'My Black Friend Said I Could Use The N-Word.' Don't Be That Friend.
There's no double standard.
A few months ago, someone who clearly must not have known a lot of biracial people asked me to “pick a side.” I explained that it was not that easy — there isn’t simply a checkbox to fill in — but that living in a society where Black people are constantly torn down, treated as “others” and oftentimes less than human, I feel closer ties to my Black side, and therefore choose to identify as such. Her response was something I’ll never forget: “That’s odd; if you’re given the choice, why would you prefer to be Black?”
To her, Black culture is “trendy” when it means rap music and “cool” hairstyles. But last time I checked, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, mass incarceration, police brutality and racial profiling weren’t quite as “trendy.” And the reality is, the N-word carries all of this abhorrent history.
I’m not saying all non-Black people who use the N-word are racist. In fact, many of them are our friends, and that’s the problem. Nobody wants to yell at their friend. But we don’t have a choice.
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In a perfect world, every child would be taught the history of Black people, from the moment they arrived as slaves, to now, where many are still so oppressed they might as well still be slaves. But this is not what is taught, so we need to do the educating.
Despite whites having called us this word with the nastiest, most racist intent possible, we have reclaimed it as a means of empowerment. In the words of rapper Ice Cube, it’s “our word now, and you can’t have it back.” We get discriminated against for the slightest thing we say wrong, to the point where we must code-switch just to appear educated. Trust me, we’re allowed to ask our non-Black friends to refrain from using one word.
One of the most powerful things about being Black is that we have a shared history. Something that, although negative, connects us. So, the decision of which non-Black friend gets to use the N-word (in a “non-racist way,” of course) isn’t really yours to make. Or mine. Or any individual person’s. No one gets to speak on behalf of the entire race.
Just think about it. If each of us gives even one non-Black friend a pass, it’s no longer our word. Not to mention the number of non-Blacks who’ll feel that, if we gave one of their friends a pass, that’s good enough for them to use it as well. You know, a “give an inch, they’ll take a mile” sort of thing.
“But if my friend says it in a song, there’s clearly no racist intent there!”
That’s ludicrous. The Black rappers who say the N-word use music as a means of liberating themselves by expressing their feelings as members of an oppressed race. Those who are not apart of an oppressed race should not use it. Period. The context doesn’t matter. Ask Delaney, who sang the N-word twice onstage during a Kendrick Lamar concert — the second time right after Lamar nicely asked her to stop — and then got kicked off stage. She’ll tell you: regardless of context, the powerful effect is still there. And if your friends are real rap fans, they’ll already know every lyric. It shouldn’t be too hard for them to figure out what to censor.
For those of you who think it’s hypocritical for us to use it, but to criticize non-Blacks if they do — Charlamagne da God, I’m looking at you — it’s not. Just think about how many things we’re not allowed to do because of our race. We can’t walk down the street without being profiled as “dangerous.” We can’t drive our cars without getting pulled over for drug searches. We can’t even walk into our own apartment without getting shot.
White privilege is having a sense of entitlement. The feeling that everything belongs to them. But guess what? This word doesn’t. Never mind that it was once used to tear us down. We are using it to build ourselves back up.
So tell your non-Black friends they should do their research, because if they’re going to say the N-word, they better expect to be treated like one. And it won’t be as fun as they think.