In the history of this country, certain words have been used to degrade and isolate people of color, specifically African-Americans. The “N” word is among the most popular of these derogatory terms. Deriving from the Latin word “niger,” which means black, the word began to be used to describe enslaved Africans in order to depict them as something other than human. From there on, the “N” word was used to further isolate blacks in the United States. Nonetheless, young black Americans began to embrace their identity and decided to take ownership of the word and reclaim it for their own.
Towards the beginning of the 1980s, hip hop and rap began to give voice to a new generation of black Americans. The rise of hip-hop gave the “N” word new currency in popular culture. Music made by and for black and brown people became a part of the dominant youth culture, even reaching the white suburbs. In the United States today, hip-hop is the pinnacle of pop culture.
However, the rise of hip-hop in pop culture has resulted in the rise of the use of the “N” word. Some of the biggest artists in the world right now, including Beyoncé, YG, and Cardi B use the word in their songs. Recently, Puerto Rican actress Gina Rodriguez has been under fire for her use of the “N” word while singing along to a Fugees song on her Instagram. This brought up the heated discussion which has been debated for a very long time now: who is “allowed” to say the “N” word?
Here’s the thing. Racial epithets, especially the “N” word, have been used throughout history as a form of discrimination and dehumanization. If black Americans have decided to reclaim a word used against them as a form of endearment, that’s their own prerogative. Reclaiming the word restores some sort of power for their community. However, for any other group, the word still carries its weight.
Now, there might be a number of people who may think: “I don’t mean it in a bad way.” “I never use the hard -er, I use the version ending in -a, which means friend, duh!” “I have friends who are black!” “I’m a non-black person of color, so I get a pass.” “If black people can say it to each other, then why can’t I?”
Consider this: Why do you as a non-black person feel the need to say the “N” word? Why would you want to use such a word rooted in hate? Your proximity to black culture and the black community does not give you the right to ever use the “N” word, even as a lyric to your most favorite song.
This isn’t revelatory information. It’s actually quite simple. If you are not black, do not say it. Non-black people do not have the right to reclaim a word that has never been used to oppress or dehumanize them. Skip the word when it comes up in a song at a concert, in the car, or yes, even at home, alone in your room. Do not use it as a form of endearment for someone you admire. There are approximately 171,475 words in the Oxford English dictionary. Find another word which will better articulate what you are trying to express, and remember that the words you use hold meaning and a weight you might never be able to comprehend.