Straight Talk about the N-Word

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The n-word is unique in the English language. On one hand, it is the ultimate insult- a word that has tormented generations of African Americans. Yet over time, it has become a popular term of endearment by the descendents of the very people who once had to endure it. Among many young people today—black and white—the n-word can mean friend.

Neal A. Lester, dean of humanities and former chair of the English department at Arizona State University, recognized that the complexity of the n-word’s evolution demanded greater critical attention. In 2008, he taught the first ever college-level class designed to explore the word “nigger” (which will be referred to as the n-word). Lester said the subject fascinated him precisely because he didn’t understand its layered complexities.


©Jason Millstein

“When I first started talking about the idea of the course,” Lester recalled, “I had people saying, ‘This is really exciting, but what would you do in the course? How can you have a course about a word?’ It was clear to me that the course, both in its conception and in how it unfolded, was much bigger than a word. It starts with a word, but it becomes about other ideas and realities that go beyond words.”

Lester took a few minutes to talk to Teaching Tolerance managing editor Sean Price about what he’s learned and how that can help other educators.

How did the n-word become such a scathing insult?
We know, at least in the history I’ve looked at, that the word started off as just a descriptor, “negro,” with no value attached to it. … We know that as early as the 17th century, “negro” evolved to “nigger” as intentionally derogatory, and it has never been able to shed that baggage since then—even when black people talk about appropriating and reappropriating it. The poison is still there. The word is inextricably linked with violence and brutality on black psyches and derogatory aspersions cast on black bodies. No degree of appropriating can rid it of that bloodsoaked history.

Why is the n-word so popular with many young black kids today?
If you could keep the word within the context of the intimate environment [among friends], then I can see that you could potentially own the word and control it. But you can’t because the word takes on a life of its own if it’s not in that environment. People like to talk about it in terms of public and private uses. Jesse Jackson was one of those who called for a moratorium on using the word, but then was caught using the word with a live mic during a “private” whispered conversation.

There’s no way to know all of its nuances because it’s such a complicated word, a word with a particular racialized American history. But one way of getting at it is to have some critical and historical discussions about it and not pretend that it doesn’t exist. We also cannot pretend that there is not a double standard—that blacks can say it without much social consequence but whites cannot. There’s a double standard about a lot of stuff. There are certain things that I would never say. In my relationship with my wife, who is not African American, I would never imagine her using that word, no matter how angry she was with me. …

That’s what I’m asking people to do—to self-reflect critically on how we all use language and the extent to which language is a reflection of our innermost thoughts. Most people don’t bother to go to that level of self-reflection and self-critique. Ultimately, that’s what the class is about. It’s about selfeducation and self-critique, not trying to control others by telling them what to say or how to think, but rather trying to figure out how we think and how the words we use mirror our thinking. The class sessions often become confessionals because white students often admit details about their intimate social circles I would never be privy to otherwise.

What types of things do they confess?
In their circles of white friends, some are so comfortable with the n-word because they’ve grown up on and been nourished by hip-hop. Much of the commercial hip-hop culture by black males uses the n-word as a staple. White youths, statistically the largest consumers of hip-hop, then feel that they can use the word among themselves with black and white peers. … But then I hear in that same discussion that many of the black youths are indeed offended by [whites using the n-word]. And if blacks and whites are together and a white person uses the word, many blacks are ready to fight. So this word comes laden with these complicated and contradictory emotional responses to it. It’s very confusing to folks on the “outside,” particularly when nobody has really talked about the history of the word in terms of American history, language, performance and identity.

