The N-Word

We’ve been getting in to some really good discussions lately and I see no point the stop now. For the sake a of providing a even tone to this discussion, the N-word will be the terminology that I use rather than using the word outright.

Diane asked me to reflect on the use of the N-word in rap – so I shall. There are many opinions as to the appropriateness of using the N-Word. Over the years I’ve swayed back and forth with regards to my use of the word. There was a time that I didn’t care then there a came a time when I was an advocated of abolishing the word. Now, I’ve come to a point where I see the validity on both sides.

On one side we have an issue that comes down to the reality of linguistics. Language is fluid and over time words and their usage evolve. Though the root of the word remains intact, the reality is that how, when and to who uses the word becomes as relevant as the initial meaning.

With regards to the N-word, we know this to be the case when black people use it. The N-word is nothing more than street vernacular – slang. The N-word is equivalent to referring to someone as dawg, by boy, my homeboy, cat, dude, partner and kid. Black men who are strangers generally won’t greet each other with the N-word. Under those circumstances they would use (brotha) brother.

Where this becomes an issue is that fact that white people aren’t allowed to use the word. The simple answer to this is – so what. Double standards exist in the world and should black people really care that they have to listen to black people call each other something that would enrage black people if whites were to use it? Why would a white person want to use the word in the first place? Black people survived under a myriad of double standards, the N-word is one of a few that pertain to white people.

Then there are black people who don’t like other black people to use the word. Their argument is that no other race uses a derogatory word as a term of endearment and black people should be no different. They make a good case. The word was meant as a way to dehumanize black slaves. Pronouncing it with an “a” or “ah” on the end doesn’t change the meaning because that is a result of dialect and not a deliberate change. And is it really a term of endearment? I would never refer to Martin Luther King Jr. as the N-word. The truest term of endearment that black people have is how refer to one another as brothers and sisters.

That is the simple take on the debate: Language is fluid, it changes, black people can use the word and white people cant – it’s all good, but there is a legitimate case as to be made for black people not using the N-word.

We could leave it here but there is a more complicated side to this debate. Race relations are changing with each generation. With each generation, an historical perspective of black culture erodes. The problem is exacerbated with the popularity of hip hop. Instead of being a part of black culture, hip hop is seen as “the official” black culture. So people around the world here hip hop artist using the N-word without any knowledge of the history behind the word. White and Latino youth are aware of their limitations regarding the use of N-word, but many young black people are not aware of their limitations.

I’ve been in restaurants, retail stores and on the streets and have overheard young brothers using the N-word. I’m uncomfortable with this because it does create uneasiness and under those circumstances I do understand why white people would reject to the double standard.

Then there are non-black individuals that truly relates to the hip hop culture and feel they do have a right to use the word. But they mistake the hip hop culture for black culture and unintentionally insult black people.

So, the argument that black using the N-word takes away its power is not exactly true. The word still has power but we’ve only figured out how to harness a part of it. For black people, the debate should move away from “to use or not to use” because black people are going to use the N-word. What we need to discuss is if there is an appropriate and inappropriate use even for black people.

The claim is that we’ve taken over ownership of the N-word. If that is the case, we are now responsible for it. Maybe we should treat it and respect it as if it were a loaded weapon. Rather than trying to claim and diminish the power of the word – we should respect it. How to do that – that’s even more complicated.


22 Responses to The N-Word

  1. Bullfrog Says:
    I vote to NEVER use it again. Why acquiesce to the fact that people are just gonna use it? An effective "Anti N-word" campaign is the only answer.

    This whole debate is like a mini-ebonics debate. And that's a bad thing.
  2. James Manning Says:

    I can understand that but that won't happen. I don't know if there has ever been a successful campaign to eliminate the use of a word. Most just die over time. I think this is what will have to happen with the N-word.

    As for ebonics - I can't even believe that even got traction.
  3. Roderick Says:
    Why do we talk about this word periodically? If you want to use it use it in private but if you use it in public do so at your own risk.
  4. Taking Cues from Us Says:
    To be a people, is to represent that people. Like it or not, we all represent each other when we claim to be a people. We can’t have all the benefit of being a people with none of the responsibility.

    Personally, I don’t talk like that. Mostly because I don’t want to teach younger people around me that intelligent people talk that way, or teach outsiders that it’s appropriate or endearing. The more we teach non-Black people to use that language, the more they will.

    We all know why we use it. If a fellow Black man says what’s up to me in that fashion, I take no offense, because I understand. But I don’t greet other Black people with that.

    What’s going to happen when some White kid (who grew up around Black people) becomes a world-famous comedian because he’s “just being real” by talking that way? Are we going to pat him on the back? Or are we gonna try and call him racist, after teaching him all is life that it’s what “real” Black people do?

    It’s only a matter of time. And yes, I am aware of White rappers, but nothing on a massive scale has happened yet. But it’s coming.

    We should always do our best to represent the best of ourselves, our family, and our people. We’re not perfect, but that’s no excuse to act a fool.
  5. James Manning Says:
    taking cues,

    This is the reason why I do believe that we need to start talking about this. For a while I was one of those that figured that it was just a word and so what. But it is more complicated because we're starting not to take into account of how it reflects on us as a people.
  6. mark Says:
    Yo James excellent post.

    @ BF: Yo it is very easy for you to vote not to use it again but I assure you the N-Word is something that is ingrained inside of black folk. It is a part of our communication bieng both a term of affection or a word to describe black folk who are acting like fools. You would have to be black or have grown up around black people to understand it. But if I could wave a wand and get rid of it I would, so I feel you when you say you would vote to never use it again. I would to if that vote could be mad binding but it cant.

