Memo to Black Kids: No One Should Use the N-Word, Including You

N-wordEvery day, I ride a few stops here and there on D.C.’s Metro trains. And almost every day, I, and the rest of the innocent passengers just trying to get from Point A to Point B in peace, are accosted by teenagers who either missed the day home training was passed out in their households or forgot the lessons as soon as they boarded the train. It’s bad, y’all.

Occasionally, it’s rowdy white kids headed to a ballgame at Nationals Stadium or teen tourists on a school trip whose excitement bubbles over into public annoyance. But for the most part, it’s black teenagers who hold other folks on the train hostage with loud music, loud cursing, and — to my utmost embarrassment — loud, devil-may-care use of the N-word.

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The worst part is watching the expression of gray-haired elders who lived through the Civil Rights movement and experienced being called a “nigger” on a daily basis. I’ve seen them literally flinch as these kids make a new sport of seeing how many times they can fit that nasty word into one conversation. Second to them are the white folks on the train, who have a firsthand, front row seat to one of the very few African-Americanisms that I’m not proud of.

I hate the word “nigger.” I don’t think anybody should be saying it, black, white, or otherwise. I don’t buy the argument that by using it ourselves, we're robbing it of its power. Because nine times out of 10, if a white person were to roll up on any one of us and verbally backslap one of us with that slur, we’d be ready to ball up a fist and put it square upside their heads. That’s an understandable reaction. But only, only if we’re not using the word ourselves.

If I’m going around calling myself a bitch Lil’ Kim style, for example, then where the heck do I get off getting pissed off if another woman or some surly man tries to hit a nerve by calling me that very same thing? Why is it OK for one person to use the word and not another? The truth is, it’s not cool for anybody anywhere to sling it around at anytime.

Our kids lack a definitive connection to their heritage and culture. Sure, they sit through grainy videos of marches and protests in the '60s and '70s and they tolerate their parents’ lectures about respecting where they came from — because believe you me, I know better than to think that all of these children are coming from uninformed, miseducated households. I know full well that some of their parents are trying to instill black pride and give them a sense of community and self-love. There are just too many to tuck them under the blanketed assumption that all their moms and dads have culturally failed them.

But somethin’ ain’t sticking. It’s not resonating with them for some reason. And it shows every time they part their lips and let that trifling word roll out of their mouths all loud and obnoxious like.  

I’m not talking a one- or two-time use here. I’m talking an every-sentence-interjection of ‘nigga’ this and ‘nigga’ that. Some people argue that the word with a ‘er’ is different than the one with an ‘a’, like the way rappers throw it around. In fact, my mother blames hip-hop for the flagrant abuse of the term, though I have to remind her that black folks have been calling themselves and each other ‘niggas’ since we got here. It’s a residual of the mental conditioning of slavery and one of the wages of the resulting self-hate. But we don’t even have to get all deep about this one.

It was an ugly word back then, and it’s an ugly word now.

Whenever I survive an experience with bands of nigga-slinging kids, Girl Child already knows what it’s hitting for because when I get home, I start my sentences with, “Skylar, if I ever catch you talking like this” or “Skylar, you better never let me find out you’ve been saying/doing/acting like that.” She’s been put on alert that that word is a sure sign of disrespect, not only for the other black people within earshot and, really, black people everywhere, but for herself. You can’t truly love yourself as a young black man or woman and say that word. That’s just a conflict.   

Is it OK to use the N-word as a term of endearment?


Image via geishaboy500/Flickr

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