Why Using The N-word Is Totally Optional, But Only For Black People

Statements like, “No one should be able to say it,” is less an issue of fairness and more an issue of privilege.


The other day, while I was in the workplace kitchen retrieving my lunch, a co-worker came in for a cup of water and struck up a conversation. After about ten seconds of friendly back and forth, the dialogue somehow shifted toward the resignation of disgraced Papa John’s Pizza owner, John Schattner. At the start of the conversation, this co-worker and I seemed to be on the same page- John Schattner’s racially charged rants and recent slurs were WRONG. Period, full stop. No excuses.

As the conversation progressed, however, it began to take the turn that, through experience, I had known was inevitable. And before long, this co-worker spiraled into a rabbit hole of one of the top three white privilege-laced excuses I’ve grown accustomed to hearing over the years:

“I just think that NO one should be able to say the n-word. Not even black people. If it’s an offensive word, then NONE of us should use it, really.”

In an effort to keep my mouth shut, I took a dramatically long sip of my water, swallowed hard and said, “Mmmm. Well, I’ve gotta get back. Good talking to you,” before hustling out of the kitchen.

How annoying.

It seems that since white privilege isn’t always physically tangible, it is a hard concept for some to grasp. But whether or not a person is able to grip the idea with fingers and fists, if ever there were a blatant example of what such privilege SOUNDS like at least: that was it.

The thought process, which is “I just think if we can’t all say it, then no one should be able to…” can only translate one thing:

“How can there POSSIBLY be a single thing that I, as a white man or woman, can not have, do or say? And, if I can NOT have said ‘thing,’ then NONE of us can have it.”

Once this ideal has been expressed, no matter how contemptible they previously deemed the act at hand, in a matter of seconds and with less than twenty words, they have just as easily excused it on the grounds of ‘fair play.’

If fairness is what we are after, shouldn’t we first target the lack of it as it pertains to health care, schooling, and housing rather than who owns the rights to a slur with centuries worth of blood stains?

The word itself has caused controversy since the beginning of time. I would be remiss not to acknowledge that there are ALSO black men and women who do not like hearing or using it either. But, “to use or not to use” for them becomes a matter of personal preference.

The word itself, as it stands amongst some blacks, though initially intended to degrade, has since been adopted and commissioned to express oneness and camaraderie. Now, whether this is RIGHT or wrong constantly remains a debatable issue. BUT whether a black person CHOOSES to use the word is only up to that black man or that black woman.

And to any one culture or group of people that has never known the reality of being denied or has been denied very little… this is one hard pill to swallow.

So statements like, “I just think NO one should be able to say it,” become less an issue of fairness and more an issue of privilege; And if we are REALLY honest, there is hardly anything “fair,” or excusable for that matter, about being a bigot.

Opinion // Racism / White Privilege