Did you all know this is an actual thing? Kids thinking they’ve got a “pass” to say the n word because some other kid said they did. What ever-loving foolishness is this?
I try to keep a non confrontational tone in these small bites posts – open dialogue, safe space for learning, all that jazz – but I am for real gonna need my fellow white people to check our young folks. Ask your kids if they think this is a thing. See if their friends think this is a thing. Then talk with them about why it is never EVER okay for a white person (young, old, or anywhere in between) to use the word n*****.
Let’s talk about the word’s history.
Please note: Articles in my research use the n word in its complete form. I do not, but the knowledge gained comes from their work. Please read the materials listed below for yourself.
We can trace the word’s origins to the Latin word niger, meaning Black. This evolved into Negro for Black person in the English language, and it’s believed that n***** is a phonetic spelling of the White Southern mispronunciation of Negro.
By the early 1800s the n word was thoroughly entrenched as derogatory. It was used to characterize, exclude, and deride all Blacks. Its many variations (see usage list¹) reinforced the stereotype of a “lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless nobody”¹ deserving of violence. This stereotype has always been reinforced across the spectrum – in books, movies, and art; by white teachers educating their white students; by ministers and scientists and the criminal justice system. White people used all these avenues to systematically indoctrinate Blacks “into accepting their supposed inferiority”².
The n word has been used throughout our country’s history to demean and terrorize American citizens.
Let’s look at people who’ve used the word n***** to keep Black people in their place: slaveholders, slave traders, those who enacted black codes¹ designed to restrict freed blacks’ activity in the South, the Ku Klux Klan, supporters of Jim Crow laws, fans of segregation, racists.
Not company I’d like to keep…
Yes, some African Americans use the word. Some don’t. I’m asserting that whether or not the Black community uses the n word has nothing to do with whether a white person should use it.
So talk with your kids. See what they think. Find out what their friends believe. And if none of my other arguments swayed you then consider this: if your kid is white, or your friend’s kid is white, and they drop the n word in front of the wrong person it’s likely they’ll have their ass handed to them. Food for thought.
Note added: It’s been suggested this last point reinforces the concept of black people as uncontrollable, violent, or dangerous and that point is well taken. I didn’t mean to imply this but my flippant phrasing didn’t help. I do want you to hear that, when white people aren’t around, some black people share a strongly visceral reaction to the n word coming out of a white mouth. Thank you to the reader who pointed this out for me.
¹ Middleton, P., & Pilgrim, D. (n.d.). “Nigger (the word), a brief history.” Retrieved June 26, 2019, from https://aaregistry.org/story/nigger-the-word-a-brief-history/
² Starkey, Brando Simeo. “If You Truly Knew What the N-Word Meant to Our Ancestors, You’d NEVER Use It.” The Undefeated, 18 May 2017, from theundefeated.com/features/if-you-truly-knew-what-the-n-word-meant-to-our-ancestors-youd-never-use-it/.
³ Bernard, Emily. “Teaching the N-Word.” The American Scholar, 1 Sept. 2005, theamericanscholar.org/teaching-the-n-word/#.XRO_qy2ZPys.