Why You Shouldn’t Use the N-Word

Alright, let’s be clear. I’m white. My ancestors were, if not actually involved, involved by association in the slave trade, and if not the slave trade then some other repression of non-whites. I probably have white guilt, but I realize that reveling in it is pointless, and hubristic. I cannot ask someone to forgive what my ancestors did to them. I am also not directing this at black people. The use of the N-word in black communities is not my responsibility. In my opinion, it should stop being used by black people as well, but I realize that as a white person my opinions on what black people should do are at least automatically suspect, so I have no real right to police black language nor do I feel I should. What I can do is tell white people to stop because really, we have no damn business using it as casually as I have had the misfortune to hear it used. White people, this article if mainly for us, so shit down and shut up while I tell you a thing or two about language.

Someone once said to me “Why shouldn’t we use the N-Word. It’s just a word and word’s aren’t important.” To that I would like to explain that statement without words. Words are important, and make up the basis of how we understand and communicate reality. While the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may be putting it to strongly, words do have certain associations that make up our understanding of the world. As such, language has power.

White people shouldn’t use the N-Word because it’s a racial slur. Really, it should be that simple. It’s a word that has been used to demean an entire group of people as part of a wider social attack on them that includes kidnapping, slavery, theft and pretty much every other form of abuse you can care to name. The N-Word is tied up in all that, and that alone makes it wrong. I think that the main problem is that white people don’t really have a slur that affects us. If someone were to call me a honky, I would probably be surprised and a bit uncomfortable, but generally it’s not something that is repeated. I don’t think I have ever been called a honky in any manner that wasn’t a joke. I do not have the word nailed in as anything that should make me feel bad about myself. It feels more like a joke to me. As such, I can’t understand what it is really like to be called a racial slur. I can imagine it, and I have a pretty good imagination, but that is the extent of my ability. (For the record, I imagine it is pretty bad).

Also, something I realized about the N-Word, is that it is not only been used to describe people of African decent. The word has been used to describe other ethnicities, usually by adding an adjective (Prairie for First Nations people, Sand for Arabs, etc). My own Irish ancestors were once referred to as N-Words by a member of the British Ascendency. While some people may think that makes the N-Word up for grabs, the truth is much worse. By adding an adjective, they are merely adding a characteristic to the N-Word. The exact subject matter of the N-Word remains, in this case “someone who is less than me”, and is merely being added to. To make it clearer, to demean other races they are made black.

The N-Word is not just a racial slur. It is the racial slur. It is probably the single most horrid word in the English language. Murder, cannibalism and rape are all words that have been made for an action that we all know is horrible, and naming it puts it into a social context. The N-Word was designed to denigrate an entire people, and it is still used in that manner. It is a horrible word and we should all stop using it.