From the title alone, I know there will be wounded Internet warriors in the comment section stabbing away at their keyboards to proclaim "reverse racism" (which by the way doesn't exist). But before you make any assumptions or jump to any conclusions, finish reading.
To kick off Black History Month I decided to focus on topics that affect the black community for the whole of February. And at some point in time, every black person has been in the awkward situation of hearing The N-word from someone non-black. Personally, it's ALWAYS super cringe-worthy and usually leaves me at a loss for words. What makes it worse is that most of the time, the non-black person using the term never even takes into consideration that it might make me, as a black person, uncomfortable. And on the rare occasion that they do have the courtesy to ask beforehand they don't actually expect me to say no. In fact, they're almost annoyed by the notion. They assume that because The N-word is used in rap lyrics and casually amongst Black Americans that gives them the right to use it with me. White people, especially, have some sort of strange infatuation with the term. It's almost as if this one thing they are not entitled to drives them crazy.
"Why can't I use The N-word?"
"If white people shouldn't use it then nobody should use it!"
"You're being racist towards white people for saying we can't do something simply because we are white. Reverse racism!" (Still not a thing.)
Well, I'm sure we all know the history of the N-word. We all know it was a derogatory slur aimed at blacks typically from whites all throughout America's racist history. It was a word that was spat out like dirt from the privileged mouths of those who viewed us as inferior. Those who thought melanin was ugly and African-Americans were subordinate. The same people who would have likely tried to hang my little brother or my father. The same kind of people who wrote "Kill Niggers" on a whiteboard at my university. This is a battle we, Black Americans, have been fighting since the day we were born. It is the same battle our ancestors have been fighting even longer than that. Being a minority in a country where every institution is dominated by a majority, your life chances are automatically statistically lower. White people just don't have the same experiences that we do. That's why you have not earned the right to The N-word.
Let me give you all who still don't understand a more palatable explanation alternative: Your great-grandparents thought they could continue to hurt us with this offensive word, but we reclaimed it and made it ours with several different meanings only our community can use and understand. Get it?
It's the same reason women may call their friends "bitches" and it's not offensive but a man would get slapped for calling a woman a bitch. It's the same reason the LGBTQ+ community may use terms with each other such as "fag" and it's okay. It's a reclaiming of these demeaning terms that these communities recreate to be a term of endearment for each other. You have no right to tell a black person they can't take a negative word and use it positively within their community after years of oppression. Someone may not be comfortable with a white person saying it to them because of what it has meant historically for a white person to say that word to a black person. However, they may be more comfortable with their black friend using the term, and you have to respect that.
Growing up my Jamaican mother loved to tell me, "Word is wind."
To some people, words don’t hold power unless you allow them to.
Those people are liars.
Words hold a lot of power, whether you mean for them to or not.
Your voice is your strongest weapon. Words can hold hope and elation and gratitude and pride. But they can also hold scorn and resentment and shame and envy. Words alone can bring you to tears, whether they be tears of pain or tears of joy. Don't assume because your "one black friend" doesn't care when you say it, that you have a free pass to refer to every other black person you meet as your "nigga". Even so, you will never have to walk the shoes of a Black American and therefore will never be "my nigga".
If you want to use the word that bad, then let's trade: You all get to say The N-word until you turn blue in the face, and we get to control Congress and set policy at the Federal Reserve.