Most public school teachers are white women. How might they hold class discussions about this word? Do you think it would help them to lay some groundwork?
You might want to get somebody from the outside who is African American to be a central part of any discussion— an administrator, a parent, a pastor or other professional with some credibility and authority. Every white teacher out there needs to know some black people. Black people can rarely say they know no white people; it’s a near social impossibility. The NAACP would be a good place to start, but I do not suggest running to the NAACP as a single “authority.” Surely there are black parents of school children or black neighbors a few streets over or black people at neighboring churches. The teacher might begin by admitting, “This is what I want to do, how would you approach this? Or, how do we approach it as a team? How can we build a team of collaboration so that we all accept the responsibility of educating ourselves and our youths about the power of words to heal or to harm?” This effort then becomes something shared as opposed to something that one person allegedly owns.

How might a K-12 teacher go about teaching the n-word?
At the elementary level, I can imagine bringing in children’s picture books to use in conjunction with a segment on the civil rights movement, because students talk about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Look at some of the placards [held by white people at 1960s civil rights] protests and see if some of them have been airbrushed or the messages sanitized. Talk about language, about words and emotion, about words and pain. Consider the role of words in the brutal attacks on black people during slavery, during Jim Crow, during the civil rights movement. Consider how words were part of the attacks on black people.

Depending on how old the students are, a teacher might talk about the violence that involved lynching and castration, and how the n-word was part of the everyday discourse around race relations at the time. Then bring in some hip-hop, depending again on the age. If these are middle school students or high school students, a teacher can talk specifically about hip-hop and how often the n-word is used and in a specific context. … There are many ways that a teacher can talk about the n-word without necessarily focusing on just one aspect—like whether or not Huck should have used the n-word when he references Jim [in Huckleberry Finn]. Any conversation about the n-word has to be about language and thinking more broadly.

What should teachers keep in mind as they teach about the n-word?
Remember the case of the white teacher who told the black student to sit down and said, “Sit down, nigga.” And then the teacher is chastised by the administration and of course there is social disruption. He said, “I didn’t say ‘Sit down, nigger,’ I said ‘Sit down, nigga,’ and that’s what I hear the students saying.” I’m thinking, first, you are an adult, white teacher. Secondly, do you imitate everything that you see and hear others doing or saying? At some level, there has to be some self-critique and critical awareness and sensitivity to difference. Just because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean that I do it even if and when I surely can.

In my courses, I’m more interested in raising questions than in finding answers to them. I think the questions lead to potential self-discovery. It’s not about whether or not a person uses the n-word. I try to move the class beyond easy binaries—“Well, blacks can use it, but whites can’t.” That line of thinking doesn’t take us very far at all. What we are trying to do, at least the way I have conceptualized and practiced this discovery, is so much more. The class strives to teach us all manner of ways to talk about, think about and to understand ourselves, and each other, and why and how we fit in the rest of the world.

Comments

Teaching Youth about this word

Submitted by Anonymous on 27 July 2014 - 8:18pm.

This is a timely find! I work at a summer program coordinating activities for children ages 5-14. With such a range of ages, there is a lot to consider in regard to language. In particular, there are two boys, they are around 12 or 13 and they use the n-word almost like a period! I have expressed my frustration to them and asked them to watch their language while at the program. Coming from a young white female, my opinions of their usage with this word are not taken seriously.

After reading this, I feel more confident that I can handle this. I will talk with them privately stating that I can't stop them from using that word outside the program, and I know that they aren't using the word maliciously. However, I'll tell them that for centuries, that word has been used to communicate hate, and it stirs up visions of bloodshed and vicious cruelties. I will ask them to be mindful of the young children at the center who don't understand the word and should not be saying it. If I put it on them to show maturity, maybe they'll want to live up to that.

Otherwise I'll just send them home.

Hopefully I'm on the right track, and if anyone has any advice, I'm all ears. Thanks for the article.

Helping my 13yo white son understand the gravity of this word.

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 July 2014 - 10:21am.

I am searching for resources to help me in explaining the n-word to my son. He has recently started using the word in his private videos and talking to himself. He understands that "nigger" can be offensive but he hears "nigga" in the videos and music he seems to be having trouble understanding the difference and how inappropriate it is for him to say this. We are a very accepting family and a many of our friends and family are black and mixed race. Does anyone have ideas of you tube videos that portray a positive message explaining this topic? I ask for you tube because that is a source he would relate to. Thanks in advance for any ideas!

