PostRacialist

No One Has Permission to Say the “N-Word” (Unconventional Wisdom)

Comedian Dave Chappelle had a fondness for the word “nigger.” He used it liberally in his comedy bits, even extending the racial slur to non-black people. It became a catch all handle for any and everyone. It was just an expression for him and it was one that got laughs.

To a point.

Some people were laughing with Chappelle and that infamous word. Others were laughing at him. And nothing disturbed him more than the individuals who relished in the taboo nature of the racially charged term. Those who longed to say it with reckless abandon, who argued that if Chappelle could say it, if other black people could say it, if rappers could say it, why couldn’t white people say it too?

More after the jump.

I have an easy answer to that question. No one can really “say” the N-word, white, black or otherwise. It has always been a “use at your own risk” term.

My mother does not curse and she does not use the term nigger. My father does curse and does use the term. The great battle of the word nigger has been going on in the Belton household for decades as my mother bristles at the usage, refuses to say it, does not like to hear it and finds it offensive coming from anyone, including the man she loves and married. My father believes that while offensive it can be used between black people as a term of familiarity.

But even he agrees there are consequences. Even he knows he can’t use it any and everywhere. What’s appropriate to say when joshing around with his club brothers is not appropriate at work or with his wife or with others. He knows how he would be perceived if he were to just drop it in casual conversation and that it would go over about as well as a curse term he loathes, “mother fucker.”

No one can say it, not even black people, without potentially upsetting other someone. During the Don Imus “nappy headed ho” debacle I was often befuddled how no one pointed out that if a black person had said the same thing there would have been some level of outrage, just as there are blacks who regularly speak out against the vulgarity in rap music. These words, that Imus claimed to have overheard from black culture and music, are considered offensive among blacks. It wasn’t just that a white man had said them. If anyone had said them they would have been offensive. If rapper 50 Cent had said them there would have been black some people bemoaning the tragedy of yet another rapper denigrating black women.

So when I meet people who desire to use such loaded terms as nigger or nappy, I tell them “You can use it, but if you get your ass kicked, don’t complain.” Because these are derogatory terms. These are defamatory terms. These are controversial terms. White or black, you’re going to offend somebody when you’re purposely being offensive.

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26 thoughts on “No One Has Permission to Say the “N-Word” (Unconventional Wisdom)

  1. Monie says:

    Didn’t DL Hughley call the Rutgers women "Nappy headed hoes" on the Tonight Show? There was a bit of outrage but not nearly as much as when Imus said it. Hughley got two shows after that, one on BET which bombed and one on CNN which bombed. So even though I agree that some things shouldn’t be siad by anyone, when a African American person says something offensive, especially if it’s directed at African American women, the level of outrage is much less.

  2. lincolnperry says:

    I have always argued that Dave Chappelle did more damage than he did good, he made it comfortable for White People to laugh at black people publicly in there offices. He was the Eddie Murphy of his generation, just like Murphy made fun of black icons James Brown and Steve Wonder on SNL, Chappelle made a bad attempt at satire!

  3. Court says:

    I used to have a white roommate in college who would refer to my black girlfriends as "bitches" or "hoes", as in "What’s up hoes!" when she walked into the dorm while we were together. I guess she picked it up from BET or popular culture, and thought we actually call each other bitch and ho. She meant it playfully of course, but they were not very pleased and I was advised to check her before they did. Now I have actually referred to my bestfriend as a bitch or ho in sport (and she, me), but only in certain contexts and certain environments. I would never actually use those terms at her job/church etc, and certainly never with other black women that I’m unfamiliar with, nor would I want to. Same issue with the word nigger, use it when it fits, but at your own risk.

  4. Black people always say that they take the slur and now use it for upliftment.No matter what, I just don’t like word.What’s wrong with the word "nappy"?

