by Ayesha Gyening
I feel like it is really important to educate others on the use of this word because many feel like this word is a form of cool slang that can be thrown around when in reality it is a slur.
Although many artists (all of them black) use the n word in their songs and it's becoming a part of popular culture due to social media and the popularisation of black culture, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a good reason that it is only appropriate for black people to use the word.
The term has been used to oppress and degrade black people for centuries, from the sixteenth century onwards, and is associated with the lynching, raping and enslavement black people had to face as well as other forms of repression. Therefore, this word has a deep historical meaning and it is a hate-filled word.
Why the word is still used
Some black people believe that by reclaiming it they are taking away the power and hatred and giving it a different meaning. It’s a way to defy the oppression that they faced and are still facing.
However, not all black people condone the use of the word. Oprah for example doesn’t say it and dislikes the use of the word, as it’s a reminder of the oppression and degradation she faced growing up in twentieth century America.
This is a word that no one but black people can use, no matter the context, without it connoting centuries of oppressive and degrading treatment. Whilst other people of colour are oppressed too, because they didn’t have to go through slavery it is not right for them to say it. The racism in today’s society emphasises why the term is exclusive to black people as they are still being oppressed.
Today, many people like to think that ‘racism is over’, especially given the fact that there is a black president in the White House. People of all ethnic backgrounds have equal rights to a certain extent, and for many it may be hard to see that racism is ongoing because we have become desensitised to it. Growing up in a racist society where it is a dominant ideology perpetuated by the media, therefore it has been ingrained in white people to such a level that it may be hard to identify. Racism is prejudice which has power behind it. Although people of colour can be prejudiced against other races, they do not have a system of structured support that backs them.
For example, in the US currently, there have been numerous incidents involving white police officers not being held accountable for the violent treatment, including killing, of black individuals. Similarly, the stand your ground" laws in several Southern states, that allowed Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, to walk free, have demonstrably favoured white shooters over people of colour. It is also demonstrated in subtler ways such as the media’s willingness to justify the acts of violence taken against unarmed victims of police brutality and criminalise those murdered at the hands of the police, even when they are children, such as 12 year old Tamir Rice. This emphasises the double standard between the treatment of white people and of people of colour – they are not given a chance to grow up. For example, see this news report which shows police brutality against a 14 year old girl just this month.
Even if you have many black friends and support the movement for equal rights and treatment from the police, you still possess, whether consciously or not, racist attitudes - it’s something that has been absorbed from an early age and has to be unlearnt. Moreover, the lack of representation of people of colour in the media is also instrumental for setting up the standards of beauty that elevate white people. Even characters that should be played by a person of colour are often played by white people.
It’s important to understand that racism isn’t just a rude comment that hurts your feelings but the systematic devaluation of an entire racial or ethnic group, and therefore reverse racism isn’t real – you cannot be racist to a white person because they created and benefit from this system. Racism does not just take the form of prejudice by individual police officers, but is still institutionalised through Government legislature and cultural norms.