-I have no uses for this word, personally. Scratch that, I have no use for this word unless I am singing along with a rapper who uses it or reciting from a movie; most of the time I pause while the word is used, but I cannot lie that I have used it in those settings. For most of my career I have taught in the inner city. Being white from a “rural” town in Massachusetts, it might seen difficult for me to assimilate, but to quote a new friend I made over the summer, a beautiful, tall, black woman from the Bronx who would remind me that she is Jamaican whenever I warned her that the food I prepared was spicy, she would look at me, and say, your a lot darker than you are white. My skin tone, my accepting of all and my attitude filtered me into the more “darker than not” category, but as a black friend of mine in college once vividly expressed, “I’m not African-American, I am a Black American.” So, maybe I am white, maybe I am darker than a lot, but regardless I do not like that word.
-Until last week I felt that no one should use that word. I was a bit confused what Hispanic people, who looked more white that I do, used that word as those they came off a boat from Sierra Leone or Ghana (and I mention these countries not because of the obvious skin tone distinction, but because of their participation in the “triangle trade” which is the origin of that hateful word). I thought that only black people had the right to use that word and anyone else was not permitted. As an English teacher I have reevaluated this stance because language and words are for everyone’s consumption, but I also saw something in the inner city school of which I teach that made me have to reconsider. I white boy; when I say white boy I don’t mean it to be diminishing of his person as it could be taken, but he was most certainly white, nearly translucent, and a boy wearing the hair of a “red-headed step-child”, again, not intending to be disrespectful, only descriptive, say to a black student, who was probably 3 inches taller and had him by 20 pounds, as well as being a female (and it assuredly is true the expression: hell hath no fury greater than a woman’s scorn), he said, “watch out nigger, I know where you live.” I should mention the tone of voice and the fact that they were both joking around with each other at the time, it was clearly not a concern for safety, but I was FLOORED by this scene. My response was to the young white boy, “excuse me sir, please do not use that kind of language or make threats. Let’s get to class please. Thank you.”
-So, since then I have spent a few days reevaluating my stance on the word. I have heard black adults discuss the word and suggest, “yeah I say it with my friends and stuff at home and when we are in groups, but there are times when I know it’s just not okay.” I get this, I would consent that there are some 3, 4 and even 5 letter words that I rarely use, but for certain settings and would NEVER use in many/most settings. Has that word become just another curse word. Understanding the history and how it has been used to oppress, demean, diminish, control and flat out ruin a race in this country for 500 years, it has always been a curse word; the actions that were connected with it are nothing other than cursed. Have minorities “taken” that word back by using it in a different way. I have been told by many people using it that they are saying it with an “a” ending, nor and “er” ending. Hmm, does it change the meaning enough to change what it means. My ever changing view on this word continues to change.
-Like in different settings, there are different parts of the country and different demographics. There are some areas of this country where the social climate is not much different than it was in the 1950’s. Similar to using the word around certain people, in the different locations, it can be dangerous, especially if you are dark enough in those locations… That word holds similar value in those locations in its power to control and oppress the people of that area.
-Here is where I hold my feeling for that word: I don’t use it because of how I feel about and having an understanding of its history. I am offended by the use of that word in front of my by friends and by students. I wish rappers, especially ones who I respect (Wu-Tang Klan in particular because I like their social activism) would stop using it because I think it retracts from their message (same thing with the “H” word when referring to females, come on man, show some respect). I wish the use of that word would be limited in movies, because like music, movies are training and teaching the youth that the language is okay to use (point to the parents as a source of guidance, and yes they should be helping to better understand the media, but they are not equip to compete with social media and the inundation of advertising). However, what it comes down to is education.
-Paulo Freire felt that “education is freedom” and with this I agree. If the youth were to be educated in the realm of the origins of that word, the media was not using it as thoroughly as it is and parents were able to have a meaningful conversation about that word with their children it could be eradicated, but I know what is not going to happen. As Freire philosophized, first there needs to be an investment in education to break the shackles of that word and how it is still used to control a class. The use of that word not controls the poverty class of people who are being controlled to not value education (for generations) and thus will continue to live in the poverty class using 3, 4, 5 and that one 6 letter word.
-So what can I do? I am of the opinion that if you are disrespected it is because you allow yourself to be. You show respect and you give respect NO MATTER WHAT and you express your feeling of appreciation for being respected back. Example: A student was talking about another student, “That little fucking nigger, running his fucking mouth I’m going to fuck that bitch up.” I put my hand on his shoulder and say, “Excuse me sir, I would appreciate it if you could not use that kind of language. Thank you.” remove my hand and begin to walk away. His response, “Oh, sorry mister.” From that point on, if he, or ANYONE at that group of 4 swore and I addressed it, even with a look, they would apologize. So what? What does that have to do with that word, I’m getting there.
-If someone mispronounces my name, or even calls me a different name (which is more common than mispronouncing my name) I simply correct them politely. If I don’t correct them, how can I imagine they would be able to know they are doing something wrong? If I don’t address the fact that I find that word or swear words, especially in school offensive, even by simply requesting them not to use that kind of language in a respectful polite manner how can I expect them to understand that I am not okay with it.
-That word’s use is ever-changing, as is my understanding of it and my opinion of its use. I do feel that the preponderance of its use in media and in society are a direct result of the people who are in power (still white men, just like the people who used it to control and oppress 500 years ago) and people who use that word are showing their class, double entendre intended. I find the use of it offensive and as I want to help, I will continue to respectfully address the use of that word as much as I can. Become educated, it’s the only way to be truly free.
3 thoughts on “The “N” Word”