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The N-Word and Its Place in Contemporary Culture

No word in the English language is as complex as the N-word. It became the primary word used to degrade black people sometime around the 19th century, and has since evolved into a colloquial term of endearment. Still, the harsh ‘er’ form of the word retains its status as one of the strongest assets in the hate speech repertoire, and the potential consequences of inappropriately using it render it a linguistic landmine.

N*gga, the well-intentioned offspring of n***er, is prevalent in pop culture, specifically and appropriately with black artists and creators. While many argue that black people who use n*gga are unfair and hypocritical when they ask other races to refrain from doing so, they fail to recognize the significance of the word to the black community and the ethos the black community has to use this word. Still, facing condemnation, black people continue to celebrate n*gga and it’s amiable connotations.

Modern use of the word by non-black persons has sparked a political and social discourse concerning when it is appropriate to use it and who is allowed to say it. It is widely (but not universally) accepted that n***er is off-limits to all for its racist history, but many non-blacks insist they have the credibility to casually drop “n*gga” as easily as they would “buddy.” They cite rough upbringings and appreciation for Black culture as reason enough to say it, but their argument is limited by its use of stereotypes for credibility, and by its appropriation of oppression. The first and foremost issue with this argument is that white people cannot relate to the black experience. “N*gga” belongs to the black community. The word that was once used to illegitimate their existence is now given back to the very community that has been oppressed for centuries. White people, however, in their long history of being the oppressors, have created systemic racism/white privilege. To put this concept into statistics, a black college student has the same chances of getting a job as a white high school dropout, and a college-educated white American has an average net worth of $75,000, while a college-educated black American has an average net worth of less than $17,500. To relate this back to the word n*gga, examine its roots: the slur n***er, which has played a key role in the creation of white privilege. N***er was popularized by white slave owners to dehumanize black people centuries ago, and as a result of reducing black people to property and inhumanity for so long, a lasting detriment to black people’s social standing was created and still exists to this day, and has, in turn, dealt the white race the upper hand. This disenfranchisement is, thus, not something white people have to worry about, as supported by statistics. White people using n*gga (or n***er) allows them to casually use a word with rich history which holds no true meaning or effect on them, a word which would not even exist without the racist actions of some of their ancestors.

By reducing actions seen as “black” to the word n*gga, a Freudian-slip is created: those who believe they can relate to the black community by using n*gga colloquially have revealed that they subconsciously equate black people with their definition of the term “n*gga”

Also, the idea that growing up in the ghetto gives non-black people permission to use n*gga falsely promotes harmful stereotypes of the black community. Simply growing up in a low income area will not equate a white person’s experience with his equally impoverished black neighbor’s experience, just as a pair of black and white neighbors in an upscale neighborhood will not face the same circumstances.  The black experience cannot be defined. Not all black people are poor, choose to use “n*gga”, or participate in gang-related or “street cred” granting activities, which seems to be the connotation white people give to the word n*gga. The contrast of the meaning of the word to the two communities is stark: in some cases, black people consider n*gga a word of empowerment; white people, on the other hand, think of it as a fun word to sometimes use when they believe they are doing something “black.”By reducing actions seen as “black” to the word n*gga, a Freudian-slip is created: those who believe they can relate to the black community by using n*gga colloquially have revealed that they subconsciously equate black people with their definition of the term “n*gga” and all its stereotypical connotations, rather than perceiving them as people. And by pushing the simple minded argument that merely growing up in the ghetto gives one credibility to say n*gga, black people have effectively been stereotyped as poor and uncivilized, and their socio-economic struggles have been diminished by a non-black person’s desperate case to use a word that was never applied to them. Based on history and facts, White people have no reason or place saying n*gga, and those who continue to do so do not consider the deeper meanings and dark history of the word, choosing to instead reduce it to a “cool” fad of a word.

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Sarah Deforest
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Sarah Deforest is a 17 year old student from rural North Carolina.

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