A Loaded Word

BY FAITH JAMES

The use of the N-word is so commonly used today that it seems as if many people don’t stop to think about what the word really means, where it came from, and why it was used...

It has become a nonchalant slur used commonly among young people in the black community, but not limited to just young people of color. A blog post called Straight Talk about the N-word said that many young people today use the word as a synonym for friend. This is interesting because I see this happen all the time in my surroundings in high school and with other young adults. As a young African-American female, I have been at times subject to this use, and sometimes feel conflicted about what it means when I say it and how it affects people and myself as a person.

In his excellent article for the Chicago Reader, journalist Bennie M. Currie expressed his concerns about the use of the n-word and the first-hand experience that changed the way he felt and thought about the word throughout his entire adult life. Currie writes, “There have been times of my life when I’ve felt very uncomfortable using the word, but I’ve also struggled with the usage.” This idea really relates to the way I’ve felt about the term because the word is common in my vocabulary when I am among family and friends, which I struggle with at times. It’s one of those things that sticks in the back of my mind for a while and makes me think about its significance and existence.

In Currie’s article, he shared his experience of calling his white friend at college the n-word by accident because he forgot that he was not with his black friends from home in Saint Louis. His friend was extremely offended and replied, “I am not a nigger,” and pointed at Currie, who is black. This story surprised me a lot -- it happened twenty years ago, but the feelings and internal struggle the word brings up still impacts culture and holds prevalence in the same way today.

However, there’s also a way that words becomes normal. In my generation, many teenagers who are white or any race that is not African American use the n-word as slang with their white friends and friends of other races. I think part of this comes from being so accustomed to hearing the word used around their black friends that they might feel like they should too. They use the reasoning: “It’s not racist because I have black friends.”

It is evident that popular media like music and film include this word, which as a result, makes people feel comfortable saying it without actually realizing what they are saying. It’s similar to the way popular phrases have come alive through social media outlets like Vine or even through the memes created from news stories on television. For example, the popular “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” became popular via a news interview or “Eyebrows on fleek” via Peaches Monroe on Vine.

Many people being to say these things because they think they are funny, they are popular, and are viewed and talked about all over social media. In a similar way, the use of the n-word by extremely popular and socially important celebrities makes it easier for young people to use the word comfortably. People continue to use the word and its meaning continues to become even more complex. It’s a fine line between history and disrespect, being comfortable and friendly and being offensive. There are a lot of double standards and stigmas that accompany the word which give it that much more power. It’s important to acknowledge that the word does exist and that people should be aware of what they are saying and what those words might mean to different people.


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