The N Word Ringing in My Ears

Submitted by Anonymous on 22 April 2014 - 1:40pm.

When I taught in primarily Black schools this was a constant topic of discussion, one of the most humorous a discussion with a group of boys with language disabilities. I tried to start with the logic that they wouldn't want me (a white woman) using this term - to which they all shouted encouragingly, nah, man! You can use it too! Finally after more discussion I said it was a street word, like so many other words we discussed that year, and it should remain on the street. But there were years I taught when I heard it so much it was never absent from the inner voice I heard when reflecting on my teaching. Is that really a good thing, regardless of who is appropriating the term and for what purposes? Folk walking around with the n-word in their heads?

The word "gay" as a generalized insult was even more of a problem. Kids would get shocked and angry when I would respond that I didn't want to hear about anyone's sexual orientation. They had lost all context for the meaning of the word they were using. Same with "retarded." I found it hard to think it was an improvement though when they started using "LD" as the insult of choice. Trying to police language became a constant and exhausting task - and seemingly futile.

I've read many scientific

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 April 2014 - 6:47am.

I've read many scientific definitions of where this word came from and how popular it has become to use it now days. They say it became from "n-g-r" in ancient Egypt, or that it maybe derives from the word "Negro" in Spanish.

Personally I believe that, because of the history o hate, disrespect, discrimination loaded behind that single word and any other variation.... that word(s) SHOULD NOT BE USED.

It does not matter if the original meaning (in ancient times) was candy or angel or whatever; Nigger (Nigga or any variation) became a pejorative, derogatory epithet.

In the same way that Mother-Fucker, idiot, faggot, ugly, stupid, retarded are ALL insulting words; Nigger IS an insulting word. No matter how often we heard them on the streets, or in songs o in the movies.

If we consider ourselves decent people, WE SHOULD NOT USE insulting words against other person. And if we are to do our job well as parents, teachers, authorities, etc... we should TRY to teach our kids NOT TO USE THEM EITHER. Not even call names to other people or use any kind of negative epithet against them.

too British????

its the fear of using the

Submitted by Anonymous on 7 August 2014 - 5:25am.

its the fear of using the N-word!!! people are berated (to the point of a witch hunt) for simply using the N-word. aiming the word at some as an insult is wrong but aiming any word at someone as an insult is wrong.

No not too British. Makes

Submitted by Anonymous on 28 May 2014 - 5:45pm.

No not too British. Makes perfect sense.

Straight

Submitted by Anonymous on 31 March 2014 - 1:56pm.

You want to talk straight about a word you ain't even writing. Let's start with not assuming is offensive to use the word "nigger" when making a reference to the word or arguing about it or quoting. That's just ridiculous.

meaning of the "n" word

Submitted by Anonymous on 22 March 2014 - 2:07pm.

I had read somewhere that there were 2 different definitions to the "n" word. One based on skin color but the other having nothing to do with skin color, but rather the type of person one was. Like a low integrity, bad character, crude or cruel with no standards or morals, having nothing to do with ones race or color of skin. In other words, any ethnic group could be applicable to the "n" word. But this must be incorrect, because I cannot find that definition in any of the dictionaries

The N-word

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 March 2014 - 9:19pm.

People should be happy nigger turned into nigga to mean something more positive like a brother I agree you shouldn't use it in public, but with your friend privately(if they don't care) what's wrong about it ?

The N-word

Submitted by Anonymous on 26 September 2014 - 11:40pm.

In the history of time, African Americans have died from the word, so either way it still counts as offensive but your right in many ways If they don't care you still can't say it cause your making a seen to other people around you making it, ok for them to use it and it will get over hand.

amen

Submitted by Anonymous on 15 April 2014 - 10:18am.

amen

The word can't be positive

Submitted by Anonymous on 20 March 2014 - 5:19pm.

