Why are we still talking about who can and cannot say the n-word? White people, please hear me out. There will never be any occasion when you will need to use the n-word, ever. Even if Kendrick Lamar invites you onstage and the only word in the song is “nigga,” don’t say it. Censor yourself the same way I do with cusswords when I’m singing R-rated songs at my momma’s house.
It’s really not that hard, or that serious. It’s just one word that we’re collectively asking that you avoid saying. Lamar chastising the white girl after inviting her onstage to rap along isn’t wrong. It’s a teachable moment.
Last year, during a tour for his brilliant book We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates was asked by a white audience member about saying the n-word, especially when it pops up in songs and her friends sing along with it. Coates made it plain for her:
When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. People just gotta accommodate themselves to you.
So here comes this word that you feel like you invented. And now somebody’s gonna tell you how to use the word that you invented. Why can’t I use it? Everyone else gets to use it. You know what, that’s racism that I don’t get to use it. I have to inconvenience myself and hear this song and I can’t sing along. How come I can’t sing along?
I think for white people, I think the experience of being a hip hop fan and not being able to use the word nigga is actually very insightful. It will give you just a little peek into the world of what it means to be black. Because to be black is to walk through the world and watch people doing things that you cannot do.
So when people like Ginormous Food host Josh Denny claim that “straight white male” is the n-word word, I am left questioning how much he knows about the word and how much he knows about this country’s long-standing history and current system of racism that’s been locked into place since the beginning. And then there’s British media personality Katie Hopkins, who claimed that being a conservative white woman is having a target on your head. It must be so exhausting being privileged, thinking that you can have your hands on everything ... even black people’s oppression.