The N-Word

There are many conflicting views about the N-Word, and by N-Word, I mean both the words “nigga” and “nigger.” Although the word is rooted in history and originally only meant the color black, it quickly became a very derogative term for those of African descent living in the Americas through slavery and discrimination. Even more quickly, the N-word has become something of a controversy in the United States. Since the reclamation of the N-word by African American people, others have wanted to use it, despite its racist history and are offended when told they should not say it. The reasoning goes a lot deeper than “because I said so.”

The word “nigger”  is derived from the Spanish word “negro,” which ultimately comes from the Latin word “niger,” meaning “the color black,” as mentioned earlier. The word was used in reference to a group of Africans brought to what is now the United States as early as 1619. Through slavery and lasting through modern society, Black people have been referenced as the N-Word through bills of sales, advertisements for products, movies, books, songs, and several other instances, but no matter the instance, the word was always used in a racist and demeaning way.

In addition to the N-word, the word “Black” when referring to those of African or African American descent can also be demeaning depending on the context in which this word is used, although the using N-word packs more of a punch. By the 1800s, the term was used in a majorly diminutive and derogatory manner. From the point of contact, the original N-word “negro” has taken on many forms including, but not limited to, the following: niggur, nigga, and niggah.

When used by black people, the word is considered a reclaimed slur in most cases, similar to those in the LGBTQ* community who use the word “queer” to identify themselves; however, when white people use the N-word, it is  offensive due to its racist undertones. With this logic, a black person cannot be racist towards another black person by using the N-word. Although many black people do not like using the word (like my mother who all but banned the word from the house while I was growing up), the N-Word is still our word to use as we please.

Please do not treat this as the end-all be-all to the conversation about the N-word. I am but one Black person, and everyone has their own interpretations on what to do with it. There are truly no legitimate reasons to use the word; being in a rap song is not a legitimate excuse. However, let’s leave it to black people to use the N-word. If you are invited to use the word and you are not African American, only use it in the presence of the particular person that granted you permission. Do not say the word around others and justify yourself by saying that one person gave you permission. One person cannot grant you an all-access pass to something that can offend an entire community.

Furthermore, do not justify using the N-word by saying you have the first amendment right to freedom of speech. Although that is true, and you legally can say whatever you want, there should be a line drawn. As stated earlier, non-Black people have no legitimate reason to say the N-word. Next time you want to say the N-word, first ask yourself why.

Published by

Ashley Elizabeth

Ashley Elizabeth (she/her) is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in SWWIM, Rigorous, Mineral Lit, Sante Fe Writer Project, Knights Library, and Kahini Quarterly, among others. In June 2020, Ashley was the featured writer at Drunk Monkeys. She is also the author of the chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend (Nightingale & Sparrow). When Ashley isn't serving as assistant editor at Sundress Publications or working as a member of the Estuary Collective, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram (@ae_thepoet). She lives in Baltimore, MD with her partner and their cat. Once COVID is over, they plan on going on a foodie road trip.

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