The word can't be positive anymore. That's the thing, it just can't. most people use the argument that it is another way to say friend or brother, but the truth of the matter is that if you yell friend or brother at someone angrily it doesn't turn it into an insult. The word is held down by ignorance and just because some people decide to use it because "Words don't hurt" or "I can say it cause I am black" isn't going to suddenly make the word take on some special meaning. There is so much hate pushing that word that letting it come from your mouth is poison to society in secret or public. If you say something often enough,you begin to believe it, whether it is true or not. That's why we as African-Americans don't have the right to be angry because someone of some race said the N word. You should be angry that ANYONE can still say it and it be "okay"

it can positive depending on usage & pronunciation

Submitted by Anonymous on 28 August 2014 - 10:59pm.

Words are constantly in flux. Fags still are cigarettes in Briton & 60 odd years ago gay just meant you were happy. Nigger may not be able to become a positive but "nigga" can & has. When I call my homie "my nigga" im not insulting him nor do I intend to. Nigga is pronounced differently, spelled differntly & used with a different connotation & definition thus technically its a different word with a common root as nigger. Im against using it outside Black cultural circles & using it with friends from other groups & calling them nigga thus opening the door for them to use it in turn but "nigga" has become a nuetural or positive term.

Damn right

Submitted by Anonymous on 20 June 2014 - 5:26pm.

Well said.

the n word is unacceptable no matter who uses it

Submitted by Anonymous on 9 February 2014 - 12:12pm.

The n word represents disrespect and dehumanization of our race. I am black and I am very hurt by this word no matter whose mouth it flows from. I don't understand why our people would want to call each other that as a term of "endearment." My sons are 13 and 11 (both in middle school) and I teach them how inappropriate this word is. Last year my oldest said that word with a group of friends we had a talk about racism and how it's unacceptable to use that word. I know they will inevitably encounter the word in their high school years, whether through music, friends etc. and I think schools should educate youth that the word is unacceptable no matter who uses it.

wrong

Submitted by Anonymous on 4 March 2014 - 6:49pm.

a word is a word and cannot hurt you unless you allow it to.

It's true that a word cannot

Submitted by Anonymous on 17 March 2014 - 3:15pm.

It's true that a word cannot hurt you unless you allow it to, but that doesn't mean that the origin of the word changes and nor does its meaning.

the "N" word

Submitted by Anonymous on 7 March 2014 - 11:10am.

However as adults it is important that we teach our children how to be descent people. And, just as we teach them that profanity is not acceptable the use of the "N" word should be in that same conversation. Our children are being bombarded with language that too often is inappropriate, constantly they are being influenced by the "music" they are listening to on their cell phones or other devices. I honestly feel that as adults we have dropped the ball and so I don't blame the children. The fault lies with the adults in the room who have not paid attention to what the children are listening to, saying or doing. Words do have power and certainly have influence. Learning to disregard harmful words is a learned skill. Using language that some may feel acceptable I think is simply peer pressure at any age in life.

what is the origin of the N-word in a positive way?

Submitted by Anonymous on 3 March 2014 - 4:08pm.

I agree that any historically horrible, dehumanizing word should not be used and the use of the word is now like a stick of dynamite, even if it has 2 opposite meanings. What ever happened to the term "brother" or "bro"? That seems to me to be the endearing word that was replace by the N-word?
Perhaps in black culture the term 'bro' or brother became too widely used by young white men and was no longer used just by blacks so the N-word became a popular replacement that could not be sued by whites as readily? Not certain but I think it would be best to regress back to using bro/brother?

I agree

Submitted by Anonymous on 25 February 2014 - 10:57am.

I agree totally. If a word is considered to be bad for whatever reason, it should be considered a bad word for everyone equally.

