After seeing this story about the newly crowned Miss Teen USA having Tweeted using the n-word, a friend asked whether or not it was okay for a rapper to use the n-word on a song she recently heard at the end of a movie soundtrack. That’s a question that has a long history of being asked and debated. Following was my response.
“Quite frankly, this has been a decades long debate. Goes back to a time when Blacks started using it amongst ourselves to take the power away from Whites who used it against us.
I personally don’t use it in any circumstance, but also am not offended by it, depending on the context or my perception of the intent.
I had many friends growing up who used the n-word with me as a term of affiliation and even endearment. I didn’t bat an eye in those circumstances. However, when I was bussed, by court order, to an all-White school in rural Indiana and heard the n-word hurled at me and other Black students by fellow White students who were less than pleased to see us in their school (like we CHOSE to be there), I didn’t need anyone to position the context for how they meant it. In most rap songs, it’s meant as a term of affiliation; when David Duke uses it, it’s safe to assume that’s not the case.
Again, right, wrong or indifferent, those who do choose to use the word, deem it acceptable when perceived as a term of affiliation and/or endearment and offensive when used as a term of denigration, regardless what color the person using it is. Yes, that leaves room for interpretation, which can certainly be wrong on occasion. In most cases, the context can be ‘reasonably’ understood by the majority of people of all shades. Only this young lady knows what was in her heart, but it’s reasonable to assume she wasn’t giving a ‘shout out to her homies’.
Among all groups of people (women, LGBT, Whites, Hispanics, military, etc), there are terms they may use among themselves they accept as affiliation or endearment that they may not see that way if it comes from someone outside of that group, again with some assumption of intent. Can seem complex for sure, that’s why I advise people to follow a simple rule – Think before you speak and don’t say (or Tweet) it unless you mean it. And if you decide to put yourself in a position governed by generally accepted moral standards such as Miss Teen USA, be prepared to own it.”
If you’re worried I might be losing sleep over the Miss Teen USA pageant, I can assure you I’m not, but this presented itself as a prime opportunity to further the dialogue on an age old issue.