    @ James

    The Ebonics thing was beyond retarded in my oppinion. Those people who even suggested we teach our kids that foolishness should be shot. But until rank and file black folk read, write, and really take education in its total and wholistic form it will continue to be used. Remember the less educated you are the less tools (words) you will have to express ones feelings and thoughs.
  7. Bullfrog Says:
    @Mark: I made my comment as a white male who grew up in a black neighborhood and heard the word every day. I even had some of my friends give me "special permission" to use the word, but I refused. To me it is just demeaning and I have to think that haters of black people probably think it is comedy that the word is being used as a "term of endearment".

    How is using the N-word NOT like the whole ebonics thing?
  8. James Manning Says:
    I think the N-word and ebonics are not the same. Ebonics is an attempt to turn a dialect into an official language on par with standard English. Then N-word is just that, a word.

    Ebonics is a fallacy and there is no reason that we can't teach a child that says "I'm finna go home" to say "It's time for me to go home."
  9. mark Says:
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  10. mark Says:
    BF: You have got to understand that black people are more comfortable calling each other the N-word than anything else. It has more than one meaning to us. During slavery sometimes all the man did was call us the N-word. After slavery we were still called the n word all of the times. The N-word is how we came to define ourselves up until the sixties white children were allowed to call black adults niggers in public with no consequences. We internalized this into our bieng. So you are talking about some serious work if you want to change that. I can also assure you that once you unravel that issue all of our other issues will start unraveling. We have suffured trauma to our humanity. Now as a result we have got several mental and spiritual disorders. When people have pathological disrespect for themselves they are capable of all kinds of ridiculous behavior. America taught us to hate ourselves. The liberal use of the n word is just one more chicken that is knocking on americas door. Mark.

    P.S Welcome to our world baby. Consider yourself lucking you were able to leave. Mark
  11. Rell Says:
    it's the "Niggar family" LOL

    [rell apologizes for the ignorance]
  12. Sinro Says:
    Yeah its a word I dislike using nowadays. Lately i'm around alot of young black men who have white women and they let them say it. I personally am against it. when i speak up they immediatly retort with "I say what I want!" I've now lowered the word in my vocab unless im angry at someone who's the same color as me.
  13. bold as love Says:
    It's remarkable how ignorant a people become when you remove something or somebody that threatens their survival.
    There has never been a benevolent usage of the n-word, never. It was used to denigrate black people and the blacks that use it over the years are simply ignorant and really do not understand how they are demeaning themselves. I don't give a shit if the word has been so-called fashionable at times- This concept of making it"ours", what self-hating asshole came up with that twisted mindset?
    It has been long over due, but the usage of the n-word needs to stop- in all it's forms. I ask you, what kind of people are we to cling to something so insulting and demeaning? Stand for something, be willing to say some shit is just wrong.
  14. Bullfrog Says:
    As usual, I agree with Bold.
  15. James Manning Says:
    Man, cats are actually trying to advertise on craft. Bold, as to the point as that is, I wish it were so simple. But maybe like "colored" and "negro", that word will die a on the vine of life as well.
  16. Outside the Box Says:
    Hey James, I did a post on this instead of responding here. I didn't want to risk offending anyone. Please take a look (it's my latest post) and let me know what you think when you get a chance.

    As for what everyone else is talking about, I'm pretty much down with Yurly and his FREE Playboy and Penthouse.
  17. James Manning Says:
    I think you guys should go over to Outside the Box's blog. He has an interesting take on this subject.
  18. Diane S. Says:

    Thanks for indulging me and doing a post on this. I'm not sure I have an opinion on the issue beyond knowing that, as a white woman, this word is completely off limits to me.

    I do have some thoughts about the way we divide up language and make some of it okay for one group and not another. I have to say that it saddens me that the words "sister" and "brother" can't be used by a white person to describe a black person. I feel that sort of kinship with a lot of black people, but I also feel like it would be really presumptuous of me to actually say it.

    So, instead, I censure myself.

    I don't like it. I don't like it because it is a term of endearment, of affection, and affiliation. Those that I wish I could address as sister and brother are those that I consider to be allies in the struggle.

    And then there's the whole religious angle. I truly believe that all of humanity is one body. It makes me sad that I can only acknowledge that feeling of oneness inside a church door (the one place I can call a black woman "sister"). It saddens me. I think it widens the divide between us. And I think the world does enough to divide us already.
  19. Cynthia Says:
    I'm with Bullfrog. It should never be used. It's silly to still be using this word in this day and age.
  20. Shavonne Says:
    I personally don't know any N-words. Though I come across black folks who like to refer to themselves and/or other black folks with that word (whether it be a "term of endearment" or an insult) I generally avoid them. Using the word is tasteless, tacky, degrading, disgusting, ignorant, and trashy.

    I associate the word with Hip-Hop (I can't stand it) and being stuck on stupid.
  21. mark Says:
    @ cynthia
    you are more than right it is silly to use the N-word in 06. But any black person who cannot see that we (black folk) do a lot of silly stuff (think the skin color thing we got going on how sick is that btw). Its all about education in the wholistic form, that will give us the intellectual maturity to move away from using that word.

    @ Shavone

    Associating the N-Word is intellectually dishonest because it was use for over 100 years before hip hop was invented. By black people as a term of scorn and one of endearment, also all behavior is learned which means that the rappers learned it from thier parent, who learned from thier parents ect. Mark
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