I’m not sure how I spent almost 8 months writing for Black in the Maritimes and have managed to not discuss this very important element of daily racism, but today is the day. I have heard many arguments for who can and should say the N word. Most people say only Black people should use the N word, but that opens the discussion for white people to say “what about singing along to rap songs”, “why do you say the N word in rap songs if you don’t want everyone to be able to sing along”? Sigh. I have a potentially controversial opinion on this, so let’s just dive in.
Obviously I do not think that anyone who is not a Black person should say the N word. I think it is degrading, offensive, heinous and there is no good reason to ever use it. I think white people want to be able to say it (asking for an N word pass, saying Nigga instead of ending it in “er”, rapping it in songs) because white people can’t handle not being allowed to do something, anything. As the policy makers, colonizers, and group with the most disgusting God Complex, they can’t handle not being a part of something. Seeing Black brothers and sisters come together and reclaim this word while ostracizing white people from that, I think makes white people even more inclined to want to use it in a colloquial way. They just need to be part of the club and can’t handle something not being theirs.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that Black people have reclaimed the N word in the way they intended. When Feminists decided to reclaim b*tch and c*nt they never decided to change the meaning. As I have understood it as a feminist, when we call people b*tches we are owning the word as it is presented, or even admitting that we women can be that way, but that we are the ones to make that choice and say that word. I will call myself a c*nt all day long if I want but I won’t accept that language from a man. Black people decided to reclaim the N word but change the meaning and try to make it cool, and I think that was a mistake, because again that made the word fun and renewed interest in it for the whites. Now, I don’t want to give the whites a pass but if we tell them for years that this word is bad, a big no-no, and then suddenly amongst ourselves we use that sameword to mean brother, friend, to call someone out, to even replace laughter (see: my niiiiiigga) we are now sending conflating messages to a group that might actually be trying to be better. It’s like leaving a cookie jar out for a kid. We’ve told these people that saying this word is basically the ultimate semantic sin and then we do that exact thing in front of them all day long like big bullies. Now of course we have earned the right to say that word because of the entire suffering we have gone through, but trying to reclaim the word and also remove the meaning to make it less traumatizing and triggering to Black people has made probably confused a lot of white people and we need to recognize that.
Maybe you can already sense my final thought, but, maybe Black people also shouldn’t say the N word. I think as long as we include it in rap songs and try to change the meaning of it, we encourage white people looking for any excuse to do something racist/wrong/bad/hurtful to use it as well. If the word holds that much trauma, and is that negative, changing the definition isn’t enough. I know anyone who wants to do wrong, or do something harmful will find a way, but it feels a bit like leading the horse to water by using the N word within ebonics amongst Black people and then thinking white people won’t join in and then say “well you were saying it”.
I remember when I was younger, I said “nigga” while rapping along to some Kanye West and my mom getting so heated. I retaliated by reminding my mom that I was black and I could say it. She retaliated by saying “not in my house”. And I can understand why now. If it is a word so rooted with hatred, is there ever a way to remove the sting from it, no matter how we try to reframe it? If we can’t reframe the word and then allow everyone to use it, I vote no one use it. Make this evil word so irrelevant it becomes archaic like the entire Latin language. Jay-Z can rap another word. We don’t need to die on this hill.