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The N-Word

My opinion and perspective on the use of the N-word.

As a black man, I think it would be best if nobody said the N-word. I’m not asking for it to be banned or to ostracise anyone who says the word. I am hoping everyone, regardless of race chooses to stop using it. If this happens, it’ll gradually disappear from our common vocabulary.

Growing up in Nigeria, I never heard the N-word as a child, I didn’t even know the word existed. No one said the word, not even in entertainment, as a result it wasn’t part of our vocabulary. It wasn’t until I was a teenager living in England did I first hear the word in a rap song. I didn’t understand the history of the word or what it meant until later in my teens and luckily, the word has never been used in a derogatory manner against me nor have I heard it used by a white person against another race. It’s with that lense I form my opinion on the word

I’ve never been able to find what I think is a good reason why blacks have the exclusive right to use the word. I find it strange that for example in Scotland saying the word can potentially land you with a criminal charge if you’re white, but a black man wouldn’t face the same repercussion, this seems like an unequal administration of justice. Excluding a race of people or giving a race of people the exclusive rights for a word has never really sat comfortably with me. The most common explanation I’ve heard to justify this arrangement is that the word was used against blacks, and now the blacks are taking the word back as a way of regaining power.

However, if blacks find so much power in the word, why is it every time a white man says the word even in a presumably innocent context, we blacks are expected to have a mental breakdown, feel unsafe, or threatened. How does this show that we have attained power from the continuous public exclusive use of the word if all it takes for that power to break is a single utterance of the word from a white man?

Am I saying the word should be used by whites to insult blacks? No, but someone can racially abuse me without using the word. Using the word doesn’t make the racial abuse any worse in my view. I do feel uncomfortable hearing the word from anyone, regardless of race because I know the history behind it and I question why anyone would want to call another person the word even if it’s used neutrally. But, I also know the difference between when it’s used for a racist attack and when it’s not. There are numerous occasions where blacks (and whites who want to get offended for blacks) get incensed because someone quotes a sentence in which the word was said. For example, in 2008 Papa Johns CEO lost his job after public backlash because he mentioned that the founder of KFC used to call blacks the n-word.

The most popular form of music in the world now (especially among the young) is Rap, some of the biggest entertainers in the world as a result are black and many of them use the word in their music. A significant number of rap fans are white, are we so deluded to think when these white fans sing along to their favourite rap songs alone in their room or among their white friends, they don’t say the word? Are we so deluded to think they don’t repeat famous quotes from a black comedian or movie where the word is used?

For generations to come, I predict art and entertainment will likely continue to be dominated by blacks and many of them will continue to use the N-word. Their fans, a new generation not yet born, that will grow up at a time further away from the horrors of slavery will likely not know the importance or history behind the N-word. The word will lose its impact and the meaning behind it will be forgotten. It will filter out to other races and become part of the common speech whether we like it or not. So if we really don’t want that to happen, the best solution is surely for nobody to use the word, regardless of race.