Damon Young sits down with a random internet white person to talk about who may and may not use the word ‘N***er’.
Between Paula Deen, Accidental Racist, Trayvon Martin, the fact that the most buzzed about movie in the country right now is about a Black man getting killed by a White cop, and Riley Cooper somehow forgetting who his co-workers happen to be, this summer has had its share of racially charged moments.
Yet, while much of the attention has been given to how Black people are processing all of this, I can imagine it’s also been a weird time for White people. And, while there are dozens of Rorschach test-esque race-related sub-conversations that can be deconstructed, my focus today is a highly contentious word whose use and usage—and the appropriateness of said use and usage—still seems to confuse many: “n*gger.”
While most non-Black people understand the historical context of this word and stay the hell away from it—or don’t understand it at all but still stay the hell away from it—some still seem to be perplexed about why they’re not “allowed” to use it, and whether there is ever a situation where the rules regarding n*gga/n*gger use are relaxed or even appropriate.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that I’ve known White people my entire life, I’ve never had a conversation with one in person about “n*gga.” This only seems to happen on the internet. So, to aid with this issue, I invited a random internet White person (“RIWP” for short) who’s still unsure about n*gga use and usage to a quite an enlightening back and forth. Our conversation is below. (His statements are in italics.)
RIWP: Thanks for inviting me. You definitely are a very smart Black person.
Me: Yeah, this already isn’t getting off to a great start.
RIWP: I’m sorry.
Me: I know. So, you had some questions…?
RIWP: So yeah. When is it okay for White people to say n*gga?
RIWP: Not even…
RIWP: How about if…
RIWP: What if…
Me: Hell no
RIWP: You’re not even letting me…
Me: F*ck you.
RIWP: You’re not even letting me finish my ques…
Me: Re-F*ck you.
RIWP: How can we have a conversation if you won’t even let me speak?
Me: I’m letting you speak. Just not letting you finish.
RIWP: You know what I mean!
Me: I guess you make a good point. Speak away.
RIWP: Thank you. So, like I was trying to say, what if…
Me: Did I say f*ck you already? LOL. Just playin’. Go ahead.
RIWP: So, what if you’re dating a Black woman, and you’re at her house for Thanksgiving, and her drunk uncle calls you his “n*gga,” actually asks “Are you my n*gga?” and pauses to wait for a response?
Me: It’s a trap. The only Black people who do stuff like this at family gatherings are fresh out.
RIWP: Fresh out?
Me: “Fresh out” means “fresh out of prison.”
Me: Anyway, the only Black people who do stuff like this at family gatherings are fresh out, so it’s likely a trap for him to have justification to rob you.
RIWP: That doesn’t make any sense.
Me: It doesn’t have to.
RIWP: Ok. So, what if I’m at a club and my favorite Mobb Deep song comes on. Am I allowed to repeat the lyrics?
Me: Look. It’s not uncommon for Black-owned nightclubs and bars to be in debt. And, if it’s 2013 and Mobb Deep is playing, it’s usually a sign the owner said “F*ck it. I’m going to lose this place in a month anyway, so I might as well play shit I like.”
Anyway, since he’s probably losing the place, he probably stopped paying the bills months ago. Why does this matter? Well, when the music abruptly stops because of electric bill nonpayment, you don’t want to be the White guy who happened to be screaming “Kill dat ni*gga!!!” when everything gets silent.
So, no. But, it’s for your own good.
RIWP: You still haven’t really answered my initial question.
Me: I know. I haven’t because your question isn’t even the most relevant one to this conversation. Forget about “Since many Black people use it freely, why aren’t White people allowed to say n*gga?” Instead, answer this: Why would you even want to? This is what I don’t really understand. Considering how heated many people get because of it, what is the upside for you? There are hundreds of thousands of words at your disposal—millions if you include Pittsburghese—so why so much angst about excluding this particular one from your lexicon?
RIWP: It’s about fairness. How are we ever supposed to stop racism if one group is allowed to say a word that another group isn’t?
Me: Yeah, I’m not buying that. You’re intelligent enough to know that certain groups (family, close friends, teammates, etc) are able to speak to each other with language that would offend if coming from anywhere else. I’m sure there are certain things your brother could say about your mom that would make you both laugh. But, if I said it, you’d both want to punch me.
This also extends to larger groups such as women, gays, and other ethnicities and terms such as bitch, queer, and guido.
Honestly, this “confusion” over n*gga feels like the kid at the playground who wants to play with a toy just because he sees another kid playing with it. He’s not upset about the toy as much as he’s upset that he can’t do any and everything he wants to do.
RIWP: So, let me get this right. Only Black people can say “nigga” and no one can ever say “nigger?” There are no other circumstances where it’s okay for a non-Black person to do it.
Me: Well, there was a window from 1999 to 2004 when Puerto Ricans from the Bronx and Dominicans from Harlem were “allowed” to say it. But, we only let them do that because we still felt bad about Big Pun. Plus, they’re Black anyway, even if they don’t want to admit it. The only difference between them and us is that the guys steering their slave ships were drunk.
Aside from that though, no. Well, lemme rephrase that. You can say it. Shit, you can say anything. But, if you do, don’t be surprised if someone with the last name “Vick” puts a bounty on you. And, by “someone with the last name Vick puts a bounty on you” I mean “Michael Vick’s little brother randomly shows up outside of your home.”
RIWP: Wait, he’s broke isn’t he. How will I know he’s there to beat me up? What if he just needs me to co-sign on a couch set?
Me: Good question.
Originally appeared on Very Smart Brothas