A few years back, I published a post titled “4 Reasons White People Can’t Use the N-Word.” Since it’s publication, it’s been one of my most popular posts.
Well, I gave it a bit of a reboot over at Everyday Feminism. Check it out below…
New debates are springing up in a long-contentious dialogue about reclamation of oppressive language.
During the recent ESPN “Outside the Lines” special discussion of a proposed NFL rule to penalize the n-word, Twitter erupted in critique, criticism, and debate.
In the midst of this debate, though, there is generally one rule when it comes to the n-word on which there is almost total consensus among Black people:
Yet White people don’t seem to get it.
I’d likely be a wealthy man if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a White person ask “If Black people can just throw the n-word around all the time, why is it not okay for White people to use that word?”
I can only imagine the number of dimes Black people would have. Innumerable.
And despite how important listening to the voices of marginalized and oppressed people is to social justice work on the part of those with privilege, White people on the whole really seem to have hard time with this one.
Perhaps this is because we don’t like being told that anything is off limits to us.
Or perhaps we just have trouble hearing the voices of those we consider, at some basic level, to be lesser, not fully human.
Regardless of the reason, maybe it’s time for a different tact.
Perhaps you can hear it better or differently if a White person explains why exactly we don’t get to use the n-word, regardless of what Black folks are doing.
So here is my message to you.
Dear White Folks,
We have to stop using the n-word.
Like really, really.
And I know what you’re thinking, “But—But—‘They’ get to say it all the time!”
Well, tough cookies.
Here’s why it’s not okay for us to say it, no matter what Black folks are doing:
1. We Lost the Privilege
You know that whole 600 year time period when White Europeans were buying and selling Black Africans as chattel?
And remember how that whole system was enforced by a violent system of repression whereby Black slaves who did not act the way the White folks wanted them to were beaten and murdered?
Oh, and remember that time after slavery when Black people were locked in a system called Jim Crow that used a similar fear of violence and repression to keep Black people in “their place?”
Well, in the midst of all that shit, there was a word invented by White people as a pejorative for Black folks. And it was used just about every time a Black person was whipped, chained, beaten, insulted, spat upon, raped, lynched, or otherwise humiliated and mistreated by White folks.
Thus, I really don’t care how much White folks want to use that word.
I don’t care how unfair you think it is that someone else gets to use it when we don’t.
Our people gave up the privilege to use that word the moment we invented it as a tool of oppression.