Thursday, May 24, 2007

The "N" word

White people aren't supposed to say the N word, but black people can. White people think they should be allowed to say the N word since black people do, but black people don't want them to. White people say the N word (not all of them). Black people say the N word (not all of them). Black rappers "sing" the N word. White kids buy their music.

As a white person, I'm not supposed to say (or write) the N word. And, I don't. I don't have a problem with this expectation of me (as a white person and decent human being) because I understand that when a white person says the N word, it probably has a different meaning than when a black person says it. Recently, three white people used the N word in my presence. They used it to put down black people in a hateful way.

I don't pretend to understand how a black person, especially a child, feels when he or she hears the N word. From a historical perspective, the N word has a very negative connotation and is a symbol of white racism and prejudice. It is associated with slavery and the racism that followed slavery and still exists today, albeit in a lesser form.

It doesn't matter if the ancestors of the white person saying the N word were still in Europe during the slavery period or that the black person hearing the word did not descend from slaves. The issue is the same. Bad word. Bad intent. It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to understand this.

While it may seem to some to be a double-standard, I understand how the N word could mean something totally different when it is said from one black person to another. In the black community, the N word seems to have been reborn, redefined (I heard this in a TV interview). That's good, to turn something bad into something good. Why can't white people just let black people have their own word? White people had their chance. They didn't do good with the word.

At the same time, there are far more problems affecting Black Americans than the N word. If I was a black parent, I'd probably be more concerned about the education my child was receiving than what Don Imus said on syndicated radio. That's not to say that racial slurs or other hate language should be tolerated, only that the issue not be put ahead of education, housing, health care, and job creation. It would be nice to see see black leaders attack social problems with the same vigor as they go after white people whose words offend them.

In no way am I a fan of political correctness. Notice I say black people, not African Americans. I think we've gone way too far in analyzing every word that comes out of our mouths. But white people (and other races) could and should refrain from using the N word, spoken or written. If we don't like someone, we should call them a butthead, like five year olds do. Butthead is derogatory, but equal opportunity.

The black community bears responsbility in this issue. I think it would help if black people limited their use of the N word, especially in song lyrics and movies. The use of the N word in our pop culture only serves to desensitize the public, especially young people, to its historical, hurtful meaning.

I googled the N word. It comes from the Latin word niger, meaning black. In English, the word became the noun negro (black person). In Spanish, negro simply means black. It is believed that the N word is the phonetic spelling of the white southern mispronunciation of Negro. No matter the origin, the N word became a degenerative nickname, and we shouldn't use the word when referring to black people or anyone else.

I'm white, not black, so this is just my interpretation of a controversial subject. I hope my words don't offend anyone. Of course, I don't care if I offend racists.

The world would be a better place if only people were more like sheep. Sheep don't care what color each of them is.

“I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger." ----Muhammad Ali

No comments: