Dear Black People: Stop Having The N-Word Conversation With White People
I really wish White people would stop trying to make the N-word conversation happen.
And I really wish that Black people would stop indulging White folks, who try to make The N-Word conversation happen.
To get to the point: there are more racialized issues worthy of our attentions and thoughts: like police brutality, like the eviction rate of poor Black women, which rivals that of mass incarceration of Black men; like the prison pipeline, which has our children caught up, like how young Black girls and boys are penalized for speaking out more than their White girl and boy counterparts; like 18 to 1 cocaine to crack disparities; like Voter ID and other draconian, restrictive laws meant to keep Blacks specifically from voting; like racial profiling; like who brought crack cocaine into the community; like why hasn’t there been a Black bachelor or bachelorette yet…
In short if White people were really interested in conversations around race, they wouldn’t waste their time on the dated and really irrelevant “issue” around Black people using The N-Word. They would be having real conversations about the above mentioned (well most of them). But White people don’t want to talk about racism, instead they want to talk about Black people.
Like Piers Morgan, former CNN host and current unemployed alien overstaying his work visa, who writes into the Daily Mail UK, tsk-tsking American Blacks for using the word:
“I understand this, and empathise.
It’s the same ironic reason many gays call each other ‘f****ts’, why supporters of an English football team called Tottenham Hotspur, which has a large Jewish following, call each other ‘Y*ds’, and why some ardent feminists like to use the word ‘C**t’ with impunity.
I get it.
But I don’t like it.
And this is why: it doesn’t work. It has the complete opposite effect to the one that I imagine everyone who does this imagines it will have.
Far from ‘owning’ these words, seizing back control with the use of them, I believe it merely serves to empower those who wish to deploy them abusively – and encourage them to continue doing so.
Your average dim-witted, foul-mouthed bigot – and there are plenty of them as Twitter can attest – thinks: ‘If they use it, why can’t I?’
They hear African-Americans say the N-word to each other and claim victory: ‘See, that’s what they even call themselves!’
It’s the twisted, horrible mind-set of the wretchedly ignorant.”
Right. So what he saying is that if the last rapper among us gave up the word today, White people would find no other justification in using the word against us? I think not. Not even a little bit. I never dropped a single N-Word in front of the last White person, who called me a “nigger.” Nope, she took initiative to do that on her very own. Anyway, Morgan wrote some other stuff on the “issue,” but why bother? We heard these arguments before.
In fact, White people have been trolling Black people for decades with this jive about the dangers of our usage of The N-Word. Most recently, the Washington Post ran a multi-page, interactive article about its usage. The article even featured an video clip interview with a current Klu Klux Klan member, who provides us some insight on the proper context for the word. Talk about a shame tactic! For some strange reason, White people are obsessed with the word and more importantly, getting Black people to stop saying it. And they are shocked and appalled when we don’t.
And although the conversation is well past the point of redundancy, there is never a shortage of Black folks, from rappers to journalists to actors to Black intellectuals, ready to jump in the fray and defend our right to use the word. Like Rapper Talib Kweli, who writes in a piece for Medium entitled “Nigga? Please:”
“After Morgan writes that blacks are aware of the history of the word nigger, he writes that blacks “enjoy the freedom of being able to say it now in the knowledge that it’s become taboo for whites to do so.” This is the true heart of the matter for white folks who get upset enough to write op-ed’s about blacks who say nigger. They want to say it too. They see it as a “freedom” that we “enjoy” that they can’t. As if they don’t enjoy enough “freedoms.”
And then there is Rebecca Carroll, contributing writer for the Guardian UK, who writes in the piece, “Can Black People Really Stop White People From Using the N-Word?:”
“I don’t use the word – and I don’t belong to a country club, either. But I know from experience that, even when I go to great lengths to avoid saying it or writing it, some white person is just going to say the n-word anyway. They don’t need me to use it to feel entitled to use it; they just need me to provide the context for it.”
And then there is everybody’s favorite Black intellectual (including yours truly) Ta-Nehisi Coates, who first took his outrage out in the essay directly to Morgan, via Twitter. And then he followed it up with a retweet of an old column of his on the topic(because every Black writer worth their Black card has an piece in their archives dedicated to The N-word), where he highlights a literary devise used by many English speakers to comprehend words with multi-definitions and usages called “context. More specifically, he writes about the literary wonder of the world:
“As I’ve explained before, the meaning of human language changes with context. That is why you may call your wife honey, but I probably should not. That is why Toby Keith referring to himself as “White Trash With Money” will never be the same as me accusing Toby of being “white trash with money.” That is why Dan Savage proposing a column entitled “Hey Faggot!” will never be the same as me seeing Dan Savage on the street and yelling “Hey Faggot!” This is how humans use language, and it is wholly consistent with how black humans use language. The effort to punish this use, like all respectability politics, is an effort to punish black humanity, is racism.
Granted there is nothing wrong with their responses. In fact, everything they said in response to Morgan’s pitiful justification for why racist White folks feel compelled to be racist, was dead-on and exact. But the mere fact that anyone in the collective Black community is wasting any energy responding at all to this nonsense is what I find most irksome. I mean seriously, who gives a flying F-word, what White people think about how and why we use the word? It’s not like they are most affected by its usage?
Or maybe they are impacted by it – just a little?
I do have a theory. Basically, White folks, who most have a problem with Black folks in particular using the N-Word (as we are still waiting for the open letters to their White brethren chastising them from bringing up The N-Word jokes at the country club and NASCAR tailgating parties), are probably the same folks, who want Black folks to “get over it.” The “it” being slavery or segregation or just current day racism in general.
As such, White folks feel some kind of way about the N-word, not because of some well-meaning intention of saving Black folks from ourselves, but rather they hate the reminder the word conjures up. For the most part, The N-Word serves as a reminder of slavery and Jim Crow and the Black Codes and other racialized violence committed against Black people. It is also a stark reminder that institutionalized and systematic racism still exist, as aforementioned above. Therefore, when White folks hear brown folks say The N-Word, it makes them feel guilty about the very real fact that Blacks are still treated as second class citizens in this country – and worse, like niggers.
It’s sort of like the how that one ex-philandering husband feels every time his wife brings up in an argument, all the times he cheated on her. It wouldn’t even matter if the cheating occurred a decade ago or if the husband has begged her forgiveness a million times over. It wouldn’t even matter if the argument wasn’t even about anything relationship-related, but rather toast. He would be like, “How many times Mildred do I have to tell you I like my toast lightly brown?” And Mildred would say, “How many times do I have to tell you Herman that if you want your bread a certain way, get that hussy to toast it for you…” Well maybe not exactly like that but I’m betting that is pretty close how White people feel about The N-Word.
And some Black folks too. Let’s be honest, some of us have a hard time dealing with the realities of our racially unfair and unjust society. That’s why you got Black folks trying to be colorless and claiming their half-Irish and Cherokee grandfather as proof that they are not really Black. And just like White folks, you also have some Black folks, who have no problem admitting they’re Black but still won’t deal with the realities of racism out of fear of losing whatever little privilege they have if racism were dismantled – but that is a conundrum for another essay.
Point is, White folks pressed about The N-Word don’t give a damn about our mental health. But rather it is their own guilt that most vexes them. And this is why I feel that now on, every time one of them bring it up, we should ignore them. It’s not our jobs to make them feel better about their privilege or to even explain our oppression. In fact, if they keep bugging you about it, You tell them, “don’t F-Word worry about it? Worry about the conditions that created the N-Word and the role White folks, your people, have in dismantling that.”