Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is the N-Word PC?

So, the other night I was walking around Target, minding my own business and putting WAY too many items into my cart. As I was rounding the corner near sporting goods, I hear a young kid yell,

"Go, ni****! GO!"

My jaw hit the floor in shock. The first thing I thought was, "Did I just hear what I think I just heard?"

When the kids came into view, I saw a black tween, probably 10 or 11, pushing another younger black kid (his little brother, maybe?) in a shopping cart. The child looked to be about 5. So, the person with the offensive language was approximately Kindergarten-age.


I looked at the kids, and they looked back at me, then I just moved on. I didn't glare at them or give them the evil eye. I just wanted my look to let them know, "Hey, I heard what you said." I had hoped that their embarrassment was enough punishment for them, but who knows.

I can't help but wonder, where did that kid learn that language? From his friends? His family? I am pretty sure you can't hear that language on TV anymore and if you can, it certainly is not a TV program intended for 5-year-olds. Even in today's modern society, where freedom of speech is some folks' personal religion, even the n-word has become worse than any 4-letter word that I can think of.

But, I do know that some people in black culture would say that it's okay for one black person to call another black person the n-word. WHY??? I don't get that. I mean, would it have been okay if my kids called each other "honkey" or "cracker"? I certainly don't think so.

Words are powerful. They can lift a person up and motivate them toward greatness. They can inspire. They can heal. They can encourage. They can also hurt, and mock, and tear a person's esteem to shreds. So, considering how many words are in our English language, why is this word being turned into something acceptable, using "culture" as an excuse? And, doesn't use of that word just proliferate the stereotypes that black people are trying to escape? Which, again, begs the question why would anyone in black culture consider using the n-word as acceptable? Even if it's not acceptable, why would it be anything other than offensive, as would be if a non-black person used that word?

I am part German, part Polish, and part Irish. Would it be okay for me to hate Jewish people and say, "Oh it's just part of my German heritage!" Or how about if I talked incessantly and developed a drinking problem? Could I excuse it away because of my Irish heritage? I don't think so.

I am so relieved that my children weren't with me to hear that. I think they honestly wouldn't even know it was a bad word or that it had any bad meaning, because I have never said that word and I can't remember ever talking about it with my kids either. They may have heard it in school by now, but I just don't know.

What do you think about all this?


Anna See said...

aargh. you know how i hate that word!

i think having black people say it to each other is a way of reclaiming the word on their own terms.

Yaya said...

I think it is a culture thing.

Thank you for stopping by on my special day!

Missy said...

I agree with everything you said. While it is a culture thing, why should that make it okay? I loved your examples that gave it some perspective.

I am sure that word is quite predominant in his home; otherwise I don't see how he would have heard it otherwise.

FishHawk said...

Hey, who says we talk incessantly? I bet it was a Scot--wasn't it?

Jennifer said...

I think that I'm not going to call myself anything that I don't want other people to call me.

Emily said...

Sadly, I hear that word a lot. It seems like it is ok in the black culture to say it. Very sad. It's all over rap music too...which is probably where children hear it.

Jen said...

Wow, that is really shocking.

Aleta said...

I don't like the word either. I cringe when I hear it. BUT... you ARE correct... it's OK for blacks to call each other that. Happens all the time in New Orleans. They think it's funny to say it to each other, but not from anyone else. Weird, I know.

Em said...

It bothers me to no end, but as a white woman, do I truly get a vote? I dread the moment my boys comprehend what I understand the term to be.

To me, it's a heinous word that needs to be left in the past.

Jana said...

I have to ask was it N***** or Nigga you heard? My grandson is mixed I hear the later a lot when the other side of the family is around. Their family in my understanding doesn't tolerate the former, form of the word.

I have heard his grandfather use the former word when talking to his brother. It always makes me cringe.

I hate the word in any form !!

I would have been totally shocked to.

Kacie said...

I mostly grew up overseas, but when I was here for 8th grade in Kansas and 11th grade in Chicago, that was basically like saying "bro" or "dude" for the African Americans. I guess I'm desensitized a little because I heard it so much in school...

Bridgett said...

I know I refer to myself as a b**ch and as "a bit of a broad" but I'd never call one of my friends that.

I do sometimes tell my kids they're being hoosiers (as a former St. Louisan you understand) but it's only when they've done something like drop used kleenex on the floor. And only in our home.

Jana said...

Pulled from my page....

Hi Jana
Okay, first of all where are you in Texas? I saw a Saxon first grade math program at a resale shop in Arlington. I don't know how much it is but I"m sure it's WAY less than buying it new.

And, I wanted to get back with you about your comment on my blog... I have no idea which word was said but what you wrote is exactly what I'm talking about. Why would EITHER be acceptable? And, as a non-black person, could *I* use the more-PC version of the N-word, or is that reserved only for black people? I don't get it... I think the black community should really examine why that word is considered okay for them. They are creating huge disrespect for themselves, and it's only hurting the world's view of them. Just my opinion.

Texan Mama, I am near Corpus, TX.

I know within the circles that my daughter is friends with. Nigga is acceptable, if said in the right tone. But N***** is only accepted with each other.

I don't pretend to understand it. I think both are offensive.

The way I hear it used it would be defined as ignorant or stupid. Almost as I would use it to say to my son...

