*this post originally appeared on doingmoor.com*
Because f*ck respectability politics.
Earlier this week, former CNN host Piers Morgan wrote a completely off-base article for shock-site DailyMail on why Black people need to stop saying the N-word, because he’s an expert on all things Black and has studied the history of the racist language extensively (sarcasm).
Now, I don’t necessarily promote the use of the N-word and rarely feel comfortable saying it myself (hence my reluctance to type it here), but sometimes, in very specific settings where I know it won’t trigger painful emotions for the Black people in my presence, I do. At the same time, I undeniably believe there is no specific setting where white people can say it and not be racist. That’s a double standard, I know. Here’s why that’s OK:
- Because I’m Black and know what it means, and what it means to me it could never mean to a white person.
- Because what it means to a white person will always be tied to the history of white usage. That history was one of the murder, rape, lynching and slavery of Black people. Nigger was screamed when we were murdered. Nigger was screamed when we were raped. Nigger was screamed when we were lynched. Nigger was screamed when we were enslaved.
- Because white people weren’t called Nigger while they were murdered, raped, lynched, and enslaved by Black people on a mass scale.
- Because white racists don’t require an excuse to be racist, and getting rid of a word isn’t going to stop racism, which is the problem we should be focused on.
- Because even though I say it during only the most rare occasions, giving up that right is endorsing the view that stopping will have any effect at all on racism. It won’t.
- Because blaming Black people for white racism is so easy and racist itself.
- Because it’s not the word that’s the problem I won’t devote my energy chasing red herrings.
- Because even though they shouldn’t, white people will still use it regardless of what Black people do, and no one is putting a gun to their head to stop them. That makes them racist, though, and racism is the problem.
- Because within a community there is always an inter-community language, even if that language is sometimes ironic and self-disparaging. I can call my sister an idiot, but you call her that and we might have to fight.
- Because as much as I love white people, they will never be a part of this community. And that’s OK. We can share many other communities. We can be American together. We can be men together. We can be college grads together. But they can’t have my Black family, and I can’t have their’s. That’s OK.
- Because context changes things, and we don’t say Black people shouldn’t wear make-up that matches Black skin, but we know Black face on white people is wrong.
- Because instead of ignoring a bad word, we should be discussing what it means.
- Because people need to learn that there are some things white people just can’t have.
All of us should be aware of how our language affects those around us, and it is understandable that the N-word is painful for a lot of people who experienced it when its use by white racists was widely accepted. But we must understand that this word’s use among Black people has nothing to do with its use among white people, and any conflation of the meaning behind Black use and white use of the word is misleading and dangerous.