11 Black People Share How They Really Feel About White People Using the N-Word
There are few words more weighed-down with history and meaning than n*gger — a racial slur so associated with racism and violence that some writers (including this one) can feel uncomfortable even typing it out in full.
But colloquial uses of the word, in songs and in conversation, have led to heated debates about who should be "allowed" to say it.
Can a white person ever use the word n*gger without evoking the centuries of violent oppression committed by white Americans against black Americans?
Rather than listen to white people try to settle this amongst themselves, here are 11 black people saying how they feel about white people using the word.
1. Ty, 18, Student
"It's a derogatory term to oppress people of color ... If you have to ask, you know it's wrong."
2. Niambi, 20, Student
"Overall, everyone needs to kind of step away from being so comfortable using the word ... The fact that non-black people feel comfortable using the word casually is testament to how it's everywhere. It's historically oppressive ... and for me to say that it's OK to say casually trivializes it."
3. Najeebah, 20 and Kameelah, 23, Both Students and Chess Teachers
Najeebah: "White people, definitely no ... I try not to use the word myself."
Kameelah: "I don't think white people should be allowed to use it ... I have very strong views on that, and I jump in when I hear people say it."
4. Chris, 18, Student
"I would say that there are certain connotations with that word ... If I'm with my friends and we're all African American, we'll use it in a joking way ... It's viewed as something specific to African American culture."
5. Daryle, 23, Program Associate
"I would say no, it makes me uncomfortable ... I don't think non-black people should use it."
6. Chinedu, 24, Student
"I think I have a unique perspective ... because I'm from Nigeria ... White people can say it if they mean well, if it's all said in love."
7. Lash, 19, Student
"I feel like it's just weird ... We'll say it within our own race ... Personally, I don't really call people that, so I wouldn't want somebody calling me that."
8. Milo, 18, Student
"People shouldn't use the word n*gger because it's derogatory ... Don't use it to sound cool ... Just don't use it."
9. Karl, 50-Something, Renaissance Guy
"I'm torn ... It's not a simple word ... it manifests itself in wonderful and horrible ways. I've seen it used both ways. The n-word is a distraction ... If the usage is in an ill manner, it doesn't matter what the word is."
10. Jaz, 19, Student
"I do use it ... In a friendly greeting."
There are no hard and fast "rules" about who is and isn't allowed to say certain words. But there is truth in that, to many people, the word n*gger is hurtful, offensive and inseparable from its racist origins — especially when said by a white person.
As Gene Demby wrote for NPR in 2013, "When Asian folks or Latinos or white folks ask why they can't say it but black people can, the question misses the point. Anyone can say it — that doesn't mean there won't be fallout for doing so."