Disclaimer: I have made some edits to this post as I realised I got an important date wrong.
This post is the second part in my series of blogs educating white people and all non-black races about the injustices, prejudices and conspiracies designed to oppress and encourage discrimination against black people. You can read the first lesson here.
The second lesson is about why white people and anyone who is not black for that matter cannot use the 'N-word'. To avoid putting those reading this article into a moral problem, I am not going to spell out the complete word but instead, refer to it as the 'N-word'.
So let’s begin the second lesson.
If you can say the ‘N-word', then why can’t we?
I must have been around the age of 24 when a young white male called me the N-Word to my face for the second time in my life.
It was late 2014. The Black Lives Matter movement was still in its infancy, having only been formed a year ago following the police killing of African-American teenager Treyvon Martin in 2012. It was a time when black racial injustice was still occurring, but it did not make headline news a lot. Bear in mind that social media was not yet the global beast it is today. The establishment could still control the message.
During this time, I was working at a marketing agency based in the heart of Soho. I worked closely with this white male colleague who was around the same age as me. Surprise, surprise he was from America. Now, this colleague, let's call him Dickhead, was not close to me. Still, we went out for lunch occasionally to discuss football and girls as young men in their early 20s often do.
One day, after work, myself, Dickhead and a few other colleagues were staying at the office late one evening. We had been having a serious drinking session and playing a very dodgy game called ‘Cards Against Humanity’ (look it up) in one of the meeting rooms. For some reason, and I can't remember why, but we had started discussing race.
During this group conversation, Dickhead decided to stand up and tell everyone in the meeting room “But why can’t white people say the N-word?” Even as he said this, Dickhead glanced at me. Then he fully turned to me and said “If I call you the N-word, why should it piss you off? Black people say it to other black people. It doesn't mean the same thing anymore. So why can't everyone say it?"
I am not making this up by the way. At the time, I did not confront Dickhead about this and just shrugged my shoulders and continued drinking. It was a period of my life where I wasn't very political, being more focused on making money and having a good time. But now, in hindsight, I realise I had experienced not only racism but a form of white privilege.
Ownership of the ‘N-word' and white privilege
The usage of the N-Word is still debated among the black community. A lot of black people, myself included, have reclaimed the word. We use it as either a friendly term to address another black person or in a sarcastic or snarky way depending on the context. Others in the black community feel the word carries too many negative connotations and dark history. For them, the N-word must never be spoken by any human being, black or white.
But the black community have the right to debate the use of the word. A white person or any other non-black person cannot say that word whenever they please. The use of the N-word is one thing black people have total ownership on. Can we at least have that?
When Dickhead was arguing that he has the right to use it because black people do, he was saying that from a place of white privilege. He felt, as a white male, that he is entitled to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants and to whoever he wants. After all, he's used to a world which allows him to live as he pleases without any judgement. Black people cannot relate.
I would be extremely offended if anyone who is not black called me the N-word. It's a racial slur and a hate crime.
However, merely uttering the N-word is not automatically offensive if you're white. It's the context in which the word is used. In 2018, Kendrick Lamar got into a heated exchange with a white female fan who uttered the ‘N’ word. He had asked her to sing the lyrics to ‘M.A.A.D City’ from his critically acclaimed album ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.’
Personally, and this a controversial opinion among the black community, I felt Kendrick Lamar was wrong to scold the fan for using the N-word. If the word is part of a lyric of a song which he has written then is a non-black person supposed to censor themselves when the N-word pops up during the song? Or if a non-black person is reading a book aloud and the N-word appears, are they supposed to not say it?
It can become a bit too overbearing if black writers and rappers are demanding that non-black people never say the N-word but then frequently use it in their art.
Using the N-word to address a black person if you're white or any other race that is not black is wrong, and that is non-negotiable. However, saying the word if it's in the context of a lyric or in a book is acceptable. But this is my opinion on the matter. I do not speak for all black people.
Remember, not every black person feels the same way as I do. Black people are individuals. We are not a bunch of ants with a hive mentality.
Next lesson: White privilege and can white people do anything about it?