• Carmen Milligan

Wednesday Word: The "N" Word

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

I am going to end a debate for white people: No, you cannot use the "N" word. Ever. In any context. To anyone. At any time.

This is a word born of hate. It is an ugly version of "negro". It is full of emotion, history, violence, vitriol, and dehumanization. It's first appearance in a dictionary was 1864, and it included a notation that it was used in a depreciating or derisive manner.

When it comes out of a white person's mouth, it conjures images of police dogs and fire hoses. It is relegation to the back door, the back seats, and the other side of the street. It is eyes down and mouth shut. It is nooses, burning crosses, and marchers in white robes.

Why can black people say it? Because it belongs to them. They have taken a word meant to be evil and have woven it like a bloody thread through the tapestry of their music, their conversations, and their relationships. They own the word, and they alone have impunity to use it as they see fit. They have elevated it in a way that only they can.

Still don't agree? Because we no longer live in that society? I would disagree. There is still fear. They are still hunted. They are still denied basic humanity in so many areas. Yes, there are more opportunities for black Americans than ever before, but the oppression of them has also evolved into a less obvious, more insidious activity. Occasionally, one of these moments will be recorded, like the death of George Floyd or the false accusations against Christian Cooper, and prove to skeptical white people that there is still a problem.

So, don't waste anymore time or energy trying to make a case for white use of the "N" word. There isn't one, and there is much to be done by all colors to make the United States a better place for everyone.

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