To some people, words are powerless and can be thrown around without any sort of ramifications. To others, words define their very being and play a significant role in how society treats them. The divide between these opposing sides grows even deeper when the type of words being discussed are slurs.
The slur that has currently been eliciting a wide number of responses is the N-word. Rooted in racism, but being reclaimed by the black community, the word has caused confusion. In order to understand why everyone does not agree on whether the N-word should be said by non-black people, the concept of privilege and reclamation must be addressed.
Being aware of one’s privilege can cause some people to get defensive because they may not be actively trying to prosper off of a marginalized group. In regards to racism, whether they intend to or not, non-black people continue to benefit from it. Privilege is what protects non-black people from facing the same injustices that black people do, such as police brutality and wrongful convictions. It is their privilege that allows the N-word to be used as a weapon against black people but used as a casual term towards other non-black people.
However, there are some people that agree that white people should not be allowed to say the N-word, but are fine with other non-black people saying the N-word. Since white people have the greatest amount of privilege in our society, many other minorities believe that they are allowed to say the N-word because they also face injustices. This is a dangerous thought because the word is used specifically against black people to further the cycle of their oppression. Even if the person saying the N-word is a minority, the N-word itself was not created to oppress them, and thus they cannot fully understand the effect that the word has on the black community.
Black people have attempted to reclaim the N-word by using it in their own community, but this has led to some non-black people believing that since black people call each other the N-word, non-black people should be able to call anyone the N-word too. The issue with that thought process is that the entire purpose of black people reclaiming the N-word is so that they can take the power of the word away from their oppressors. Non-black people cannot use the reclamation of the N-word as an excuse for them to say the word because they are the ones that black people are trying to prevent from saying the N-word by reclaiming it.
The argument has been made that allowing only black people to say the N-word is counter-productive because if black people really wanted the N-word to no longer be used against them, they would stop using it as well. Pretending that the N-word never existed does not solve the racism that caused the N-word to exist in the first place. The origin of the word will always stem from racism, but by reclaiming the word, black people can empower themselves in a society that still attempts to discriminate against them.However, only acknowledging that it is racist for a non-black person to say the N-word is not enough. Non-black people must speak up when they witness another non-black person using the N-word because if they do not, their silence is taken as approval. The responsibility is not put solely on black people to speak out against it, but also for non-black people to use their position of privilege to tell as many non-black people as possible that they should not use the N-word.
Unfortunately, the words of a non-black person carry more weight in society than those of a black person, so it is vital for non-black people to educate their communities about how black people are impacted by their use of the N-word. It is also important for non-black people to uplift black voices that are speaking on the issue, and to always be ready to listen to their opinions on the topic since it personally affects them.