I’m going to talk about the “N word” a moment.
It’s a word of hate. A word of oppression. A word of separation. It has peers — words used to describe other races, nationalities, ethnic groups, sexualities, and gender identities which should never be used to describe others, yet the word and its ilk live on, and will likely continue to in some form for the duration of language and the differentiation of one person to another.
Here’s the thing:
Sometimes, among the descendants of its victims, the word is a form of bonding, and a part of the culture resulting from enslavement and segregation. From generations of being told they are lesser. From being told what they can and cannot do. From being told what things are supposed to mean.
Many of the comments I’ve read resulting from this video, and a sentiment I’ve seen and heard expressed in some form all of my life, is that the word should never be spoken by anyone. That the word would have died out long ago if black people stopped saying it. That it’s ok for others to say it because black people say it to each other.
The irony of this sentiment is: if only for a brief moment, in having the roles switched, in being told there is something non-blacks cannot do that black people can, they are experiencing the smallest slight upon their own self-expression and rights which black people experienced hundred-fold for centuries. The anger in their comments, the sense of injustice felt, should give them a sense of the strain and powerlessness blacks have felt in having their destinies dictated to them.
So if you are upset about one word you are told not to say, one word which means something different when you say it than when others do, and you’re demanding to be treated with equality — maybe that’s the lesson. These were people who were ascribed that word and meaning to them by others. Black people had no control over what it meant. Taking back that word is taking back the means to define themselves, or at least dull the memory of its original intent.
As I said earlier, the n-word is not alone. It has brethren used to describe anyone different — white, black, man, woman, gay, straight, etc. Socially, the rules are different on what can be said without insult depending on your own group identification. Personally, I acknowledge there are some words which would have a worse meaning coming from me than from others. That’s the nature of these words. For me to try to force the victim of one of these words to never say it is adding insult to the injury.
It is best to leave the words which don’t apply to you alone. There are plenty of better words in life to think about.