Saturday, April 4, 2015

Why white people can't say the "N" word.

Here are my thoughts: If you know me personally, or read my "Racism 101" piece back in August when the catalytic death of Michael Brown occurred, or even just have the insight required to extrapolate based on things I have written here, you probably know already that I believe ******strongly****** that white people should never, under any circumstances, use the "N" word. Ever.
I repeat: never.
Now, some people may disagree. I do know some black or biracial people who don't really care about this word, who figure it's just a word and that it loses its power when we pay it no mind. That's fine. But if white people want a piece of sound advice, I'd say: err on the safe side. Don't assume most black people feel that way and are cool with you using it. Even if a black friend once gave you "permission" to use it because you're such a "cool white person"….just don't. For the record, a cool white person is someone who respects differences, is mindful of boundaries, and doesn't feel the need to co-opt other cultures.
My thought is: words are powerful. And this is not a word that has ever entered my vocabulary, and I don't want it to. I don't want to give it any chance to take root in my mind. I never want it to be a word I reach lazily for in a thoughtless moment. I make an effort to be careful with my words, and this is one word in particular I think should be handled with care. I would rather die than have someone I love even hear it fall from my lips during a drunken dance party to some Biggie or OutKast song. Even if they wouldn't care. Even if they know my heart and wouldn't think twice. I would care. Because it's not okay.
Here's why: due to its historical context, this word is one of the ugliest - if not THE ugliest- word(s) in the English language. And of course, I'm talking about the word in its original form, ending with "er". But in my opinion, anytime it is emitted from a white mouth it has the potential to sound like a slur. Because it's not our word. It doesn't sound right. It sounds ugly. Despite the satisfying mouthfeel in the moment when you're singing along with your favorite rap song, the word itself is laden with history and it falls heavy from the lips. Swallow it. Skip it. We may feel entitled to many things, and America teaches us that we are, but I promise you we are not entitled to that word.
That said, while some may think this is strange, or find it surprising or even incongruent, I am completely fine with the reappropriated ("a") version used by black people amongst themselves. I don't find it offensive, I don't think it's a slur in this context, and I get why people use it.
That said, I understand why a lot of black people *are* offended by it, as well, so I'm not exactly saying I think it's good. I'm just saying I understand the history behind it, and I personally don't think I have the right to have a strong opinion on whether black people should use it or not. It's really just not my word, and I respect that.
My point in all of this is just to say: I don't understand why there is even a question of
"Why can't white people say it?"
"If black people can say it, why can't we?"
"If they don't want us saying it, why is in all the rap music?"
The answer is: because history. Because racism. Because no. Because fuck you.
Because we don't get everything. This is like, the one thing we can't have, and frankly, that seems fair.
"We know who you are by the words you speak. You identify yourself with the venom or honey that drips from your lips."