To My “Color-Blind” White Friends who Want to Use the N-Word

Hey guys,

I’d like to start off by making perfectly clear that I am NOT (repeat, not) calling you racist. If you were to use the word against someone, then yeah, that’d be racist. What you’re doing, trying to use it in order to seem cool and “with it” is not racist in my book. Stupid? Sure. Ignorant? Oh, absolutely. But not racist. So now that I’ve cleared that up, could you all maybe stop yelling that I’m racist/being a reverse racist/being a hypocritic racist for asking you not to use a word whose implications you obviously don’t understand, and for pointing out that you have white privilege? Cool.

I’d also like to take a second to point out that all of you yelling at me, asking me questions and then shouting over my answers, insinuating that I’m making everything up, accusing me of trying to make you feel guilty, and then claiming that I’m being oversensitive is a little too ironic for my liking. Even more so when you consider that I have not once raised my voice and have only spoken calmly. I’m well aware of the fact that the second I actually go off on the lot of you I’ll be the angry black person, or the irrational woman of color, and any hope I have of getting you to actually listen to me will be lost. You, on the other hand can default into the rational category regardless of what you’re doing, so long as you have each other for support. Of course what you’re doing isn’t overreacting! After all, I got upset at one word: “nigga”, and asked you not to use it again. You got upset at two words: “white privilege”, and started to shout.

Why is it that a word blatantly used to perpetuate racism is seen as more socially acceptable than the words referring to a racist system? Is it because the word “nigga” can never be used against you, but the privilege you have works for you, and calling you out for having it requires you to deal with some type of responsibility?

“Stop trying to make us feel guilty! I’m not privileged! I have never benefited from my race.” Here’s the beautiful thing about privilege: most people don’t see it unless they don’t have it. This means that if you grow up with consistent treatment, doing consistent activities, everything about your life will be normal to you and it won’t occur to you to think about why the consistencies keep happening. “That’s just the way things are” = Coward’s way out. Why are things that way?
I’m not going to make a list of things your privilege grants you, because no one has time for that, and enough white people have already started that job for you. If you want, read this article, written by a white woman, as well as this one.

“Yeah, well black people have power, too. The president is black!” Listen. Listenlistenlisten.
A black president is in no way indicative of a post-race society. In fact, that we see him as a black president indicates how racially charged our society still is. He has a qualifier in front of his title! None of the other presidents were known as white presidents, because they didn’t have to be. They were normal. But our president is black, which is abnormal, so of course we must bring attention to that, and not be surprised when major news networks accidentally refer to him as Mr. Obama instead of his actual title. By the way, Obama is not even completely black. We see him as black because America apparently still operates under the one-drop mindset (definitely not post-race), and it’s good to have a black role model in what is arguably a position of power. Still, how exactly are POC benefiting more than white people from Obama’s presidency?
Oh, and if you really think that having a black man in office justifies your use of the n-word, you need to overhaul your thinking processes. You wanna say “nigga”? Why don’t you call Obama and ask him if that’s okay?

“But they say it in hip hop, so it is okay.” That is not how things work. You were upset enough when I tried to explain private prisons and couldn’t “condense” enough for you, so I’ll leave it at this. As my sociology class showed me (heyy Robyn Autry!), things that are produced with the purpose of being authentic just, aren’t. And while I (almost) appreciate your playing me the song “Sucka Nigga” by A Tribe Called Quest, you need to understand: it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Have you actually listened to the lyrics? Or do you just like the song because when you sing along, you get to say “nigga” over fifty times? It’s about a black man who understands why many black people don’t like the use of the word while many others have adopted it, partially as a term of endearment within the black community. Rap Genius actually refers to this as “flipping the word on its racist roots”. However, this is what black people are doing. White people are mentioned in the song using the word in one context. Please re-listen.

“Well, it’s just slang. It’s not fair if everybody else gets to say it and we can’t. Why shouldn’t I get to say it, just because some people are sensitive about it?” First of all, what?
Now moving on: are you really so important and special (and sensitive) that you can’t let people of color — and in this case, specifically black people — have just one thing to themselves? This is white girls getting offended by #blackgirlsrock all over again, except maybe worse.

Black people reclaimed the n-word, as your song points out, to change its meaning. At some point and in some places, the motivating idea of empowerment behind the reclamation got lost in translation. It’s here, I believe, that white people began to see the word as something cool to say again. Non-black privilege (because other POC do this, too) allows you to disconnect the hateful and somewhat recently hopeful pasts connected with “nigga/er”, and see it as something that has no meaning.
Or maybe it’s just more cultural appropriation (oh, I’m sorry, I meant your stylistic choices). You wanna twerk? You wanna wear dashikis, and Native American headdresses, and force slang words that should be said simply, naturally, smoothly, out of your mouth in chipped bursts like they’re on display? There’s doing something to do it, and there’s doing something simply because. There’s doing something because you don’t want to be left out, and doing something because you understand. Simple cultural appropriation is annoying at best. You’re in “unacceptable” territory.

(As a side note, I want to emphasize that I don’t only have a problem with white people using this word. I actually wish that no one used it at all, including black people, because I think there’s been a disconnect within the black community as to why the word was re-appropriated in the first place. Still, I can accept that I’ll have to deal with that. When it comes to non-black POC, however, what are you doing? I know that there are other derogatory names for your races, so why don’t you go re-appropriate those and use them amongst yourselves? If that idea offends you or seems ridiculous, is it a stretch to suggest that some reflection is in order?)

I think now would be a good time to reiterate that I don’t think you’re bad people. Having privilege doesn’t make you bad. I have privilege as a light-skinned person. I know you don’t believe that colorism is a thing, or that people bleach their skin/use skin lighteners in many parts of the world, but it is, and they do. Abusing your privilege, or being deliberately ignorant of it, is what makes you guilty.

Sorry if I’m annoying you. I know it makes our friendship awkward. Honestly though, using what is arguably one of America’s worst racial slurs, especially coming from your lips, and then not expecting to talk about race? That’s white privilege. It bothers you to hear about an oppression that you could indirectly (or directly) be contributing to? Try actually being oppressed by it.

If you really believe the word is so meaningless, I’d suggest not fighting so hard for the right (which you DON’T have) to say it.

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