Last month, I wrote about my outrage at being called the “N-word” and asked readers to weigh in.
Some readers wasted no time, bashing me as a racist, admonishing my reaction and schooling me on race relations over the past 400 years. On the other hand, many more readers appreciated my honesty and shared their experiences as well. It was enlightening and thought-provoking.
I’ve struggled with this article and topic this month because there are so many layers and points of view. Through work, my life has seemingly revolved around the “N-word.”
In a social media poll I conducted, I asked people who could say the N-word. We had approximately 300 responses, with 65 percent agreeing that no one should use the word; 61 percent feel the word is offensive, no matter who says it.
The results surprised me. Many black people feel that it is OK for them to say it. I was equally surprised to see many emails from black people who hate the word and will allow no one to use it in their presence.
My struggle with pulling back the many layers of this word is that a part of me understands (not agrees with) the notion that we are taking the power back from a word that was designed to hurt and demean us.
There are many marginalized groups who will use demeaning terms with each other but feel dehumanized when those same terms are used by people outside their groups (e.g., women and the infamous “B-word” or LGBTQIA people who use derogatory terms, such as fairy, with each other).
One of the emails I received posed the perfect question: “Have we really appropriated a label and removed its power only when WE (not THEM) use it?”
The answer is no, because if we really removed the power, we wouldn’t get angry, hurt or sad when it is used outside of our groups. It’s all about context and who says the word.
You don’t own the word. The word was never meant as a term of endearment. It was meant as a dehumanizing, hateful identifier of your skin color to indicate that you were property, not a person.
If we expect people outside of our community to stop using the word, we need to lead by example and stop using the word. Teach our kids the history behind the word, so at the very least, when it is said, they understand the gravity of it.
We can’t expect others to care more about us than we do.
The word is not cool. Many white people report having black friends who have given them a pass to use the word.
Why do you want to use it?
These black friends should also tell you that this “pass” is not redeemable at all locations.
Some people will be hurt, some will be combative, some will label you a racist — no matter what context you used. Your intent will not matter, only your impact.
Teach your children that the impact is harmful and hateful.
This month, during a protest for fair housing in Miami, Florida, by black activists, Mark Bartlett, a white man, pulled a gun while repeatedly using the N-word. He was arrested.
In an interview with WPLG, Bartlett stated, “The reason why we use that word, the reason why Chinese people use the word, why Japanese people, European people, the reason why everybody uses that word is because black people use that word.”
Of course, his statement is not the full truth because white people used it first. But it’s worth noting that if we (black people) find it so egregious, we should stop the use among one another. It would give us more legitimacy in our feelings publicly.
I truly believe in free speech and would never want to censor it. But I do know that the use of the word will continue to cause problems if we don’t eliminate it. We have a responsibility as citizens to work toward a world where we all feel welcome.
Use your words to uplift your friends and neighbors. Otherwise, I think you also have to accept the risks that come along with hateful rhetoric.