The *N* Word

This post or the sentiments shared are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or feeling of anyone but…MINE. I am not a spokesperson for all Black people therefore I do not approve of this post being used to interpret how ALL or other Black people think and feel about race and/or the *N* word.  Please refer to the individual for specific questions or instructions.  Thank you. 

I don’t like it. It is offensive.  I am not a nigger. 

After a dear friend suggested that I write about this topic, I took on the challenge. This is such a loaded topic with more layers than an onion; it is emotional as it is painful and personal.  It is embedded in American history as it was often the last word Black people heard before being lynched or killed.  It was used as a weapon. Almost as deadly as a loaded gun. It caused or causes damage; the kind that is not easily forgiven or forgotten. 

I can’t recall the exact year but I do remember everything else. I will take a wild guess and say that it was at least 17 years ago. I was living in Chicago where I was born and raised. It was an early weekday afternoon and I was on my way to work. I was in downtown Chicago, steps away from the famed Sears Tower and it happened. To me.  I don’t recall what preceded it or what provoked it. “You fucking nigger!” This is what I was called for the first time in my life. It was by a white man who (based upon where we were located), could have easily been a Stock broker, an attorney, financial adviser; based upon how he was dressed, he had a professional position somewhere. He appeared and seemed harmless until he verbally assaulted me. “You fucking nigger,” is what he decided to say to me as our worlds intersected in that moment.  Nothing happened before or during that exchange between two strangers, two people that required or necessitated him calling me a nigger. Was  I rude to him? Did he take exception to my attitude? Had I been an asshole for the seconds that he experienced me? If so, why not say that? Why did he have to call me a nigger? 

I never thought about that time much since it occurred. I know that I was appropriately livid at the time. But over time I decided to let it go. I had to, otherwise this experience would have changed me.  It had the potential to be a game changer…in a very negative way as it related to how I regarded other white people. 

This is why the *N* word is so impactful still in the 21st century.  I was alarmed and disarmed when that individual called me a nigger. He immediately had the upper hand. He shut everything down momentarily and he won by leveraging a form of cultural and racial power that was disporportinate to what I was capable of. My ancestors more than likely never oppressed his ancestors.   My ancestors had no positional or legal authority to deny his ancestors any inalienable rights; privileges or the fundamental right to live like a human being in this country. Or in Chicago.  He did not know me and he did not need or want to; my skin color told my story and he told me what he thought of me. Even if I returned fire and met his racism with my own and started spewing racial slurs back at him, it would have been the equivalent of showing up to a gun fight with a sling shot. 

There are some White people, non-Black and even some Black people who argue that the *N* word is an acceptably universal term, permissible because it is flagrantly used in hip hop or rap music. The artists who use and defend the use of the word have a variety of reasons for doing so. Some will argue that it diminishes the cultural and historical tenor of the word; others bottom line it and say that it’s approved street or urban vernacular.  Others claim to only take artistic license in using the word and maintain that the word is not a part of their personal vocabulary. 

As I said in the beginning, I am only speaking for me. I don’t know what anyone else intends to say when they speak. I have no authority or control of someone else’s usage or command of the English language.  I know what I mean and what I intend to say.  I also learned in college when I studied Communications, that communication in and of itself is about the Receiver and not the Sender. It does not matter what I intended to say or what message I wanted you to get; it is all about what you heard. 

So when it comes down to the “N” word, legitimate so-called hypocrisy is fine with me. Let me break it down further. If another Black person calls me a nigger, he or she cannot oppress me. We have a similar cultural experience.  This person can insult, alienate and provoke me. However, in the literal and historical reference; the oppressive intent of the word is absent when Black people use the *N* word among each other.  Therefore, I am not equally offended if the word is used by another Black person.  I accept that this is how this particular individual thinks, speaks or chooses to express him or herself. And yes I absolutely clutch my pearls and become uncomfortable when the word is used by Black people in the presence of non-Black people.  It’s just not okay to me for the reasons that I have already explained. 

As I also said at the beginning of this post, I personally find this pejorative term offensive regardless of who uses it. However, I do realize there may be times when the word is contextually relevant among Black people to make a specific point.  

Personally, my vocabulary is expansive enough that I know how to use my words versus centuries old, erroneous, demeaning and hateful stereotypes to define or comment on objectionable behavior that is not exclusive to any one race or  so-called “minorities.” 

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