I go to a small school, so

Submitted by Anonymous on 21 February 2014 - 11:26pm.

I go to a small school, so most students are white, and you won't believe how many boys use the n word. It's a lot of the more "punk" type kids, the ones who pants sag and wear their baseball caps backwards. They don't do it around teachers, just around each other. I've overheard them saying it before, and I think it's wrong of them to do it.

Book Aimed at Healing the Ontological Wound of the N Word

Submitted by Anonymous on 5 February 2014 - 12:47am.

MY NEEG'-ER: Healing the Ontological Wound of the "N" Word,a recently published book by Caliph Zaphnathpaaneah El, traces the history of the N word back to its original Hebraic and Amharic roots. A word that meant divinity, royalty, or nobility was redefined to mean an inferior social class of people. "The intent of this book is to bring about awareness and restore a biblical identity to a people who are the only people in the history of mankind whose identity the world has concealed! It is time to challenge the assigned meaning of the word "NEEG'-ER" . . .

nice

Submitted by Anonymous on 7 July 2014 - 5:10am.

Nice book

N***a

Submitted by Anonymous on 24 January 2014 - 4:48pm.

My teenaged daughter is exposed to the N***a word constantly on social media. Her middle school friends, even black friends use the word and even have that as part of their instagram name. She never uses the offensive word, but she's become tolerant of seeing and hearing the word since it's so common and no one seems to mind.

i drive a school bus and all

Submitted by Anonymous on 1 September 2014 - 12:24pm.

i drive a school bus and all the kids call each other that black,white,hispanic says it does not mean the same thing to them

A 20 year olds thought

Submitted by Anonymous on 19 January 2014 - 10:19pm.

After we have established that in our world today the N-word is used by the black community all the time, for endearment and insult; my question is why do we have this ignorant mind set that we should slaughter anyone other than us who uses it when we abuse it everyday, all the time? We preach about racism towards us and talk about how people, especially "whites" need to change and neglect the fact that we need to have some respect for ourselves and our perception and knowledge of ourselves to know that the N-word, no matter who says it, is down right wrong, in any given context.

Ignorant and Offensive in Any Context

Submitted by Anonymous on 2 December 2013 - 11:54am.

I find the use of this word ignorant and offensive in any context.
I and my family are primarily of British and Irish descent. I was raised by both of my parents, most specifically my mother, to NEVER use racist words or to judge people by their skin color in ANY way.
This is driven home even further by the fact that my wife's half-sisters are mixed Polish/African American among other things.

It has been a sobering process throughout my life to see exactly how hateful and ignorant people can be. I am not a "white" you are not a "black" we are all just people.

It is extremely offensive to me when I hear racial slurs, and I do call people out (as calmly as I possibly can). This is true in defense of African Americans (whether any are present or not) and also when my own ethnicity and ancestry are cast in negative light. I am proudly Irish, and we are not all just drunks.

To me, racist is the most ignorant thing you can be.

High School

Submitted by Anonymous on 18 November 2013 - 9:16am.

As a white teacher in a predominantly white school in St. Petersburg, Florida, it's simple. I don't care what color you are, no one uses that word in my room with any variety of endings. No -er, ga, none of it. Period. You can't say the F word either, and that has far less baggage.

my son is only 9, and is in the fourth grade

Submitted by Anonymous on 26 September 2013 - 12:32am.

I got a call from my sons principal today he's in the fourth grade I guess recess he was in an altercation with some students happy to be black and my son said the N word.I've had a sick feeling in my stomach all day thinking about it he was suspended from school for a day in only the 4th grade I know my son is it racist his siblings are biracial I don't understand why he would use that word how do I handle this situation he says he just got so angry that it came out but he doesn't hear it at home nor and his father's house. I don't know what to do.how should I deal with this? please help

When a Mexican kid uses it

Submitted by Anonymous on 12 September 2013 - 12:11am.

