Today, there are two hot-button issues floating around. One is, of course, the overturning of DOMA. What a huge step in the direction of equality for all! I am truly thrilled by this court ruling, and I’m glad that the obstructionists weren’t successful in further justifying discrimination against a group of citizens who deserve equality. The other hot topic surrounds Paula Deen and her use of racial slurs to identify black people. Race is an issue I honestly can’t believe that we still need to discuss in 2013, but it is what it is, I guess. I’ll be tackling DOMA in a blog post tomorrow. Today, I’m going to answer the following question, posed by my dear friend Merry, from …And Baby Makes Five...
Okay. I have an honest, genuine question. I do not want to start a flame war, and I beg my friends to not think differently for asking…
I once had a friend who encouraged me to ask her questions, and during one of our many late night porch talks, I asked her what was, for me, a difficult question to ask. I said “I know why it is socially unacceptable for a white person to say the n-word. But why is it okay for African-Americans to refer to each other with that word?”
At the time, she said to me “We took something negative and made it positive.” At the time, I accepted her response. But I now find that her reply has left me with more questions. In many, many instances where I have heard African-American people refer to each other with that word, it’s been in a derogatory way. Most of the time when I’ve heard someone speaking in a good manner of another person of color (how lame is that expression, btw? Person of color? I have a color…it’s pale, but it isn’t colorless…everyone has a color, regardless of skintone), they have used the terms “brother” or “sister”. I mean, the n-word was born of, and is steeped in so much hatred and discrimination, why is it okay to use such a hateful term to refer to each other? Is it truly a matter of turning a negative into a positive, which, to be honest, I just don’t think there will ever be redemption for that word? And if it isn’t, then wouldn’t it make sense for everyone, regardless of race, to just stop saying that word? I mean, we don’t really hear about Middle Eastern people calling each other various slurs…or Mexicans referring to each other as not-dry not-front sides, do we?
Am I missing something here? I am not asking with the intent of ignorance, I am asking because this truly puzzles me, and I genuinely want to understand.
Well, Merry, I can understand your confusion. As I mentioned in your Facebook status, most black people don’t use the word, and they don’t feel that it’s okay for anyone to use it. Unfortunately, there is a loud minority within our community that insist upon its use, and I’m going to use probably the next several hundred words exploring why I think that is and why I think it’s garbage. For anyone, of any race, reading this blog post, these are, as always, my opinions. You are entitled to your own, and you may share them respectfully in the comments section if you feel so inclined. But do take the time to read my thoughts before you summarily lambaste them.
First, a little backstory. I was raised in a family of both black and white people; my mother is white, and my father is black. I never heard the word used by anyone until someone decided to levy it upon me at an elementary school in Florida. He was a white kid, though I’m not entirely certain that it matters one way or another at all. I remember being very hurt and confused, and when I brought it up to a family member, she took me aside and told me about the first time she had heard the word used against her. Her mother made her get out a dictionary and look at the word alongside its definition. Now, dictionaries change over time, but it’s ALWAYS been used to mean a person with black or otherwise dark skin color: That’s still the first definition listed today. That, in and of itself, is not necessarily offensive to me.
But you have to look at it past the pages of the dictionary. I don’t even know why that lesson was given to her, let alone me because I certainly wasn’t assuaged by looking at what Merriam and Webster had to say about the word. The “n-word” was what people used in place of someone’s name. He was personal property or the property of someone else, and whites were his social, economic and political better. He was a slave. Slaves were assets — little more to their owners than upright-walking livestock, and they were treated with similar respect as was given the cows and pigs and chickens. Owners had to feed them and give them shelter, and the slaves, in turn, worked without option. Here’s a nice bonus: the “n-words” these whites had out back working the plantation also bred like livestock, and every little “n-word” that was born on a master’s property becomes part of his stable.
After much effort, slaves were freed from the plantations and loosed into society. However, the position of inferiority largely remained. We were still “n-words,” and we were still treated unfairly with social segregation and lingering discrimination. . .
Psh. Listen to me, using the word “were.” Come on, now. We still are. Say what you want to to make yourself feel better about not being a racist personally yourself, but blacks are STILL discriminated against by the world at large. Blacks enter life with a stigma that they must overcome: They must prove that they’re not, by birthright alone, a social, economic and political inferior, which is a charge that’s not foisted upon whites. In order to “succeed,” they must be constantly cautious and become more educated, more well-spoken and more just plain lucky than any white person in the same place. Because, even if he comes from the inner city and speaks ebonics, a white guy is going to initially be viewed more favorably in today’s world than a black guy in a three-piece-suit.
- Blacks are 30 percent more likely to go to jail than white people accused of identical offenses, and they’re tied to longer sentences. SIXTY percent of the prison population is black, but we make up 30 percent of the general population. In fact, more black men are in prison now than were enslaved before the civil war got underway. That’s staggering.
- Blacks earn between 69 and 74 percent of a white person’s wages for the same job.
Along with these statistics comes a certain amount of despair. Blacks know that they’re facing these things, and it’s so much easier to dream of becoming a sports star or a rap artist than to trudge through at a meager wage and get by. It’s easy for some to say, “Well, I’m a criminal in their minds anyway, so I might as well make a few bucks doing the wrong things before I get carted off.” It’s all good until all of a sudden it’s not and you become another statistic in this sad downward spiral. It’s a trap any way you move, really. You’re born, and you always will be, black. . . inferior.
Knowing all of this, I’m really having a hard time, like Merry, understanding why on earth anyone would want to use a word that’s so closely tied to the OPPRESSION of black people. ESPECIALLY if they’re black themselves. But, as I look around the world, this isn’t the only place you can see the same thing. Mainstream culture encourages self-inflicted misogyny and other delightful gems, as well. I was really happy to find this “Stop the Sag” campaign by New York senator Eric Adams. It was targeted at sagging pants, but the message applies to so much more than that. If you’re going to put your pants around your ankles and pretend like you’re in prison, then you can’t expect people to treat you like anything other than a thug. If you call yourself the “n-word” or a “b–ch,” you’ve given whoever else wants to use that word against you permission to do so. That’s not to say that I think that Ms. Deen’s actions were excusable: The word is vile and repulsive. But it’s not just vile and repulsive when SHE says it.
He’s absolutely right, you know? We’re better than that. The word is NOT cool. It doesn’t sound neat. You don’t HAVE to say it in a rap song, and you don’t HAVE to say it on the basketball field or wherever the heck you’re even saying it. You’re certainly not saying it around me, that’s for sure. If you did, you’d have an earful to handle —
— because it’s not okay with me that you say it. It’s not okay for you to give that disgusting word a place in society. It’s DEFINITELY not okay for you to give permission to anyone else to use it. It’s not okay for you to drag down our people any further than we are by acting like we don’t deserve the equality we keep pushing for. I’m NOT going to be saddled with that word, and I don’t want to hear it come out of your mouth.
Respect yourself. Stop saying it.