"Boy!, why did you do that ?"

I of course have seen it used in worse ways but the later form N***** is normally used. Like for baby daddies that don't pay support, or ex husbands.

I will have to talk to my son in law more on the subject, now you have me more curious.


Jana said...

From Texan Mama
Oh Jana I'm sorry to keep leaving comments here but I don't see an email address for you.

I re-read my comment and realized, "HOLY COW I SOUND LIKE A REAL JERK!" No, I am agreeing with everything you commented on at my post, I was just basically continuing the thought/confusion process in my comment back to you. I think what I typed almost sounded rude, and if anything, I was trying to say, "YEAH YEAH... ThAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!!!"

So anyway, It's interesting to get perspective from someone who has family within the black culture. I mean, we've all heard the negative pejoratives used for people of other cultures. But I think I've never heard anyone besides black people actually USE those slang words toward one another of their own culture. It seems so backward to me... if you're trying to escape a stereotype why would you proliferate it by continuing to use language that creates the stereotype???

It's all good. I don't it either, and it really chaps me when the former is used towards my grandson.

It is a question I have always wanted the answer to.
Anyway email is

Wendy said...

I hear the f-word all the time now, and hate it. Really hate it. The other day I unsubscribed from a decent-looking blog because the next post I saw after I put her in my RSS was full of terrible profanity. If it's a longtime favorite blogger I'll just skip it - but if it's a new unknown blogger, I move along.

The n-word is right up there with the c-word (for a woman's anatomy). Both of them make my hair stand on end & my face turn red. I can't stand it. I think the n-word is low class no matter what your race or heritage is. Who wants to aspire to being low class?

Foursons said...

Unfortunately, no matter how logical your whole post is, the few people who do choose to use that word will argue with you until you are blue in the face.

RE Ausetkmt said...

sweetie let me throw my hat in the ring to be shot at -(qualifying statement - I am a 54 y.o Black Woman PHD. From Detroit MI)

the word NIGGA has been translated to be supposedly positive in younger kids minds; as translating it to be an acronym instead of a word. kids love acronyms.


the Word NIGGA, was transmuted by Iconic Rapper and Poet - Tupac Shakur.

Unfortunantly it doesn't mean the same thing to those who dont' understand that Flip of the meaning.

now if someone in my age group uses it with another Black Person quite often it's meant in a so called friendly manner kinda like Hey Girl or Hey Man... it's often said as "What's Up My Nigga" which means What's Goin On With You.

White Folks and others not of African American heritage hear it as a slight because in their culture it historically was / is meant and interpreted as a slight.

also the culture lock is this -
if white folks say Nigga to a Black Person we don't think you mean it in the way we mean it; so we know you don't mean anything nice - unless you explain it before hand. in whichcase it's not going to be acceptable anyway, since the flip is intended to emotionally erase the pain caused by the negative inferences usually associated with the use of the word by anyone other than Blackfolks from The Same Culture;
ie: African Americans.

fyi- caribbean and africans do not use the word unless it's directed toward African Americans; because it's not in their positive lexicon - as they associate more verbally with europeans instead of africans or african americans.

hope you ain't loaded for bear when ya start shootin, folks.

just remember I'm a Phd. in Religions and Anthropology; not history.

hope this offers some explanation that you can use to help you understand when you hear the word.

Jana said...

Ausetkmt ,

This is basically what my son in law explained to me today. He allows my daughter and other close anglo friends to use Nigga.

I get that it is a positive translation to them. It and any other for of the word makes me cringe.

I do understand now though.

Lisa@verybusymomwith4 said...

I personally don't think it's appropriate. But swearing makes me cringe whenever I hear it.

One Chic Mommy said...

Generally when I see posts like this I do not comment. So I will keep this short. Seeing non African American people discussing what they think AA's should and should not be doing is very touchy for me.

My problem with most people who are not AA is that when they see one black person or even ten doing something they assume we all do it or that it is a "black culture thing" and this is beyond false.

All African Americans are not the same we are not all one person with one mind. We are individual Americans who happen to share the same skin color( and history of course, but I will not go there now). All black people do not use or condone the use of that word.

Using the N word is not a "Black culture thing" just like being a racist is not a "white culture thing" It's an individual thing.

In my opinion using the N word is like using the F word both are foul and should not be used!

Kerri said...

I agree with One Chic Mommy... Every situation is different, every PERSON is different. My sister has said "It's a culture thing" about certain AA lifestyles (inappropriate clothing, language, actions, etc.), and I"m like, that's a cop-out, everyone is responsible for their own actions.

I worked with a precious AA girl several years ago who I really clicked with. She told me to call her N****r and I just couldn't do it! She said, "I would just crack up if you walked in and pointed to me and said, 'That's MY n****r there!" I was so shocked.

I also dated an AA man once, and NEVER used that word around him. I suppose though, white folks don't have much of an argument about it, UNLESS it is used in public. There is NO excuse for that, EVER.

Stacey said...

I stumbled upon your blog via Create Your Own Experience blog.
I completely agree with you. I have heard this yelled out before in the middle of a store by adults and my jaw dropped I can only imagine what my reaction would have been if it was a little youngster. There have been nationals arguments about this subject and it is always goes back to they can say but we cannot which is fine with me because it makes my skin crawl.