If you’re not black, don’t say it

Non-black people should never say the n-word regardless of its ending.


by Margaux Renee, Features Editor

I’ve grown up listening to rap. Among other genres of course,  but since I was about seven, hip-hop has been central to my musical taste. From old school to Soundcloud, I’m a big fan, customer and concert-goer. With rap though, comes the n-word, more specifically its derivative with the “a” termination. Because hip-hop culture so often crosses over into the mainstream, people of all ethnic backgrounds consume it, naturally repeating its lyrics. Consequently, white people and non-black people of color everywhere have come to believe that it is okay for them to say this word. I’m here to tell you it’s not.

My explanation begins with the word’s origin. The n-word, terminating in “er” stems from the Portuguese and Spanish terms, negro, meaning dark or black. As with so much of our vocabulary, this term made its way into the English language and took on a new meaning, denoting laziness, irresponsibility, a lack of intelligence, aggression, and any other stereotype associated with black people in this country.

It was used by white people to signify their perceived superiority and immeasurable disdain and repugnance for African-Americans. It was used by slave-owners and klansmen alike, not only to demean black people but to threaten their lives. It remains the most harmful slur in the English language. Anyone wishing to contest this need only to conduct a Google image search of “Jim Crow art.” This will expose a swath of images that depict white America’s image of black people at the time, an image perfectly articulated and synonymous with the n-word.

As with any word, time can be influential. A mere glance through Twitter reveals an alternate meaning of the n-word coming closer to the term “guy.” This usage is not new, however. According to the Journal of Language and Communication, linguists suppose that the n-word first became integrated into black vernacular during slavery, progressively becoming more widespread and accepted in the black community as time passed. Today, the n-word ending in the letter a is used widely, through the process of “normative reversal.” This term describes the re-claiming of a slur by the targeted group in an attempt to empower themselves. In cases like these, it is endearing or humorous when ingroup members use it amongst themselves. It is offensive and unacceptable when someone outside of the group uses it.

Think of the difference between a girl calling another girl the b-word, perhaps endearingly, and a guy using the term. With the guy’s use comes a mountain of misogyny, stereotypes and inherent disrespect, in a world where some women are killed for merely trying to get an education. It’s the same thing. Black people can say the n-word no problem, but it takes on a whole new meaning when a white person uses it, especially in an America where unarmed black people are killed by police officers.

It’s because of this that white use of the n-word is never okay. It instantly becomes charged with the history of colonialism, slavery, Jim-Crow and mass-incarceration the moment it passes a white person’s lips.

Now, one could argue the opposite. I was born in 2001. I didn’t own any slaves. It’s not my fault my ancestors did so why can’t I say it? The fact is you can, but it’s a matter of if you should. It is my, impressively pale, whitebread opinion that Caucasians and non-black people of color should never utter this word, no matter its form. Even if your black friend gave you a “pass” and told you it’s cool. You can’t bypass white supremacy. It doesn’t work that way.

In America, we are blessed with the First Amendment; free speech. But white people’s use of the n-word comes at a cost. In using it, you threaten the lives of African-Americans. So next time you find yourself at a Chance the Rapper concert, consider holding your breath during that one part of “No Problem.” You’d be surprised how much cooler that makes you.