The Galleon - Portsmouth's Student Newspaper


Not Saying The N-Word

Why do white people even want to say it?

You know what I’m talking about. That word. Casual if it has an ‘a’ at the end, and an attack if it is an ‘er’. The unsayable word – and rightly so. You can’t reclaim a word that was never used against people who looked like you, especially if it was used by people who do. It’s two syllables I categorically never want to shape my tongue around, and being myself whiter than Catholic depictions of God, I never should say it. Not my place, and that’s not a hard thing to understand.

So why does anyone want to say it?

I know a guy who considers himself to be ‘edgy’. By that, he means that he likes to offend people, and then blame them for taking offence at his words. He is the epitome of the kind of person who shouldn’t say it. Of course, he does. All the time. He says it’s only said ironically, because white people are the only ones who get offended by his use of the word.

I don’t think it needs saying that the guy has a distinct lack of black friends.

Sure, racism is less socially acceptable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still racists still unfortunately living and breathing out there.

I have a friend – shocking, I know – who doesn’t use the word in day to day life, sure, but if we’re singing along to a song, she doesn’t make a little grunt to fill the beat where the word goes. She says it’s fine, says it’s all about context. She wouldn’t use it as an attack, and makes the supposedly very important ‘a’ versus ‘er’ distinction (which, quite frankly, I think is a *beep* unacceptable argument). Anyway, she says, it’s not her saying the words originally. She’s just repeating lyrics. I say that parroting ideas without challenging them is a massive problem. She says I’m reaching. I probably am. I’m still not gonna say it.

Someone on the internet – so they must be right – tells me that public use of the word is acceptable now we live in a post-racial society. A what? Since when? When did that happen? Sure, racism is less socially acceptable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still racists still unfortunately living and breathing out there. Post-racial? Those are the words of the ‘I’m not racist, but…’  kind of guy who, surprise surprise, is actually insidiously racist. The ‘I have black friends!’ guy who solidly makes jokes at said black friends’ expense. He says ‘post-racial’, he means ‘I want everything to look homogeneously like what I’m familiar with’. He means that racism is over since he personally has never owned another human being.

Post-racial? And I’m the one who’s reaching?

The only argument I can, in a distant, abstract way kind of understand is the idea that not saying the word gives it a power, so we should use it casually to kill it; like when you say a word over and over and it loses all meaning. In theory, okay, yes, this makes sense, but it ignores the fact that the word does hold a lot of power already. Mostly it just feels like someone clamouring for any excuse.

Just why are white people trying to argue for their right to reclaim a word? What is the point? What do we get out of it? It just feels like people wanting to make racism mainstream.

Do people just want to say it because it’s forbidden fruit? If so, can’t they pick another word? Pick a playground insult and reclaim that? Why does it have to be this one?

I think we know why.

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