The N-Word Debate Resurrected

django kerry washingtonI have no problem with Quentin Tarantino’s use of the word “nigger” in his film, Django Unchained. As he has said, it’s accurate usage for the historical period of the film. I also don’t have a problem with his usage at the Golden Globes. It really is about context. He didn’t call anyone a “nigger;” he made an observation about its usage.

(Note: I’m breaking my own rule in this post in using the word “nigger” instead of the euphemism, n-word. I think that it’s time for me to take away the power of the word in my life.)

However, I do take issue with the prevalent mythology that black people use the word “nigger” all the time. I’m black and 57 years old. I don’t know all black people but I know a lot of black people. NONE of the black people that I know typically use nigger as a greeting or in general conversation.

The arguments that I read from white people who feel put upon because they can’t use the word is that black rappers say it all the time! I don’t know any rappers, but I don’t count entertainers looking to make a dollar as the standard by which I live.
Black people do not run around greeting each other with the word as a rule. Among many black people, it is not considered a polite term to simply use in greeting.

What I don’t understand is why under normal circumstances a white person would desire to say nigger. What’s the point? If you really hold no racist feelings, then why on earth would you want to use such a vile and demeaning term? Is it some cheap thrill?

If you are engaged in a discussion where you need to say nigger, then I have no issue with that. However, it would come across as less offensive if you simply said n-word. What most black people object to is the use of the term nigger to define us. You can’t call me a nigger and argue that you have a right to do so because it’s not fair that only black people can say it. I just don’t buy that white people are really that stupid or naive.

sheria reidI have no problem with using the word in context to describe some historical application of the term. However, I don’t find myself in circumstances where there is a need for the use of nigger as a rule. I can’t help but wonder just when it is that white people find such a pressing need to say nigger that we’re still having this ludicrous discussion about the alleged unfairness of white people not being able to freely use the word.

Sheria Reid
The Examined Life

Wednesday, 16 Janaury 2013


  1. Jonathan Baker says

    I’m a 76 year old white man who was born and raised in New York City, with a 2.5 year stint in Iowa as a 10 year old, four years in North Carolina attending Catawba College, almost three years in Germany in the army, and living the rest of my life on Long Island. I have never used the n-word in a derogatory way and feel uncomfortable around people who have used it. My life as a white man has been relatively easy, compared to what I perceive are the trials and tribulations of those whose skin color is other than white. I cannot change the injustice of the bias experienced by those who are non-white, although it is wrong and I would change it if it were in my power to do so.

    My first understanding of racial intolerance was when I was 19 and working at a car parking lot in Atlantic City as a college summer job. My parking lot was adjacent to a competitor’s lot and I became friendly with their attendant, who was older than I, who happened to be Black (or African-American, I really don’t know the acceptable descriptive. My youngest daughter says that Black is derogatory and that I should use African-American, although I hear the term Black used on television by – wait for it – Blacks.) One night as we talked, sitting on chairs next to one-another, and I don’t remember how the topic of bias came up, my new friend mentioned that a white man had called him “sun shine”. I said that I didn’t understand what that term meant. He looked at me for a while and then said that it was meant to be a derogatory statement about him. I was really dumb and must have had that look on my face. He finally said that it was a statement about his skin color. I can still remember the feeling of shock and sickness of that realization. It was so wrong.

    There are bad people in this world. The color of their skin does not make them more or less bad. There are good people in this world. The color of their skin does not make them more or less good. Badness is color-blind. Goodness is color-blind.

    We all originated from a common set of parents. We are all brothers and sisters. We are one family….

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