reason. (As the only black woman, you can imagine what spot this kind of topic puts me in.)
One of the women, we’ll call her Kristy, says that she walked past a group of black youths at her local university, when she heard them say: “N-word this and N-word that.” She says that she stopped abruptly and interrupted the young men, telling them, “You guys shouldn’t say that.” To which they replied: “We can say it.You just can’t say it.” Kristy maintained that if it’s such a terrible word, NO ONE should say it.
I don’t know what she got from the interaction. She didn’t say if the young men took her unsolicited advice or not, but she did tell the group: “I don’t understand it. Why are black people allowed to say that word and we’re not?”
I expected the question. What I didn’t count on, was Kristy’s whiny petulant tone. What it sounded like was: “It’s not fair! I want to say the N-word too!”
I cut her off abruptly and told her that we couldn’t have that debate tonight. I said that I didn’t think we’d come up with any consensus on a word so steeped in history. This would involve me having to school the entire table on race relations and I wasn’t up for the task. It’s not every night that I can be Brother Cornell West and create teachable moments. (Although, I can imagine what that would sound like: “What Sister Kristy means by that is. . .”)
I had a whole range of emotions associated with this topic.
- As a woman of color, I feel pretty uncomfortable saying the word at all. I don’t like using any racially charged descriptions for groups of people. My white husband and I came to the agreement that he would never say the N-word and I would never say “Mick” or “Gyppo” to describe his Irish and Gypsy lineage (I’m not apart of those oppressed groups, so I can’t attest to all off the strife associated with those names). We have that commonsense understanding.
- That being said, I’m of the school that thinks it’s okay for blacks to re-appropriate the word. Just as the homosexual community might want to use the F-word or D-word.
- Something I can’t over is, some whites and they’re fascination with saying the word. I don’t understand what the big deal is. What do you feel like you’re missing out on? Being apart of a oppressed people?
Check out this horrifying use of talk radio:
Is it privilege that makes Kristy ask that question? Was I too hasty in shutting her down? Was this suppose to be a teachable moment? Is my job, as a black friend, to stop her from approaching more black people and policing their language?
Well I don’t know Kristy all that well to school her. I also thought that she didn’t know me that well to broach a hot button topic like the N-word, without giving me notice. Ha HA! If I had known we would get down like that, I would have brought the following article for her to read:
In this piece, author and commentator Toure,
breaks it down for us. With eloquence and wry humor, he tells us there are only TWO ways for white to use the N-word:
- Are you a journalist referencing or reporting on a news story? Toure used the example of Republican primary candidate, Rick Perry and the whole “Niggerhead” debacle that occurred fall of 2011. Fair enough. Sometimes a journalist has the duty to report the facts. No matter how jarring they sound.
- Are you an entertainer and you’re taking the N-word to the stage? Singers, actors, writers and comedians, Toure maintains, should be allowed to use it because, “The stage is a special space where normal human laws and customs apply differently . . . Indeed that actor helps remind us how deplorable that action is by playing it out. Many whites have used nigger onstage to this end: to put nigger in the mouth of racists and losers and thus remind the audience that racism is dumb and deplorable.”