TO THE NTH WORD DEGREE: Why Black People Use the N Word

Let’s end the confusion once and for all.

First, understand that I’m not advocating the use of the word.  It will be a glorious day in America when it disappears from our collective lexicon.  I’m explaining why it’s not racist when a black person uses it, as it is ridiculous to pretend that we can promote systemic hate against ourselves. Can it be used by us as an insult? Sure. However, the racism implied cannot exist unless you accept the false notion that black people can hate their own blackness. The term "self-hating" doesn't mean "screw myself", rather prioritizing individuality over ethnicity to the detriment of others in the same group. A black person saying "all lives matters" doesn't hate black people or themselves. You should understand this without explanation.

Second, understand that it’s not the use of the word by white people that gives us pause, rather the implied racist mentality that may have wielded it. That same mind makes decisions with it possibly in consideration.  In the end, it is truly just another potentially bad word. Our concern comes from whether or not the ease of use to which a slur is use will translate into easily violating our civil rights. Hulk Hogan’s “fucking nigger” tirade backlash from us is more about what this mentality has damaged when he used his powerful influence, not simple hurt feelings over an insult. Also, the irony of emulating black speech for decades (and endearing himself to us) all the while hating our very nature is a particularly jagged pill to swallow.

So, why do we use the word when it is inherently toxic?

Because words are powerful. Simply inserting certain words into a discussion about a black person’s death by cops easily turns off most minds to the possibility of police corruption. “He was no angel” means a threat was stopped before it could do more harm. “She was no model citizen” means she deserved it because she had no respect.  “Thug” is the new black. It invalidates humanity while pushing a narrative of self-destruction rather than sanctioned murder. Every day we encounter words that make it harder and harder for us to exercise basic civil freedoms when we need them the most.

Simply put, we decided to wield the power of “nigger” for ourselves. We turned a word that would normally announce to everyone listening that the target isn’t human enough for consideration into a term of endearment between each other. Our fond use of the word has made it extremely difficult for racists to use it to invalidate our humanity any longer. We’ve even allowed the younger generation of non-blacks to admire the word, thereby taking the sting out of any racist tirade their parents may try while using it. The subtlety of saying “my nigga” (as in “my friend “) has damaged the effectiveness of “you nigger” (as in “you get back in your place”).

The debate isn’t about who can use it and who can’t. It’s about who can handle it and who uses it FOR us instead of AGAINST us. Insults are a dime a dozen. If it really was about hurt feelings, we wouldn’t insist on that pesky equal treatment so much. So stop mourning the supposedly loss of being allowed to say it while lamenting our use of it.

Just be human while remembering that we are too.

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