With more people using the N-word in everyday conversation, two writers discuss its place today.
There is usually a distinct line drawn between what words people consider curses or just plain offensive. Racial slurs are normally placed in the offensive category, but when it comes to the N-word, that line becomes blurry.
The word was originally used to distinguish and demean a race that was thought to be inferior, but African Americans today use the word once created to oppress a race as a term of endearment. Its definition has undergone a so-called reinvention by African Americans who use the word to transform its negative connotation to a positive one.
“In a misinformed way, [African Americans] presented the idea to change condemnation and the meaning of the N-word in the face of white racism and negative images depicted in Hollywood and the media,” Nathaniel Norment Jr., an associate African-American studies professor, said.
Therefore, the word is thought to have changed in meaning and is only a racial slur if used by a person from another race in the wrong context. For example, if the word ends in “-a” and not “-er” and is said by a white person, it is offensive.
But both the Motion Picture Association of America and Federal Communications Commission find the word offensive enough to label a movie R-rated just for using it once. The word is still censored when used on-air in broadcast radio and television, proving the word is still considered offensive.
It’s interesting that the word, used to label African Americans, is the only racial slur used among the very group it tried to oppress so frequently in the media. For other minorities that have unfortunately been labeled with racial slurs, this is not the case. African Americans use the word in a disturbing way because it’s everywhere – in music, movies and television.
The word has become issue-less among African Americans, which actually poses more problems. When the word is used with increased fervor – even if by African Americans in a positive way – it becomes confusing to other races. Other races may think it’s OK to use the word in the same manner, which would most likely offend African Americans. The bottom line is: No one should use the term because it is and will always remain an offensive racial slur.
“It is destructive to our culture and humanity because African Americans do not know the origin, power and hurt behind the word,” Norment said. “It represented a civilization with no identity or intelligence. ”
I do not claim to be a perfect person. I dislike the word, yet I find myself listening to music that contains the word and remain unfazed when an African-American comedian uses it. I understand the idea is to morph a negative term into a positive one, but with racism still present, African Americans need to come together, realize the power of the word and refrain from using it so casually and lightheartedly.
Jillian Weir-Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.