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The N Word (And Why Non-Black People Can’t Say It)


197Photo by Akeala King

The N word. Nigger. Nigga. There are plenty of variants, but those are the main three. Being popularized by rap culture, the second variant is generally considered to be ‘socially acceptable,’ and ‘fair game’ to any race.
However, that is not the case.

The N word, no matter the variant, should not be used by ANYONE non-black. Yep, it’s not a PoC exclusive word, it’s black-exclusive, and here’s why:

The n word, most specifically ‘Nigger,’ was used to oppress and dehumanize black people for centuries. Even now, people use the word for the same purposes. There’s historical significance, and the use of it by those who have not endured constant torment from such a word is constituted as the erasure and trivialization of systematic oppression.

“I might see Trinidad James on the street and call him ‘my nigga.’ You know why? Because he is my nigga. And the difference between Trinidad James and you, is that Trinidad James has to deal with the same oppressive situations. He was born into a world where anti-black racism prevails. He lives in a world where police might shoot him on the street no matter how much money he has. We share a collective condition known as ‘nigga.’ White people don’t.” This was a quote from Marc Lamont Hill in a panel held by Don Lemon, in which they discussed the use of the n word to white, Conservative Ben Ferguson.

In this, Hill is right – black people shared, and still do share, the same abuse and treatment under that word. White people, as well as non-black people of color, have not. Some people think that, since people of color are all ‘colored’ in white eyes, the use of the n word should be permitted. In actuality, non-black people of color have used, and still use, the n word against black people in a multitude of cases. Therefore, seeing as how black people are the only ones considered to be a ‘nigga,’ they are the only ones allowed to use it.

Yes, I understand that both black people and non-black people of color share similar experiences under a white-supremacist nation, but the n word has not been used to dehumanize non-black PoC the same way it has been used against us black people. It is not your slur.

People argue that using the n word and then barring other races from using it divides society, and that we shouldn’t ‘give words power.’ Well, we didn’t give the words power! White people have, and still do, give the word its stigma today. Black people have barred other races from its use in order to prevent the same word used to oppress us from transcending back into what it was before. So, it’s not divisive, but just preventative. We do not live in a ‘post racial’ society. Racism is alive and well, and the reclamation of such a slur is a valiant effort to destroy white supremacy.

The use of the n word (specifically nigga) in rap culture is often brought up as a way to say that the word has been commercialized, and is a product available to the masses. That, again, is not true, as rap culture was developed by black people. The use of the n word is reclamation, which tries to generate a positive connotation for a word that has been used for years to dehumanize those that are black. This means that nigga has not been commercialized at all, but only changed into a way that would spit into the faces of the people using that word to dehumanize the entire race. This, however, does not mean that anyone can say it. This just enforces my previous point: the word was not used to oppress you, so it is not fair game for you, but for black people.

If you are black and do not feel comfortable saying the word, then do not fret! It is a choice, and it’s perfectly acceptable to decide to not say the word if you do not want to. If you are not black and feel like you should be able to say the word, your feelings do not matter. It’s not a courtesy extended to anyone non-white. The n word is only for black people, and that’s just how it is.

You may ask the question, ‘What if my black friend lets me say it?’ The easiest answer I can give you is: It does not matter. Your black friend does not represent an entire race, and you should not want to say the word at all. If your black friend allows you to say the word, it is usually because they fear losing you as a friend, and would rather not risk it. If your black friend says that you shouldn’t use it and you continue to use it, then you are a shitty friend perpetuating racism, and I pray for whomever your black friend is.

I’m black, and I’ve allowed my friends to say the n word for years, until I’ve realized how harmful it is for them to do so. I’ve been called all variants of the n word, though usually as a ‘joke,’ but every time it happens, it hurts me. This is nothing different than what black people have to face in this country today, and it’s only fair that we, being the only ones affected by this word, get an opportunity to turn it into something good for ourselves.

With such, I leave you with another quote from Marc Lamont Hill:

“The n word isn’t divisive. White supremacy is divisive.”

If you are not black, you are not allowed to police a slur that was never directed at you personally. There are many slurs that you can reclaim if you are marginalized by such a word but, being nonblack, ‘Nigga’ is definitely not one of them.


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