Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memo To White America: No, You Can't Say The Word "N*gger". And Here's Why.

So, another week, another N-Word controversy. The graveyard of well meaning white folks who've seen their life's work destroyed with the uttering of of simple 6 letter[1] word is numerous. You'd think that folks would have gotten the memo by now. Apparently not.

When such "N-Wordy" situations as Mel Gibson, Dr. Laura, or "KKKramer" arise, the postmortem tends to go in two predictable directions. Black folks tell white folks they just can't say the word, and white folks tell black people why it's such an outlandish double standard, given how many rappers and black comedians use the word. Besides, there's that pesky First Amendment to consider.

Rather than going into some pointless anthropological study of the word's origin and why it is still a painful slur today, I'll just keep it real simple for ya'll.

No, white folks, you can't say the word "n*gger", just because you can't.


Many folks would slam this as reverse-reverse racism, hypocrisy, or worse. It's not. To say so would assume that the English language has no inherent contextual double standards. It has plenty.

You could walk over to your wife, and whisper in her ear how you're going to take her home, drink some red wine, dim the lights, turn on some Michael Bolton and make passionate love to her till the sun comes up. I could walk up to your wife, say the very same thing (minus the Michael Bolton of course) and I'd probably get my ass kicked, maybe even get the police called on me.

Yes, I have the right to use those words, just not towards your wife.

Double standard, right?

Every cultural group has a million and one sayings that are exclusive to, and perfectly acceptable in said group. Gays can call it other things. Hispanics have their own vernacular. Ditto for Asians. People outside of said groups run the risk of catching a beatdown if they utter those very same words. This is no double standard, it just is what it is. And no, this isn't just "a minority thang". Jeff Foxworthy can call white people "rednecks" and get rich in the process. Let Al Sharpton do the same. Race riot!!!

The funny thing about the "N-Word" is that Black America itself is hardly monolithic when it comes to the use of the word. Many people (ie: my parents) come from a generation where the sting of such a word was a part of painful childhood memories, they wouldn't use the word to describe the devil. Some others use the word to describe other black folks in a not-so-savory light. Some people use it as an all-purpose pronoun. The numbers of us who "reclaim the word to strip it of power" and use it "as a term of affection" are far, far, far smaller that most "National Conversations On Race" would have you believe. And then, you've got people like me who didn't know any better in the past, but now try our best to not use it at all.

Again, one 6-letter[2] word, myriad black points of view. But we're pretty much unanimous on one thing, and one thing only as pertains to the dreaded "N-Word".

You'd better not say it.

Question: Is the "N-Word" controversy that arises everytime a white person says it indicative of the PC nature of America circa 2010? What, if anything, is the "N-Word" equivalent for white folks? Should the "N-Word" be banned from American vernacular altogether?

[1] For anyone wondering why I didn't completely spell out the "N-Word" in this post's title, the reason is simple. I don't want anyone getting dinged when they try and leave comments, or emails with that subject line showing up in folks inboxes at work. That's all.

[2] Or 5. Depending on context.

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