Senior Dominique Cooper addresses the prevalence of the n-word in popular culture. Many celebrities have recently used the word, including Paula Deen, Ice Cube and Madonna, bringing the controversial debate to the forefront.
The n-word is a word that cannot be used by Paula Deen yet is loosely used by Ice Cube in the movie “Ride Along.” Sure the intent behind their usages is different, but the history of the word isn’t changed by intent. The n-word still marks an era when blacks were treated as animals, bonded by inescapable chains, and killed by the masses, all thanks to an idea known as white supremacy.
The n-word doesn’t need to be used by anyone. The n-word, when historically used by whites, meant that blacks were lazy, ugly, useless and stupid. It was even used to discriminate against other oppressed groups in America; a yellow n-word was a Japanese person, a white n-word was a Jew.
But some people disagree. Rappers like Jay-Z claim that the n-word no longer holds the same meaning. According to him, “if we eliminate the n-word, other words [will] just take its place.” But other derogatory terms are already being used to define African-Americans along with the n-word. Richard Sherman — Seattle Seahawks cornerback, Compton native, Stanford graduate, current Stanford Law School student, an African-American — had an excited, fairly typical post-game rant during an interview with Erin Andrews on Jan. 21 after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football Conference Championship Game . Social media sites blew up, with posts such as “Richard Sherman’s an ignorant ape,” “Richard Sherman=cocky nigger,” and “Someone needs to introduce Richard Sherman to George Zimmerman. #ThugLifeOver.” Richard Sherman in a later interview explained that calling someone a thug is just the accepted way of calling someone an n-word. Do we really want the n-word on the long list of words like thugs, baby daddy, gangsta, ghetto, and ratchet? Especially since the n-word is the only word on the list that is both derogatory and a direct reminder of slavery, white supremacy, and overt racism.
Despite the n-word being unacceptable in our society, as Richard Sherman noted and Paula Dean found out, it is still extremely prevalent. According to a survey conducted by The Clarion Ledger in Jacksonville, Miss., nearly 9 percent or more of the black high school students and nearly 30 percent of the white high school students in the Jackson metro-area use the n-word. Comedians, like Kevin Hart, rappers, like Jay Z, and actors, like Ice Cube, use the n-word in their performances. Now note, all these entertainers are black. Although there seems to be a double standard, should the n-word be used by anyone at all?
Paul Dawson, a white teacher in Kentucky, said that the n-word with an “a” rather than a hard “er” is okay. But, considering his suspension for calling his student a “nigga,” I would say that many disagree. No matter how you say it, or how you spell it, the n-word is not a friendly term. As long as racism is alive, we cannot completely transform its derogatory meaning. If you look in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the n-word does not mean friend. Do we really want to constantly be reminded of slavery, rape, murder, stereotypes and racism in America?
By using it, we are not owning and changing its meaning but rather allowing it to continue living, to continue thriving and to continue dehumanizing. The only way to disarm the n-word is to eradicate it. Not by hindering our freedom of speech, but, instead, by educating people and making them aware of the n-word’s meaning and history as illustrated in movies like “12 Years a Slave” and “The Butler.” Although people of all races now call each other the n-word due to its prevalence in the media, especially in hip-hop, it still carries many negative connotations for African Americans.
Just imagine a white teacher at Hockaday calling a black student the n-word and then claiming that he or she meant no harm by it. I think we can all imagine how that story would end.