Why I Don’t Use The N-Word Anymore As a Black Woman
I haven’t used the n-word in almost a year now.
As a Black person, you never notice how much you say it until you decide to stop. It’s in Black music, Black movies, our greetings, and our humor. It is our reclaiming of a word that is still used against us but I’m no longer convinced that we can successfully do that in today’s America. Acting like we’ve reclaimed the n-word pretends that racism is part of the past, but it’s not.
It was only last November that Charles Kaiser used it live on CNN Newsroom, quoting the actual words of Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general. That same month, a Detroit reporter was forced to resign after using the slur. A few months prior to that, tweets surfaced of the 2016 winner of Miss Teen USA using it. The use of the N-word as a word of hate and oppression isn’t part of our sordid past, it’s part of America right now.
A lot of times people try to justify using it by separating an n-word that ends in -er from one that ends with -a. But as my best friend likes to tell me, some people call it paper and some people pronounce it “pay-puh,” but the meaning is still the same.
The word was created by white people as a pejorative for black people in the midst of slavery. There is a history of sexual abuse and lynching attached to this word that honestly wasn’t that long ago. Despite all of this, white people feel entitled to use it because Black people do. I hear them complain about the harsh double standard that is restricting its use, ignoring that the context of being a white person changes its meaning. When white people use the n-word, it stings.
I was 11 when a classmate called me an n-word on the playground. I was 19 when one of my best friends used it to describe my ex-boyfriend. It’s commonly used in online spaces, like Facebook comments, Forums and MMORPGs.
The worst is when it comes from so-called friends or acquaintances. On one occasion, someone cut me and my predominantly white sorority sisters off in traffic. One of them rolled down her window and hurled the n-word at the other car. The -er (girl, yes, the ER) extended out over the horn honks. Straight like that. Everyone else in the car exchanged looks with me, but nobody said anything. That silence was painful too.
That day, my sister told me that she felt there were two kinds of black people, one being regular black people and the other being n-words.
“So don’t worry,” she reassured me, “I don’t mean you.”
But for Black people, there is no separation. When you call one of us the n-word, you’re speaking to all of us. It reminds anyone who hears it that there is a mental distinction between people of color and white people, that we are seen as less.
Over a year later, I was still arguing within my organization about how entitled white people are to the n-word. I saw a comment on another sorority sister’s Facebook that read, “Maybe if Black people didn’t act like such n-words, we wouldn’t treat them like n-words.” All she said in response was, “LOL” but it was such a hard LOL to read. I felt like I was at war but nobody was on my side.
Black people need fewer people being Facebook social justice warriors and more people saying something IRL. Not only is it not okay to use the n-word, but staying quiet when your racist friend uses it makes you complicit. Refusing to take real action against racists reminds us that we have a lot fewer allies and a lot more people simply performing allyship for the woke points. Instead of allyship, I kept getting: But if black people can say it, why can’t we? How difficult.
White people have used the word to oppress black people for hundreds of years but are offended not to be able to participate in its reclaiming? What is their attachment to the word even? It sounds cool in rap songs? The culture of the n-word is having that word used as a weapon against you and people who look like you. Perhaps it’s fun not to experience that culture but get the alleged “street cred,” but not using the word is the easiest request to fulfill.
And as a Black person, I no longer use the n-word. I don’t want to reclaim it anymore. If it hurts so much to hear it from white people, I don’t want it to be something I use to describe other Black people. I never want to hear my use of it thrown in my face again.
We have to remember that words have power. Pretending otherwise would be willful ignorance.