Real Talk Q&A: Why Are We Still Using The N-Word?
“The N-word is probably one of the words that every black person who was lynched heard themselves called just before they died.”
Between the Common-Maya Angelou beef and the white rapper controversy, the N-word has been in the news a lot lately. But why, at the close of 2011, four years after the NAACP buried the racial slur in a Detroit cemetery, are we still debating the appropriateness of the N-word? For this installment in our Real Talk Q&A series, we turned to Stefanie Brown, National Field Director and Director, Youth and College for the NAACP, to discuss the difference between “er” and “a” and why it’s important to remember our history:
What is your opinion on the N-word?
Growing up I never heard the N-word in my house or really even remember hearing it said by those around me. My first recollection of the word was hearing it used in reference to the way white racists used it against black folks in the past; needless to say, I’ve never had a good opinion of the word.
Why do you think we are still discussing the appropriateness of the N-word in 2012?
I really don’t believe that the use or non-use of the word is cut and dry. If you’ve grown up hearing everyone around you and all throughout the media using the word in what appears to be a non-negative manner, you’re not going to just stop saying nigga. You can’t just have a symbolic funeral for the word and think that people will stop using it. It also doesn’t help matters that many younger people are getting farther and farther removed from knowing their history—just look at states like Texas that are trying to remove Black and Hispanic history from their K-12 textbooks. I’ve always been interested in knowing what effect the word nigga/nigger has subconsciously on those who say it and those who hear it.
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Is there any difference, to you, in “nigga” versus “nigger”?
The difference is an “a” versus an “er”. If the word nigga is suppose to be ok to use, why don't people just call each other nigger? Sure you can say or spell it differently, but the word is still the same. The word nigga doesn’t take the “power” away from the meaning of nigger.
Is it more wrong when non-African Americans use the N-word, than when we use it?
I’m not sure if it’s more wrong, as much as it causes a remembrance that non-blacks, specifically racist white people, used the word to degrade and make black people seem less than human.
What do you think about the controversy around Common using the N-word on a song where Maya Angelou is featured?
I think it’s cool that she called in to BET’s 106 & Park to clarify that she wasn’t angry or disappointed in Common—just surprised. I agree with her when she said that all of us are in processes in life, on the road to figuring out who we are and what we believe in. It’s refreshing to see an elder being so supportive of someone younger when they don’t necessarily agree on an issue.
What do you think about white rapper V-Nasty’s assertion that if she can’t use the N-word, no one should be able to use it?
Wait, this rapper is a white woman whose name has the word “nasty” in it? Her opinion doesn’t matter to me at all. But I don’t think anything different about her using is as I do any other artist using it.
Is there anything else our readers need to know about the N-word?
Yeah, the N-word is short for nigger. It’s probably one of the words that every black person who was lynched heard themselves called just before they died.
What do you use the N-word? Have an opinion about those who do? Tell us in the comments.