I teach at a middle school that's 65% Latino, 25% African American, and 15% everything else. Yesterday one of my Mexican kids (yes, he really is Mexican) said the N-word. I asked him not to say it, so he said it again, to a black girl. He was surprised I asked him to stop and said it wasn't racist for him to use it because he's Mexican, not white. He's also strongly into hiphop and that's part of the environment.

I sent him to go talk to our security man, who's an African American minister and civil rights worker, and he said his talk had almost no impact on the boy.

How do you have this conversation with kids who aren't white? The kid doesn't feel like he's doing anything wrong, but some of my African American kids feel he has no more right to say it than a white person does (he's co-opting culture), whereas others feel that because he isn't white, he can use the word because there's no racist intent or history between blacks and Mexicans. (Which there is, but it would be lengthy to explain and he would reject hearing it so I doubt it would do any good). And what can I, as an outsider in the community, do? I've already invited a black friend to come in and talk to the class, but he can't come for a week.

Prejudice and ugly has no color

Submitted by Anonymous on 24 May 2014 - 10:02pm.

I am a first generation American (human), I have been to many countries and worked and played with people of all types. The "N" word is just plain unacceptable for any purpose, regardless of who says it. The word represents a time in society that humans disrespected our fellow humans. We as a society of humans need to focus our time and energy on improving ourselves. We waste so much valuable time and energy in the cycle of negativity.

N

Submitted by Anonymous on 4 February 2014 - 6:17pm.

Having been an advocate for Latinos and also a teacher of Spanish and also ESOL for many, many years, have his parents talk to him about how they feel when someone calls them Wetbacks or Spics, or even more when someone refers to them as "Illegals", a term that I equate to the N word. As someone who is part Native American the term Injun is also along those lines. He and all children need to understand that we are not white, Afro-American, Latino American, Asian American, or Native American. We ARE HUMAN BEINGS. God Bless America All the Way from Alaska to Argentina.
Jon

Dre ostine

Submitted by Anonymous on 28 February 2014 - 12:03pm.

I agree totally. If a word is considered to be bad for whatever reason, it should be considered a bad word for everyone equally.

Mexican American Kids Learning the N-Word from Hip Hop

Submitted by Anonymous on 2 January 2014 - 3:33am.

My husband and his family are from Mexico. He has a niece who was born here. She's 12 years old and is always glued to her phone. The other day she was spewing out lines from a song or show that included the N-word. I was so disappointed and offended. I'm Filipino-American; being born and raised in California, I grew up believing that the word is a racist slur. The word is a slap in the face to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's and the freedom and opportunity all Americans enjoy. I tried to talk to her about the N-word, and she kept saying it a couple of more times. She asked how could it be wrong if they use it in a song she listens to. I just ended up sounding like an out-of-touch adult. With 42 of her social media friends to contend with, I wished I had more support in engaging her in a more meaningful discussion about the N-word. She pointed her phone at my face and attempted to videotape me lecturing her for laughs with her friends later. I pushed the phone away from my face, and that ended the conversation. Who knows? Maybe I'll take her to The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. But, I also feel like just staying away from her and minimizing my son's interaction with her too.

N-word

Submitted by Anonymous on 10 January 2014 - 11:42pm.

It would seem that your niece has a number of behavior concerns, the repetition of objectionable content from still more objectionable music being the lesser among them. Her parents have work to do. As the parent of your own child, it is your responsibility to establish who is a positive influence on your child. Clearly she is not, so you would be wise to keep them apart. Should your child hear the n-word or any similarly degrading word, take the opportunity to discuss that with your child lovingly, letting him or her know that such a word is beneath them.
Were your niece my own, she would be fishing her phone out of the toilet.

Connections with history?