  5. Christina says:

    I would never use the word to describe a person. I would never call a person that to their face or behind their back, seriously or in jest. I would never use the word to describe ANYTHING, animal, vegetable to mineral. Not being black, I feel I have zero latitude when it comes to this. I don’t enjoy it when anyone uses the word, but I recognize when it’s not my culture, sometimes it’s just not my business.But here’s what kills me. I have on occasion found myself in conversations about the word. Much like this one, these conversations center around the use of the word, or its history, or its meaning, or basically any sociological relevance of the word. During the conservations, I feel like I need to refer to the word as "the n-word." I think that’s stupid. There’s no other word I’m so afraid of that I just don’t say it. If I want to talk about the sociological relevance of the word fuck, I just say fuck, even in a professional setting. if it’s being talked about in that setting. If I’m discussing the word, as in the actual word itself, shouldn’t I just SAY the word. If I want to say, "The variety of interpretations of the ‘n-word’ are fascinating," why can’t I just use the word itself? But I’m so concerned that someone listening will be so literal about NEVER using the word, they’ll be offended. Lame. Immature and lame.

  6. Advn2rgirl says:

    It’s a bad word, granted. However, there are times when it IS appropriate, needed, even. Remember when Christopher Darden tried to argue that Johnny Cochrane couldn’t quote the police officer’s use of the word because even hearing it in the courtroom would so damage the jury that OJ couldn’t get a fair trial? The only reasonable response Judge Ito could have made (had he been black) was, "Nigger, please."

  7. ezparz says:

    It’s not that hard to just say n-word. I respect it’s power. Chappelle famously used the n-word but I disagree that it gave permission to whites to use the term. I consider myself more aware than most whites about racism but I think Dave was very clear that it was a complicated term, that racism is rampant, and that both blacks and whites are ambivalent about it. In the "Meet the Niggars" episode there’s a point at the end where Dave sort of jumps out of character and says something to the effect that "all this [n-word] hating is making me cry inside." It’s heavy satire and there were several skits on his show that brought me close to tears because he was so clever at pointing out the societal hatred of blacks and the self-loathing in blacks. Dave Chappelle is a genius and I miss him dearly. His Block Party documentary is my favorite movie and I believe it shows where he stands politically.

  8. Mzbenita says:

    I honestly feel that the "N-word" is just that… a word. It’s only as effective as the power we as individuals put behind it. Yes, for some it’s the worst word on earth to use to refer to African Americans. But depending on where your from, refering to us as "Black" people is just as offensive. It’s all mental…people, things AND words only have as much power over you as you allow.

  9. Clarisa says:

    Actors, comedians, rappers have great influence on the young generation – especially on the youth in Europe – but in each line of their music or sketchs there is a slur word; the youth over this side of the Atlantic happily sing the songs, sometimes not even knowing exactly what they are saying. Worst of all is that, women dance to these songs, shaking their backs to the video cameras. In these videos the women become just their hoes and bitches, thus reducing themselves to objects. On the other hand the N-word has become a fashionable word to say every time, sometimes these people forget that saying it reduces the image of black people. The ‘masters’ used the term to abuse a whole generation of black people. To use the term as sign of familiarity is wrong. I don’t often hear white people using derogatory term to address each other. Jonathan E. McCoy a young American boy spent some of his hours to write an essay on why we should wipe the word from our life style vocabulary (check http://myafroitalianlife.blogspot.com to read more) I support his petition and I urge everyone to follow suit.

  10. OneChele says:

    I have given out the same advice as Snob. I tell people, "You can say whatever you want, this is America. You have the right to open your mouth and get your a$$ kicked all in the span of ten minutes." Assess your risk and ask yourself, is it worth it?

  11. swiv says:

    the person who’s doing the "ass kicking" should also consider "is it worth going to jail for assault worth it?"

  12. BluTopaz says:

    This is a big issue for me, as for here in NYC there are loads of young Hispanics who use the word with their Black pets in tow. It annoys the heck out of me that these we are the world fools would condone the use of the word, and often the mindset is ‘well they are just spanish Black people’. I don’t recall seeing any Hispanics (or any other race but Blacks) hanging from trees surrounded by White mobs shouting nigger, so no, it is not ok for them to use it. See what would happen if they shout the s- word, everything wouldn’t be all lovey dovey then. I had a clueless East Indian instructor amusingly use the word once when he was referencing some overseas rapper who used it, and me and the 2 other Black students looked at each other like, we are not paying this kind of tuition to be insulted by this trash. I also get tired of hearing Black people use it for every other word. Listen to the average group of Black teenagers on the subway; an alien would think there is actually someone named Nigger who is very popular. And forget about saying there is no power in the word, it’s the mentality that goes along with it. Is it a coincidence there is an epidemic of young Black men killing each other, and the fact that so many of us regularly call each other the worst word in the English language?

