I recently found myself engaged in a conversation with a white person who recently discovered the Onyx Truth website & further learned that I am the person who runs the site. Most of his questions directed towards me were in regards as to why I chose to name the site the Onyx Truth & is this a predominately Black website. Of course I explained to him my intentions for the site & that it is not a “Black” site per say, but its core audience IS Black people & the site does have a significantly strong emphasis on issues pertaining to Black culture…but all people are welcome to read it & chime in with the hopes of stimulating dialogue. As we chatted about this & that pertaining to the Onyx Truth, this person asked me a very direct question pertaining to the use of the N word. His question is as follows:
This was a question posed to me by a white male in his mid to late 20s. I asked him why is he so curious about the “N” word all of a sudden. He told me that he has never said the word nor did he ever plan on using the word. He stated to me that he believed the word to be ugly & flat out disrespectful to an entire population of people. He further stated that he understood the history of the word in terms of how it was used against Black people, but he didn’t understand why it was so acceptable for a Black person to say it so casually & yet if a white person said it today all hell might break loose. After he stated all of that, I simply asked him one question:
Of course there was no answer to that question, so I proceeded to explain to him as to why white people cannot say the “N” word.
It’s really quite simple. First off, there is no law on the books stating that the usage of the “N” word is illegal. White people can say that word all day long if they want to and not expect to be locked up in jail. The issue that arises with white people and their use of the “N” word is the fact that it is “socially illegal” to use the word. “Socially illegal” meaning that if a white person were to casually, jokingly, or in all seriousness use the “N” word; the societal ramifications that would follow could be quite detrimental to the white person using the word. Societal ramifications such as: loosing their job, being viewed as a racist, or potentially getting their ass beat by the first Black person who hears them use that term. In all seriousness, a white person choosing NOT to use the “N” word in public is probably a good thing as far as the white person maintaining their present day standards of health & well being.
What some white people fail to understand about the “N” word & why they are forbidden from using the word as loosely as some Black people choose to use the word is because, the usage of that word is truly the one thing that a Black person can get away with saying with no fear or consequence that a white person CANNOT get away with saying. I’ll repeat:
Saying the “N” word is the one & only thing a Black person can get away with doing that a white person CANNOT get away with saying.
Throughout the history of this country, Black people have been legally restricted from doing countless things that white people could do. For a few hundred years, Black people weren’t even considered human, we were property. After slavery ended, our country entered the Jim Crow era which legally stated that Black people couldn’t live in certain neighborhoods, couldn’t attend certain schools, couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, couldn’t apply for certain jobs, couldn’t drink from certain water fountains, & the list goes on & on. Meanwhile, white America was pretty much free to come & go as they pleased AND treat Black people like shit in the process. Black people went from being considered nothing but property during slavery to the Jim Crow era where it was socially acceptable to call Black people niggers, beat them, kill them, & mail postcards across the country with white people smiling & posing in front of a body hanging from a tree.
Up until the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, this was how America was getting down when it came to treatment of Black people in this country.
During the Civil Rights Movement is when the usage of the “N” word started to change in white America mainly thanks to the media. During the Civil Rights era, photographic & video evidence was being broadcasted literally all over the world as to how white America was treating Black people. In order to possibly maintain a “positive” image on the world stage, America HAD to start making some changes with the treatment of its citizens which lead to the Civil Rights Act & ultimately to the use of the “N” word becoming socially unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of white people still use the word to this day…they are just not saying it so publicly as they once did.
Black People’s Use Of The “N” Word
Black people wholeheartedly understand the origin of the “N” word. The use of the “N” word was merely a way to objectify Black people because like I stated earlier, for a few hundred years, Black people were nothing more than property to white people in this country. So calling Black people niggers was a socially acceptable term by white America in order to apply a label to their black property. After slavery ended, white people had been calling Black people niggers for so long that even after Black people were freed, the term still remained as a way to label an entire group of people simply in order to preserve white dominance in society. During Jim Crow all the way into the Civil Rights era when Black people would call each other nigger or nigga, the term wasn’t being used as a term of endearment. It was being used as a reminder amongst each other to “help” Black people constantly be aware of their place in a white controlled society. After the Civil Rights era as society entered the late 70s into the 80s is when the term began to take on the infamous “term of endearment” meaning.
There is this myth amongst white America which is fairly popular in Black America as well that Black people use the “N” word simply as a term of endearment amongst each other such as, “what up my nigga!”. Truth be told, it is not a term of endearment. Black people use the “N” word so publicly & nonchalantly simply because we can. All Black people know & damn near all white people understand that any use of the “N” word by any other race other than Black people (Hispanics have been given somewhat of a pass with using the word) is socially unacceptable simply because the “N” word has historically been used as a term for power & oppression over an entire population of people which literally lasted hundreds of years. The use of the “N” word amongst Black people is really a way to serve as a constant reminder to the dominant society that all the power that word once had over an entire population for hundreds of years has now been completely stripped away. Using that word is the one thing a Black person can do that a white person cannot do in a social setting.
Understand, I am in no way stating it is cool for Black people to call each other the “N” word, but I do understand WHY some Black people use it….to include myself on occasion. A lot of Black people absolutely despise the “N” word rightfully so simply because of the historical context of the word in reference to Black people. But regardless of how ugly the word is or how casually some choose to use it, when it comes to the reason that some white people question as to why they can’t use it, white folks you need to clearly understand that this word was used historically by white people as a term for power & control over an entire population of people. Sure times have changed & a lot of white people today are not like how their ancestors were back in the day, but when a white person uses the word casually, it sends out a reminder of the power that once was. Remember, slavery started around 1619 in the US. Slavery legally ended in the US in 1865 (149 years ago). The Civil Rights era happened roughly 50 years ago. So for nearly 350 – 400 years or so, Black people have been literally been treated like shit & called niggers by white people in a country that was built off the labor of Black people but yet legally restricted Black people from advancing or seeking equality.
So when a white person asks why it’s not cool for white people to use the “N” word but Black people can, tell them their usage of the word is remnants of their culture’s historical oppression & dominance, while a Black person’s use of the word is really the only thing a Black person can do to hang over the dominant society’s head as an expression for stripping away at that dominance.
With that said…I’m not one to judge the use of the word amongst other Black people. As long as you understand the meaning of the word & its historical context….then use it at your own discretion.