Submitted by Anonymous on 15 September 2013 - 10:49am.

http://www.tolerance.org/blog/infamous-n-word

Is there a way to demonstrate the historical connections between this word and the violence against black bodies that still occurs today? Have students watch ETHNIC NOTIONS documentary, STORY OF A PEOPLE documentary, or do a Google Alerts exercise to see all of the hatred/ potentially self-hatred (DuBosian "double consciousness" even) STILL associated with this word everyday no matter the spelling. The illusion that blacks can take it back is just that--an illusion. Recent lawsuits about the use of this word intraracially is a reminder that there really isn't a double standard as many contend. Masters also used the word as a "term of endearment" with their slaves. Check out 1800's minstrel songs where the word and its various spellings are rampant. What's the difference?

N word

Submitted by Anonymous on 30 June 2013 - 5:25pm.

FIY.
I have never heard a black person refer to him self or another black as a nigger. The words Nigger and Nigga are two totally different words.

The word Nigger came from Caucasoid and was meant to define blacks as ignorant, Inferior and dirty. Most modern dictionaries have cleaned it up a bit. Some dictionaries no longer include the word nigger.

The word Nigga came from blacks and is used to refer to other blacks as black like me or my black brother or sister. A non-black person cannot refer to a black person in this manner. It’s for people that have the beautiful black race in common.

You don't see the underlying

Submitted by Anonymous on 15 September 2013 - 10:47am.

You don't see the underlying divide that this creates. The double standard and borderline " reverse racism" that this perpetuates? A friend of my daughters was being called " wonder bread" and "cracker" by some black students. Her brother said. " come on Nigga" to one of them in response. He was punished by the school. And nothing said to the black students using derogatory terms. How is this OK, and how will our country ever ease racial tensions with such double standards?

i aggree

Submitted by Anonymous on 3 January 2014 - 1:15pm.

The word's use divides & harms. Period.

Nigger v. Nigga

Submitted by Anonymous on 31 July 2013 - 8:00am.

Black people always used nigger when talking about each other in private, primarily black men. It wasn't offensive to blacks to use the word among themselves. Many black comics routinely used it. Richard Pryor made an art of it as he did profanity in general.

The derogatory connotation used by whites was always offensive and hurtful. They used to use it with impunity. In today's almost post-racial environment most whites don't use the word in public anymore. I don't know if they use it in private. You couldn't pay my white wife to use it, even when we are playing. To me if "love" was intended as a hurtful word we would be having the same discussion about "love". We give value to words, positive or negative. But we control words. Words don't control us.

Completely correct

Submitted by Anonymous on 12 July 2014 - 8:24pm.

I'm white (German heritage) and go to a large school in Virginia. About 40% of the kids are either Hispanic, Asian, or African American, the other 60% are white. A couple of my black friends are quite comfortable with calling me nigga and me to them. The word has evolved from its disgusting heritage and means something completely different. Its no longer bound by race and is a synonym for love/close friend. I think once we, as people, stop fearing the word and what it used to mean, we will accept it. The English language is constantly evolving and so are people, and this is just another step on that path of evolution.

It's impossible to rid a word

Submitted by Anonymous on 5 August 2014 - 2:42pm.

It's impossible to rid a word of its historical and social baggage.

How do I respond?

Submitted by Anonymous on 26 June 2013 - 9:04pm.

Most of my friends are white and they do not understand why it upsets me to hear them say that the "n" word is just what it is a word. I don't feel like it is just a word how do I have the conversation to help them understand why it hurts to hear anyone say it. They also don't quite get it when I don't get upset if another Black person can approach me with the n word and it not be a problem. Please help. Thanks.

They should know better.

Submitted by Anonymous on 9 January 2014 - 2:10pm.