  13. dukedraven says:

    Chappelle is funny, except when he’s using racial caricatures and saying the N-word. This word was never used in our household when growing up and I don’t use it to this day.

  14. CarieDM says:

    Delurking to say, I don’t think that word should *ever* be used by anyone. I grew up in Tennessee under Jim Crow law. You were called *that* word before you were ever called woman, man or child. The only time my Dad ever spanked me was when I called mly stepmother by that name just because I didn’t get what I wanted. I was five years old and knew it would never again pass my lips.I don’t understand the concept of using it makes it less painful or somehow our own. It is hateful and denigrating no matter who utters it; there is no love there.BTW, Danielle, I adore your sight for all it offers; it doesn’t matter if posters agree or disagree, everyone has a voice.Thank you!Best regards,Carie

  15. starrie says:

    i don’t like the word and i TRY not to use the word…and certainly i don’t say that word anywhere outside of my home…i die a little everytime i’m in public and i hear young people use the word like it’s love…

  16. bruthaman1 says:

    i know it has been said before but nigger and nigga are two totally different words.also black people have been calling themselves niggaz for a very long time. it is not the 21st century phenomena many people are trying to make it out to be. many nigro’s are just way to worried about how they will be precieved by white society. people not being comfortable in their own skin is more of a drawback than people calling each other niggaz!

  17. fanonn says:

    I HATE the word , always have, always will. I don’t use it , never have, never will. I don’t allow my teenage sons, ages 15 an 16 to use it, or listen to any music that contains it. They have no friends who use it, and they are advised not to befriend people who do.I just can’t get with the use of that term. Perhaps it was my up-bringing, perhaps stories I heard from my Nana, grandfather, and mother. Perhaps it is my knowledge of history. Whatever it is I hate the term, in all its manifestations, and cringe whenever I hear it. Which is, thankfully not at all often.

  18. SirBedevere says:

    I teach my daughter that there is no such thing as a "bad" word. Words in themselves are purely communicative. I also, however, teach her that she should never use words in such a way as to cause pain to others if it is at all avoidable. Consequently, there is almost never an excuse for using words like nigger, kike, chink, etc. Of course, I just used those words in a way that I find acceptable, although some have challenged. Nappy is a good example of a word like fat that I think should be acceptable when not used to insult, e.g. if I were pointing out a particularly nappy felt. Nappy-headed, however, is hurtful because of its association with racist stereotypes. "Ho" is an interesting word. It is both an insult to those women and a mockery of some black men’s mispronunciation of the word whore. I cannot imagine where it is ever necessary, except in direct quotation.

  19. tarheelio says:

    We just have accept that this is a unique word – we apply it uniquely, it is perceived uniquely. I cannot tell someone it is acceptable to use it always, and I will not tell anyone to never use it.Amongst people that I have no blood relation to, the people that I am closest to are my nigs.But this weekend someone I didn’t know called my little brother by the same name, and I started to step to him before little brother interjected that this was a friend I hadn’t met.It is the most loaded word I can think of. You cannot get the impact of endearment plus the potential for anger from another single word.I do agree with the point that it is used "at your own risk". Today in America people that are white, black and brown will get beat down for saying nigger.

  20. Spinster says:

    I love the word "nappy". That’s what my hair is and I’m damn proud of it. :-)As for the n-word, I think Dave was attempting satire that, unfortunately, added more fuel to the fire of overt and covert racists who are ignorant anyway and would NEVER get the real meaning of what he was trying to convey.

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  22. Craig Shearer says:

    Personally, I don't use the "N" word. Mainly, because I find it to be an ignorant piece of language, and it just doesn't appeal to me. It seems like the type of word that only an ignorant fool would use, regardless of race. However, all of these people that keep going on about "getting your ass kicked" for using the word, just crack me up. You perpetuate the stereotype of black violence, just by saying that. You are trying to overcome one racial bias, by perpetuating another racial stereotype. FYI, I don't run into a lot of people on a daily basis that I would worry about being able to beat my ass for using that word. And, I am white and live in a heavily urban area.

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