First, a few words about this FAQ. Many people much smarter and much more cohesive than me have written extensively about ‘the N word’, so if you have any questions after this etc I’d advise you seek out what’s already been written. Secondly, don’t treat this as the GOSPEL on Black people’s relationship with the N word, and I don’t at all intend to speak for all Black people. Also, this is prety brief and doesn’t cover every single frequently asked question, so if there’s anything you’d like adding, feel free to say. With that in mind…
The N Word. Why is it such a bad word?/GOSH IT’S ONLY A WORD!!!
A helpful article, N*gger and Caricatures by Dr. David Pilgrim and Dr. Phillip Middleton can be found [here]
To quote a little from the article
There is a direct and strong link between the word nigger and anti-black caricatures. Although nigger has been used to refer to any person of known African ancestry it is usually directed against blacks who supposedly have certain negative characteristics. The Coon caricature, for example, portrays black men as lazy, ignorant, and obsessively self-indulgent; these are also traits historically represented by the word nigger. The Brute caricature depicts black men as angry, physically strong, animalistic, and prone to wanton violence. This depiction is also implied in the word nigger. The Tom and Mammy caricatures are often portrayed as kind, loving “friends” of whites. They are also presented as intellectually childlike, physically unattractive, and neglectful of their biological families. These latter traits have been associated with blacks, generally, and are implied in the word nigger. The word nigger was a shorthand way of saying that blacks possessed the moral, intellectual, social, and physical characteristics of the Coon, Brute, Tom, Mammy, and other racial caricatures.
The word nigger carries with it much of the hatred and repulsion directed toward Africans and African Americans. Historically, nigger defined, limited, and mocked African Americans. It was a term of exclusion, a verbal justification for discrimination. Whether used as a noun, verb, or adjective, it reinforced the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless parasite. No other American ethnophaulism carried so much purposeful venom.
I’m white, can I use it?
After reading the above, why would you want to? No, you can’t.
I’m a non-Black PoC, can I use it?
After reading the above, why would you want to? No, you can’t.
So why can Black people use it?
Because when used amongst Black people, it is a reclaimed slur. See this extract from Why Black People Can Use The N Word
I think that slurs are prohibited terms whose occurrences are offensive. When enough people (or the right person or persons) say a word is not appropriate for referring to a particular group, then that word becomes a slur. However, the prohibition is not absolute. It does allow for some exceptions. Among those exceptions are non-derogatory uses by members of the targeted group. Immediately we can see why African Americans (and certain others) can use the N-word for camaraderie purposes while non-African Americans typically cannot. It is just built into the exception clause that the former can and the latter cannot.
HEY! That’s not fair! Either everyone can use it or nobody can use it!!!
Well, no. Reclaiming slurs doesn’t really work like that. When used by non-Black PoC or white people, it still has that power to oppress and trigger, even when used in a camaraderie sense. When used amongst Black people, its power as a slur is reduced.
Words are only offensive if you let them be offensive!
I would say that Black people, and marginalised people as a whole, let a WHOLE lot of shit wash over us for an easier life. Considering how dehumanising the N word is, I don’t think it’s a case of “letting” it be offensive at all.
What if I’m quoting a song?
Don’t do it.
What can I say instead?
The best option is to just not say anything, or quote the ‘Radio Friendly’ version. If you must, there are a few options. Katy Perry said ‘ninja’. Glee said ‘jigga’. There’s also ‘knickers’. They all skirt VERY close to the line, so you could also say “brothers”. But really, saying nothing at all is the best way to avoid problems.
What if I’m just saying it for reference, not even calling anybody it e.g. telling someone “It’s not okay to call someone a nigger”?
Censor it out, or say ‘The N Word’.
I’m not Black. What if I say n*gga, rather than n*ggER? That’s not as bad, right?
It’s much of a muchness when coming from non-Black mouths, avoid BOTH if you like having an unbroken nose.
So hang on, why is it different to when PoC call me a cracker?!
Firstly, cracker is short for ‘whipcracker’, as in someone who whipped the slaves. Already this denotes a position of power over PoC, and whilst you may denounce any association with slavery, this connotation doesn’t OPPRESS you in any way. Whilst “cracker” might not be nice word, and might hurt your feelings, the N word isn’t about hurt feelings, it’s about dehumanisation and oppression. White people are not racially oppressed, so “cracker” does not have the power to do either of those things. THAT’S why it’s different.
N*gger N*gger N*gger N*gger N*gger! HA! FUCK YOU I’LL SAY WHAT I LIKE!
Well that just goes to show how insensitive and entitled you are. You get asked to not say one word in the extensive English language, and instead of thinking “Hey fair enough, I guess I don’t really want to use a word so horribly loaded anyway” you care more about your “freedom to say whatever you like without reproach”
Actually, I think n*ggers are just the bad Black people. Good Black people, like the Obamas and Morgan Freeman and my friend Chris are just Black people, not n*ggers.
Despite what a certain famous comedian has said, you can’t rewrite history like that. And if you think such a thing as “good Black people” and “bad Black people” exists, you are racist.
Hey, so my Black friend gave me a “pass”, so it’s okay for me to use it, right?
Only around your Black friend. Nobody else.
My Black friend disagrees with all of this!/I’m Black and I disagree with this!
Your Black friend/you are entitled to disagree with this, of course, but just know that many people disagree with YOU and you should respect that.
My non-Black teacher studied African American Studies and he said you’re wrong.
I’m so glad your non-Black teacher studied Af. American studies and now thinks he is entitled to speak on the oppression of Black people.
I’m gay and I think it’s okay for anyone to say the word f*g, so Black people should be okay with the N word!
Being marginalised on another axis does not give you permission to dictate how other marginalised people deal with their oppression. So, no.
Actually, I’m white and I agree with Louis CK on this one.
Louis CK is misguided. And if you’re white and look to other white people to explain racism to you, you’re doing it very very wrong.
Can I say it when there are no Black people around?
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?!
THIS FAQ IS STUPID AND YOU’RE STUPID!!
Welp! Have fun saying the N word, and mind someone doesn’t punch you in the face.
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