Why No, You May NOT Say The N-Word If You're Not Black

Why No, You May NOT Say The N-Word If You're Not Black

Sincerely, the black girl who's tired of you asking.

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.


Cover Image Credit: Craig Sunter

Popular Right Now

Austin Alexander Burridge, Volunteer Advocate, Shares 3 Great Reasons to Volunteer and Help Others

Austin Alexander Burridge is an avid academic who studies Environmental Science at Winona State University and believes that work in the service of others is a key pillar to personal development.


Sometimes it's easy for someone to adopt a "me, me, me" attitude. While focusing on oneself, a person may feel nice in the moment, but serving and helping others will bring lasting benefits. While there are many great reasons to serve and help others, there are three universal truths that resonate with volunteers around the globe.

Austin Alexander Burridge's 3 Reasons to Volunteer:

1. Accomplishment

Often, people fall into a trap of focusing on themselves when they are feeling down. Maybe someone did not get a job they wanted. Or perhaps a person gets dumped by an expected lifelong companion. Maybe someone feels they have underachieved after looking at Facebook and seeing great things a high school classmate has accomplished. When feeling down, helping others is a proven way to improve one's mood and attitude, and it can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment. The act of giving to those in need is an inherently good action and leaves people with a wonderful feeling of joy.

2. Gratitude

One can become more appreciative of life by serving others that have less. Whether volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly at an assisted living center, or helping families after a natural disaster, service enables people to be grateful for what they have. Seeing people who have fewer advantages, especially those who are spirited and thankful for small things, allows one to realize just how fortunate he/she is in life.

3. Friendships

Volunteering is a great way to build meaningful friendships, not only with other volunteers but also with those who are served. One of the most profound and fascinating aspects of these relationships is how volunteers will learn from those served and vice versa. As these special bonds are built, they lead to impactful connections that last for years to come.

Of course, these are just a few reasons to volunteer and serve others. One can never go wrong by helping others as opposed to merely focusing on oneself. Volunteering invariably and inevitably contributes to personal growth, development, and satisfaction.

About Austin Alexander Burridge: Helping others has been of paramount importance to Austin, and as a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Austin gave back to the community around him. He also has participated in annual peanut butter drives, The Minnesota Sandwich Project for the Homeless and collected canned goods for local food shelters. Additionally, Austin has a passion for the environment, which he pursued when visiting the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and the Amazon Rain Forest while studying at the School of Environment Studies, which investigates ecological systems and their sustainability

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Saying You "Don't Take Political Stances" IS A Political Stance

All you're doing by saying this is revealing your privilege to not care politically, and here's why that's a problem.


I'm sure all of us know at least one person who refuses to engage in political discussions - sure, you can make the argument that there is a time and a place to bring up the political happenings of our world today, but you can't possibly ignore it all the time. You bring up the last ridiculous tweet our president sent or you try to discuss your feelings on the new reproductive regulation bills that are rising throughout the states, and they find any excuse to dip out as quickly as possible. They say I don't talk about politics, or I'm apolitical. Well everyone, I'm here to tell you why that's complete bullsh*t.

Many people don't have the luxury and privilege of ignoring the political climate and sitting complacent while terrible things happen in our country. So many issues remain a constant battle for so many, be it the systematic racism that persists in nearly every aspect of our society, the fact that Flint still doesn't have clean water, the thousands of children that have been killed due to gun violence, those drowning in debt from unreasonable medical bills, kids fighting for their rights as citizens while their families are deported and separated from them... you get the point. So many people have to fight every single day because they don't have any other choice. If you have the ability to say that you just don't want to have anything to do with politics, it's because you aren't affected by any failing systems. You have a privilege and it is important to recognize it.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

We recognize that bad people exist in this world, and we recognize that they bring forth the systems that fail so many people every single day, but what is even more important to recognize are the silent majority - the people who, by engaging in neutrality, enable and purvey the side of the oppressors by doing nothing for their brothers and sisters on the front lines.

Maybe we think being neutral and not causing conflict is supposed to be about peacekeeping and in some way benefits the political discussion if we don't try to argue. But if we don't call out those who purvey failing systems, even if it's our best friend who says something homophobic, even if it's our representatives who support bills like the abortion ban in Alabama, even if it's our president who denies the fact that climate change is killing our planet faster than we can hope to reverse it, do we not, in essence, by all accounts of technicality side with those pushing the issues forward? If we let our best friend get away with saying something homophobic, will he ever start to change his ways, or will he ever be forced to realize that what he's said isn't something that we can just brush aside? If we let our representatives get away with ratifying abortion bans, how far will the laws go until women have no safe and reasonable control over their own bodily decisions? If we let our president continue to deny climate change, will we not lose our ability to live on this planet by choosing to do nothing?

We cannot pander to people who think that being neutral in times of injustice is a reasonable stance to take. We cannot have sympathy for people who decide they don't want to care about the political climate we're in today. Your attempts at avoiding conflict only make the conflict worse - your silence in this aspect is deafening. You've given ammunition for the oppressors who take your silence and apathy and continue to carry forth their oppression. If you want to be a good person, you need to suck it up and take a stand, or else nothing is going to change. We need to raise the voices of those who struggle to be heard by giving them the support they need to succeed against the opposition.

With all this in mind, just remember for the next time someone tells you that they're apolitical: you know exactly which side they're on.


Related Content

Facebook Comments