If you read my first column questioning the necessity of the n-word, then you already know how I feel:
The word is toxic.
One minute it’s a weapon, the next it’s a term of endearment. Some people get a pass, other people don’t.
A slur shouldn’t have rules and regulations.
I know I don’t have the power to erase it from people’s vocabulary and it will likely be here long after I’m gone, but I know I’m not the only Black person noticing non-Black people saying it more than Black people.
When writing my first column, I allowed myself to believe the overuse of the n-word was mostly a white and Black people issue. Yet, whenever I would ask my non-Black POC friends to stop saying the word, I would either be met with an argument or given a half-hearted answer.
There’s an assertion that because you aren’t white, your experiences are similar to those of a Black person’s, which is far from the truth.
“My thought is if you know the history of the n-word, why would you say it? What do you get out of it?” Sydne Jackson, a junior theatre performance major, recently told me. “Everybody wants to be Black until it’s time to be Black.”
Jackson believes Black people have the right to claim the word as their own and that they should be respected if they don’t wish to be called the n-word.
She says she has told non-Black people not to say the word. She said she once had to explain to a male non-Black Latino friend that being POC and “receiving a pass” from his Black friends doesn’t give him the right to say the word, and again to a white person she heard rapping along to a song.
“It just really makes me upset every time I hear a non-Black person say that word. Especially in an age of social media and the internet, everyone should know that only Black people have the option to say that word,” Jackson said.
I’m convinced non-Black people get a rush out of saying the word. I posted an Instagram story asking students if they believed non-Black people should be allowed to say the n-word and the responses I received were all the same:
“I don’t understand why non-Black people need to say it.”
“No one should say the word.”
I am tired of having to explain the seriousness of this issue and I am even more tired of being met with ignorance.
How can we reach racial justice if we can’t acknowledge the fact that a word demeaning Black people has been normalized?
Ayesha Rasul, a comparative literature graduate, understands that the word is a slur and says it is never used by non-Black people positively, and if they say otherwise, “they are lying to themselves or to everyone else.”
“Since brown people experience discrimination due to problematic policies and legislature, they often equate it with the Black American experience,” Rasul said. “Which is markedly different and demonstrably false.”
Rasul has told people from her South Asian community not to say the word, which she says has led to uncomfortable conversations.
But, she says, she knows these conversations are necessary.
“There’s often attempted deflections as [a way] to not have to confront racial biases that go deep in the South Asian community,” Rasul said.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Asian American community is affected by white supremacy.
Since the pandemic began, anti-Asian abuse — both physical and verbal — has skyrocketed across the U.S. Shameful people have accused Asians of causing COVID-19. The hate has progressed from people not eating food at Asian restaurants to real violence.
On March 16, a white gunman opened fire in three massage parlors in Atlanta, killing six Asian women. This is one data point in a much larger problem: there have been nearly 3,800 anti-Asain hate incidents in the past 11 months, according to a Stop AAPI Hate National Report.
But that doesn’t mean Asian Americans can say the n-word.
For Aqeelah Howard, this issue is “deeper” than race and is about “experience.”
“Descendants from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade are the individuals that experienced the cruelty, the harm, sexual exploitation and loss of identity, all while being called a [n-word] by their slave master,” Howard, a senior American and Africana Studies major, told me.
Howard believes only those descended from slaves brought to America should be allowed to say the n-word. She says hearing the word as a descendant of a slave affects her greatly; she calls on those who decide to use the word because they think it’s “trendy” to consider its history.
During segregation, when Black people were called the n-word, it was used in a demeaning fashion. It was a slur shouted by white supremacists as they lynched Black people in the south. Black people were called the n-word by white people as they were beaten and thrown out of ‘White Only’ restaurants. It was painted on picket signs and screamed in their faces.
The argument can be made that Black people have claimed the word and given it new meaning, but it can also be argued that Black people are one of many groups of people who have claimed that word. Especially if Black people keep giving their non-Black friends n-word passes.
It’s 2021. If you’re not Black, you’re not allowed to say the n-word.
Alexandra Moyen is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AlexandraMoyen
Alexandra Moyen is the senior features editor of The Spectrum.