Dear White People, You Want to Say the N-Word but Wonder Why You Can’t and Black People Can?
Updated: Oct 8, 2018
And then he said, "Hey if you threw a white-face party, I'd defend you!"
I get it because I addressed this with a friend’s girlfriend recently who had had exposure to other racial groups growing-up in a diverse city, in environments where the N-word was used. I felt that I had to address this on here because it’s race and that’s my jam!
These conversations can turn toxic quickly so before I go headlong I want you to know I’m not, as Musa Ekwonge, a black bi-sexual author, put’s it ‘a ‘diplomat for my people’ or as a Black British actor David Harewood calls “a member of the [Anti-racist] Revolutionary Guard”. Moreover, this is an opinion, and I know for a fact that black people will definitely have a different point of view (POV) about the word, probably more diverse than white people’s POVs.
However, here’s my POV if you want it.
First of all, I don’t want to assume why you want to say it (so please leave me a comment). Maybe you want to say it because you wish you were black or you want to appropriate black culture. Maybe you’re racist (blog over). Perhaps you don’t you even see it as racist. Or is it more likely to be the fact that you want the power to say what you want without being accountable for your racist ideas?
Secondly, you wonder why you can’t say it. I think it can be more evident to black people why we can because we can tell it without negative (often legal) consequences, we’re less likely to be (or at all) reprimanded at work if we call another black person the N-Word.
So white people, YOU CAN STILL SAY IT yet you might face the consequences.
Two recent, very hot news stories offer excellent examples of the negative consequences or potential for them.
After Papa John’s founder John Schnatter resigned over racial slur they began talks of removing him from the branding.
Another recent headline, involves African American, Omarosa, who was a star on the US version of reality TV show The Apprentice, claims she has heard a tape of Trump using N-word on the show.
They both said it and one got caught and is facing real consequences. The reality is they’ll still probably continue to say it because they can. Trump will still continue to be the president of the US and John Schnatter will still roughly own 29% of Papa John’s stocks.
The reason why you can’t always say it (especially publicly) without facing the consequences is that the word, is, LOADED.
Whites coined the N-word during slavery. Let’s take a quick trip back through 400 years of history and visit the North American slave plantations. Where it was used pervasively. The slaves were historically snatched from the continent of Africa, chained, shipped across the ocean, forced to work for free in appalling work conditions. On top of that, their boss was the most violent and abusive rapist you’d ever meet. He routinely calls them the N-word which is the equivalent of a piece of sh!t, an animal and a piece property (well he would probably call all them all those words too). He used it to assert his authority over black people. All this was legalised through slave codes and black codes leaving black people with PTSD.
What is a racist idea?…” a racist idea can be defined as an idea that says one racial group is inferior or superior to another.”
So white people, when you use it today bear in mind the historical context of the word as it can carry the same or similar weight and meaning as it did back then. The past eventually loses it power yet slavery in the US was around longer than it’s been abolished, so its power still lingers. Then again, 90% of hip-hop fans are white, so when you’re in a gig, I’ve been to one, it’s a different context and so interpreted differently. Moreover, at work, it’s understood differently again as I’ve shown earlier.
It hasn’t got the same power behind it when we say it. That’s because there’s a systemic unequal power balance between whites and blacks when talking about race.
What is a racist idea? Professor of African American Studies, Ibrim Kendi X, boils it down entirely, “a racist idea can be defined as an idea that says one racial group is inferior or superior to another.” Look at it from a black perspective, how can it be racist when a black person is saying the N-word to another black person? In other words, can you tell another black person is racially inferior to you if you’re black too? It doesn’t make sense.
If you’ve read my blog post ‘Growing-Up Black in White Situations’ it’s clear those kids at school weren’t using it decently. They were appropriating it. They didn’t face any consequences either because I was a teenager, navigating a white world with no tools to protect myself.
As for my parents, they didn’t (as far as I can remember) give me any advice about how to deal with white people. Unlike Lawrence Fishburn’s character in Black(ish), who frequently warms his grandchildren about the ‘white man’, like “white people will sometimes speak without thinking of the bigger implications of their actions.” Very pertinent to this post actually (take note youth)!
I’m not blaming my parents either because they probably didn’t think they had to give me advice. Perhaps they didn’t have the tools themselves (although my father had his fists which — after he had used them in his teens, out of frustration having been persistently taunted by a racist — ironically resulted in more significant negative consequences for him than the white guy who provoked him). They probably were protecting me, yet I didn’t realise it because I was safe, healthy and happy.
So white people, human to human, I’m not telling you that you can’t say the N-word. You can still say it as much as you want. I’m saying if you’re not careful about where, when and who you say it to you could face the consequences. Golden rule: if you feel like you can’t say it, don’t. Besides that, I’m sorry to point out the obvious, but I’m dumbstruck as to why you’re so defensive about feeling you’re unable to say a word without reprimand, a word that’s used as a racist remark? Sensing a loss of entitlement? It seems as Gary Younge puts it, “we have now reached a peculiar juncture where accusations of racism make some people more upset than racism itself.”