The N-word: Who Can Say it, Who Can’t

An anti-war sign spotted at a peace march to end racial oppression in Harlem, New York.

An anti-war sign spotted at a peace march to end racial oppression in Harlem, New York.

I stand at the crosshairs of being white (like pasty, transparent white) and female passing (not that my genitals are anyone’s business), but I think that’s important to include to give perspective. I grew up here in Southern Orange County, and I’ve been raised to subconsciously cross the street when I see a man of color. I thought the N-word was okay because my favorite rappers say it and that I shouldn’t see color because then everyone would just get along, right?

Wrong. Today, I’m speaking up because exhausted black people have been speaking up for so long and here’s the thing: it’s not their sole responsibility to clean up white mouths! So here I am, a pale girl, to wash your mouth out with knowledge.

First off, let me start by saying what a dark twisted not-fantasy is in the story of the N-word.

It originated from the Latin word niger, meaning black, and evolved to form an ideological hierarchy that defined, mocked and caricatured Black Africans and African Americans to exclude and discriminate them in America’s racial pecking order.

The stereotyping enforced ‘black’ as meaning lazy, stupid and worthless; in fact, there were entire sciences developed to prove that white people were genetically superior by measuring skulls size down to genital size, according to the African American Registry. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, public facilities finally desegregated.

 

Kanye West's song, "New Slaves", about profiting off of incarcerated African Americans in the United States. (Picture by Rap Genius)

Kanye West’s song, “New Slaves”, about profiting off of incarcerated African Americans in the United States. (Picture by Rap Genius)

 

Fifty three years ago is still considered recent history, yet white people have the audacity to say we aren’t racist. The NAACP reports that black people are six times more likely than white people to go to prison– cue Kanye West’s New Slaves. Just because slavery has ended, Jim Crow laws barely ended, and Kendrick Lamar says the N-word, doesn’t mean our systems of institutionalized racism have ended.

The N-word is drenched in the blood of black bodies being killed, tortured, raped, maimed, and sometimes surviving the ignoble fortitude of human history.

Even if the average white person isn’t actively murdering black folk, yet we are still all suffering in a chronically perverted system of racism. So the VERY least we could do is quit being defensive and take a good hard look at history, our relationship to it, and how to use our white privilege to serve and protect black people. This is considering 1 in 3 black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed (likely higher due to underreporting), according to Mapping Police Violence.

 

We created the N-word, and we continue to feed it

The N-word is drenched in the blood of black bodies being killed, tortured, raped, maimed, and sometimes surviving the ignoble fortitude of human history. And that is why it is their right to take the N-word back! Yet instead of respecting this turmoil in history we appropriate and reappropriate. When the N-word comes out of a white mouth somehow it’s supposedly justified because it doesn’t have the hard “R”. But it’s supposed to be cool and edgy because Quentin Tarantino says it right? 

Jamie Foxx in "Django Unchained" (courtesy of IMBD)

Jamie Foxx in “Django Unchained” (courtesy of IMBD)

On which dimension does that change the context? With white men being the greatest subscribers to hip hop combined with SoCal residents living in the whitewashed land of the west– we white people aren’t reminded of the deep dark underbelly of the U.S and the treatment of black folx.  

For some black people, the N-word stands as fellowship through the barbaric times of their ancestors and the still living, breathing torment of black communities. A word linked to brutality and exploitation has turned to mean a level of sacred friendship and harmony, and that transition was orchestrated by black people and black people only.

For some black people, the N-word stands as fellowship through the barbaric times of their ancestors and the still living

To take a word back from evil and change the meaning to represent goodness in the face of adversity is to take back power and self-determination when it has been denied for so long. Because I have never experienced that oppression, it can never be my place to say that word. I can never help to take it back, I can only help to give it back by refusing to say it and refusing to let my fellow white people say it.

If you are white and use such a term then you do not fully appreciate and acknowledge the power behind those two syllables, and you have no right to let it utter out of your chapped lips.

 

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