People must understand, there’s something about the N-word.
By Emily Washington
In elementary school, I was one of six black people in the entire building. I can still list them by name– we were close. Andrew, Audrey, Kallieb, Tanisha, my brother, and me. I was following an infamous black code by the age of nine, by taking the new kid, Tanisha, into our ‘anonymous’ black friend group. There were no black staff or faculty at the school, just six black students. Then middle school came, and that gave me even more names and faces to keep track of. When high school came around, I gave up on names and tried to remember faces. Us black folk were a good part of the population at Central. So it surprised me when I was walking to the locker rooms after gym class and heard a group of young white boys behind me placidly saying, “Nigga.” They weren’t phased when I turned and looked back at them with confusion. I knew they weren’t racist. Must’ve been normal for them, saying the n-word. I was the one at fault, somehow. Everybody was saying it– except for me, of course. There’s just something about the N-word.
In the start of the 1800s, ‘nigger’ was firmly established as a derogative name for African Americans. We all know the stories– Emmet Till, Rosa Parks, Melba Patillo Beals, Martin Luther King, etc. Their stories were horrifying, and they were all called niggers. They were all even tortured, killed, or both. During the slavery era, the N-word was placed in front of common names. So Bob, would become Nigger Bob, in order to distinguish blacks from whites in discussion– of course . . . The N-word has never been used in a positive way, until now. People nowadays think it’s a pronoun for anyone and anything– and up for grabs. Which is odd, because if you search the word, ‘nigger,’ the majority of websites will say it’s the most offensive word in the English language. So, why are we still using the N-word so carelessly? There should be something about the N-word.
The result was unprecedented– millions of non-black folk saying the N-word with no remorse. So the ownership of the N-word logic didn’t really work.
Yeah, I know, black people use it too. We’ve claimed it– but not for the reasons you think. We’ve claimed it so you can’t use it against us. By taking ownership of the word, it takes some of the racism out of it. In other words, a power play. A lot like that children’s game, ‘I know you’re stupid, but what am I?’ So, we put it in music, to make it known we are not hurt by the word. Rap artists are known for their extensive use of the N-word; it’s in too many songs to count. There’s even one called “N*ggas in Paris” by Kanye West. As if that asterisk protected us from anything, but at least it wasn’t called, “The N-Words in Paris.” A different song, called, “The Rape Over,” was taken out of the album by the record label because the rap artist “accused white people of controlling rap” music, ironically. Out of these two songs, “N*ggas in Paris” was not banned– but earned two Grammy Awards and three BET Hip Hop Awards. The result was unprecedented– millions of non-black folk saying the N-word with no remorse. So the ownership of the N-word logic didn’t really work. It certainly didn’t take away the history of Jim Crow laws, the public lynchings, or the KKK. There must be something about the N-word.
If you’re non-black and saying to yourself, “Why can’t I say the N-word?” answer me this: why would you want to? Unless you’re racist or had a surgery gone wrong and can now only utter out those specific syllables, there aren’t any excuses. Why do you feel the need to call your friends ‘Nigga’ or ‘Nigger’? And for the last time, just because some black people say it, does not give you the right to say it yourself. A real double standard, actually, but it’s one that I agree with– with no need of an explanation. Hearing the N-word from anybody affects anyone who hears it. A well-known modern black poet, Akala, explains non-blacks believe there’s a romanticism to the N-word. It’s bad, it’s dark, and it’s intriguing. It’s clawing at you to be spoken. But it’s not only bad, it’s inhumane. There are miles and miles of hateful history behind the N-word and by speaking it, you’ll only run out of gas. There has to be something about the N-word.
It’s more than minding your language while kids are around, it’s more than being respectful in the moment– it’s just caring.
Knowing this, I never say the N-word, in respect to African Americans before me. I can only imagine their being here today and being utterly disappointed. We all know what happened 200 years ago– you don’t just forget about it. Yet, people forget chunks of black history, so they can pick out things here and there for their own use; hence, the N-word today. ‘Forgetting’ those who suffered under that name, while scream singing it on the car ride home, is disgustingly insensitive. I strongly believe those who use the N-word, lack respect towards themselves and all black people. There’s just– something– about the N-word.
The N-word is like an ancient artifact forbidden to be moved or touched. The signs and warnings are there, yet, they’re still ignored. I realize Freedom of Speech exists, though I don’t think it’s a stretch to ask people to care. It’s more than minding your language while kids are around, it’s more than being respectful in the moment– it’s just caring. Take it this way: you can scream the F-bomb if you really want to, but do realize, there’s something about the f-word that you know is inappropriate. And, I’m sure, that group of teenage boys who expressed their take on the English language so sensitively could care–if exposed to such a point of view. To be the men their mothers raised them to be, they must know that there is something about the N-word.
Photo: Apart X by Thad Zajdowicz on Flickr