In 2021 the ability to withhold from being racist, insensitive, and plain ignorant should be self-explanatory but unfortunately, it is still an ever-prevalent issue. The n-word (whether ends in an -er or not) continues to be used by non-Black people, which is unacceptable. There are people who use the n-word in a malicious way, which is terrible, but this is for the people who use it casually and do not realize every context is bad. The use of the word has never been encouraged but a refresher course seems necessary after recent events.
The n-word is derived from the Latin word for the color black, niger. It did not originate as a slur, but overtime took on a derogatory connotation. White slave owners would use the n-word to demean and oppress Black people. The n-word is tied to the idea that Black people are not human beings. Therefore, the use of the word carries a huge historical weight of racism. It will continue to carry this weight due to the fact that the context surrounding the word has not changed — there is not a non-racist way for a white person to use it.
Although some may claim that this reaction to the n-word is too sensitive, the reality is it creates an uncomfortable disturbance when used by a person who is not Black, for example, Morgan Wallen a rising country singer. Wallen was captured on video leaked by TMZ calling one of his friends the n-word while walking home in Nashville on Feb. 2. No matter the circumstance, it’s unacceptable and I think the casualness of the exchange is disturbing. It led me to believe he had likely been using it for a while and I was proved correct when I read, “Wallen has a history of having used the n-word on social media, quoting rap lyrics. Back in 2012, when he would have been 18, the then-unknown sent out a tweet that is a lyric by rapper Meek Mill: ‘I burn bread I ain’t talking toast n—-.” The tweet was deleted on Feb. 3 after the recent incident according to an article by Variety.
Wallen issued an apology the same night and I hope he has learned and educated himself from his mistake. As a result of the incident, his music has been dropped from many radio chains and from visual spots on streaming networks Spotify and Apple Music. He was also suspended indefinitely from his record label, Big Loud. On Feb. 10, Jason Isbell, the writer of Wallen’s song ‘Cover Me Up’, announced he would be donating everything he has made so far from the album to the Nashville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The next day Wallen released a second apology video. During the 5 minute video, Wallen said he has been accepting invitations to meet with Black organizations and have honest conversations. He also stressed in the video to his fans not to defend him, saying, “Please don’t. I was wrong. It’s on me to take ownership for this and I fully accept any penalties I’m facing. The time of my return is solely on me and the work I put in.”
I went to a high school where the percentage of white students at the school was 89% and the percentage of Black students was 1%. Disturbingly enough, this is where I heard the usage of the n-word the most, likely because nobody was stopping them. It would be impossible for the four Black students in each grade to inform each white student on why it is offensive. But more importantly, Black people are not responsible for educating every single white person of their history. Therefore, as white people, we need to start educating each other on the hurtful meaning of the word.
Even in instances when the word is not used to inflict verbal abuse I still think it is important as white people to call out your non-Black friends that use the n-word. White people should not be rapping or tweeting the n-word. Use it as a teachable moment and explain to them that it is in fact, a racial slur, no matter how it is used. In some instances, privilege can keep people from seeing how their unintentionally hurtful statements minimize and silence Black experiences. Regardless, I still wonder how some are so clueless on the prohibited usage of the word from non-Black people.
Nonetheless, being a non-Black person does not justify casually using the n-word. White people having a Black friend does not allow usage of the n-word by association. Receiving “permission” or not being told verbally to stop, does not warrant the use of this blatantly disrespectful word. If you are still wondering why you cannot say the n-word, ask yourself why you care so much about it and why do you even feel the need to say the word in the first place.