In early January, there was a virtual dispute on Snapchat about racially charged language and who gets to use it. Some members of the SLA community believe that no one should ever use the “n” word because historically it was always negative. Some think it should be limited to Black people, others say only minorities can, while others say it does not matter and it is just a word.
It’s clear this conversation has layers, although peeling them back does not necessarily make things better.
As far back as the 18th century, “nigger” was originally an insult used by white people to refer to slaves who at the time were all black. After slavery ended the term was used by black hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
To this day, the word is still used as a racial slur. However, many feel it has been reclaimed by the Black community as a positive expression. Through time the word went from “nigger,” which carries explicit racist undertones, to “Nigga,” which is the slang term used by the black community as a term of endearment.
African Americans are able to use the N word even though historically it’s been powerful and damaging, because doing so reclaims the word. Even in this case, not all black people agree with its use. Because of this, it still has a lot of weight, and should not be used carelessly. When black people do use the term, there is a mutual understanding of the word, but since it’s controversial and oppressive, is it worth it to reclaim the word? Social media makes the issue worse, there are no real repercussions for what people say behind a screen.
This conversation had a conclusion that is easy to grasp: if you’re not black, don’t say it. If someone might get offended, don’t risk it. White people have nothing to gain from the word by saying it now.
However, we recognize that the reality is more complicated than that. If you tell someone not to do something, they will only be tempted to do so. For example, some people who we think shouldn’t say “Nigga” have justifications for why they should completely ignore the history behind the word which states why they shouldn’t say it. In the end, there is always an individual opinion, and no one can speak for their entire race.
So here’s a bit more detail:
Black people have to be more conscious of the oppressive behavior than bystanders. When a White person hangs out with a group of Black people often, and those Black friends use the “n” word to refer to them in a loving way, that does not give them permission to respond back with that same term. When black people give “black cards” to white people, they become entitled and think they have special privileges. A black card is confirmation for black people that they are free to express their culture.
To extend the metaphor, think of a “white card” that does the same thing but gives privilege that black people cannot get. If black people cannot receive white cards, they should be careful with giving away black cards, because they encourage some white people to think “I can say or do certain things, I got the pass that one time” or “I’m part of the black community now.” This is not the case.
When it is used in the black community, it is not an insult because it used among peers. You cannot oppress someone who is just as oppressed as you with a word that has the same effect on the both of you.This is similar to the LGBTQ community reclaiming the slur “queer” that was once used to offend them, but a straight person should not call out a member of the LGBTQ community with this slur. These words are still hate speech. If you are on the inside of this community, it can mean love. But If you are on the outside, it can only be a hateful slur.
Because of that danger, this conversation can be hard because students don’t want to offend or exclude people.
At a school like SLA that is very diverse, no one is from the exact same place, and not all perspectives are the same. Even if people share the same race they do not necessarily share the same experiences. That’s why we think it’s important to keep talking and sharing our perspectives on this issue.
Unsigned Editorials represent the collective opinion of the student editorial board.