Tell them that you cannot tell another black person if they want to appropriate a word that was once against their race.(unless its your child) Like the conversation between Oprah and Jay-Z who agreed to disagree. I know a lot of black people that don't like to use the term, and that are offended when other black people use it. But they know they cannot tell another person how to handle a word that is used to keep their race down. As a white person, my blood boils when I hear that word. It also turns my stomach when I see a confederate flag, despite some people saying "its not racist, its political". I think you need to educate your friends or ditch them. I dont care if there are only white people in the room, if someone says it, you're getting a lesson from me(and I am usually the palest one in the room). Let them know it IS offensive when anyone says it, but you can't be upset for someone appropriating a word or symbol that has directly or indirectly caused them injustice and/or pain.

Whites understanding the impact of the "n" word on blacks

Submitted by Anonymous on 28 July 2013 - 3:06am.

I don't think your friends will ever understand. That word doesn't have an effect on them. They hear it, or say it or read it and it does nothing to them. To make the situation even harder to understand is the lack of a similar word with a similar impact on white people. There isn't one. "Cracker" doesn't even begin to impact whites they way the "n" word does blacks. Among whites there's a belief that if we are really friends then the "n" word should be safe to say . . . there's no intent to do harm, so where is the harm coming from? They can't comprehend. It's similar to a wife who asks her husband if she needs to lose weight and he responds with, "Oh, uh maybe a few pounds." To him it's just a comment. No pain is intended. He feels nothing. He still finds her attractive. He still loves her. But to the wife it's an attack on her sex appeal to her husband . . . the one person she was sure she could trust. He will learn not to ever describe her as heavy or heavier, but he really hasn't felt the pain that she did. And he may never. I'm an old (60), white man. I don't use the "n" word. I don't like what it means. I don't feel it's effects the way I would if I were black. But I hate it because, to me, it's evidence of a separation between me and black people. For as long as it is OK for blacks to use it among their black friends, I will be aware that I am outside that sphere. I am not as close as others can be. And I can't be as close. But when the word is absent, so is the evidence that I am "other". Ask your friends how they would feel if every time you were with them you . . . spoke . . . . really . . . . really . . . . . slowly? Because they are just a little slow. You still like them. You're still their friend. But clearly you have decided they aren't quite as smart as you and your other friends. Sorry, but I don't think they will ever get it.

You make an excellent point

Submitted by Anonymous on 15 September 2013 - 11:05am.

You make an excellent point that can go both ways. I am white and have had this discussion with many of my black friends. I understand why blacks can say this and for almost very situation is is not appropriate for anyone white to say. I see it as a derogatory word, and would never say it because I personally find it offensive. It does not bother me when I hear it among black people, but I truly believe if black people are going to be offended if the wrong race also says it then they should not use it either. We will only get rid of the tension behind it if the same set of standards are in place for all races.

Partly agree

Submitted by Anonymous on 22 October 2013 - 8:57pm.

But black people are called it by many white people in the media still till this day...

So until that minority of white people stop using it I don't think we will be able to, as its still a reminder of our position in society.... Not much has changed

We still don't own anything,.....

"Pejudice Song"

Submitted by Anonymous on 25 March 2013 - 7:40pm.

Watch "Prejudice Song" by Tim Minchin on YouTube.
I see it as a funny, clever mockery of prejudice the absurdity of prejudice language.

White teacher from Miami

Submitted by Anonymous on 25 February 2013 - 6:01pm.

I teach in a mostly minority school: 74% Hispanic, 22% Black and 4% white. How do you discuss the N-word when all the students use that word to say, "Hey!" to each other? I mean, I constantly hear them call each other regardless of race! And when I do try and explain it's meaning, they tell me it doesn't mean that anymore.

I teach as well

Submitted by Anonymous on 3 January 2014 - 1:12pm.

I'm a black teacher in a school with a similar student body. The same issues persists at the beginning of the year for me but I put a stop to it and hold the line. It's not easy but becomes easier as the year goes on. Although I don't understand what it's like for a white teacher, perhaps you can push the fact that by using such language it degrades them in the eyes of society as a whole. Their friends may be cool with it but the kind of life they most likely want for themselves as adults is antithetical to that word's history. (hope that helps, blessings to you)