By Mica Bernhard
In one of his comedy routines, Louis CK explains why he takes offense at the N-word. Louis, a textbook Caucasian, gets away with saying the word because he is a comedian, and comedians are “allowed” to disregard social decency for the sake of comedy. But for the growing number of everyday non-African-Americans who say the N-word, it is clearly not okay...right?
It has come to my attention--on multiple occasions--that different people of mixed white, Middle Eastern, Asian, and Hispanic ethnicity use the N-word on a daily basis. They somehow manage to slip it into casual conversation or use it as a term of endearment for their friends. However, the ending of the word is slightly altered from a hard-r to an -ah. Though not a major change, this adjustment makes the world of difference; it allows those who say the word to distance themselves from the loaded connotation it brings and the history it evokes.
A little obvious but necessary background on the word itself: derived from the Spanish and Portuguese word for black, “negro,” the N-word was seen in use as early as 1619 when John Rolfe described the slaves being shipped to the Virginia colony. From there it became the go-to pejorative term used to describe African-Americans--until now. In recent years, the African-American community has reclaimed the word not only as a form of self-reference, but also as a source of empowerment, similar to the movement among the LGBTQA+ community with the word “queer” as a way to refer to one another in solidarity.
So, with the readoption of the word (and its slight alterations) being quickly funneled back into society and especially rap/hip-hop music--which nearly all cultures are exposed to--it was only a matter of time before other races and ethnicities took on the word as their own. But that intermingling of customs, ideas, and art forms is exactly where the problem lies.
From the cornrow hair trend to “twerking,” more and more of the white community has started to take part in cultural appropriation, in which the media imitates aspects of other cultures in a disrespectful way. Of course, I will fully advocate for cultural exchange, at least until it becomes cultural smudging and misrepresentation, at which point I will be the first to speak against it.
After already borrowing much of the African-American culture and not giving it back, would it be too much to ask for us to refrain from using the N-word, even if it is meant in the most non-racist, non-offensive way possible? Can we not surrender such a small word that tells of such a big struggle, so unforgettable, so unforgivable? Are we not capable of coming up with other forms of expression? If not, then I’ll get us started: What’s up, man? Hey dude! Nice to see you, bud.
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