General Question

AlexChoi's avatar

When is it ok for a non African American to say the "N" word?

Asked by AlexChoi (305points) July 1st, 2008
79 responses
“Great Question” (3points)

I’ve thought the times when it was ok was when you were 1) quoting a song 2) directly quoting someone else saying it within the context of a story

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blakemasnor's avatar

If you are Mark Twain.

shilolo's avatar

Personally, I would never, ever utter the word in public. Back in the day, when I listened to NWA, Tupac, Ice-T, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, etc., I used to find myself rapping along, and sure enough, the N word would come out of my mouth. Then, and only then.

rockstar's avatar

I personally don’t believe anyone should say it. No matter what race you are.

seVen's avatar

i agree with rockstar.

AlexChoi's avatar

@seVen you should great answer @rockstar then

robmandu's avatar

@Alex, @seVen can elect to GA or not to GA on his criteria alone.

PupnTaco's avatar

I don’t think it’s OK for anyone to say.

thebeadholder's avatar


elchoopanebre's avatar

People can say what they want.

We have freedom of speech…

Just be sure not to get Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson wound up about it.

AlexChoi's avatar

@elchoopanebre strangely, I totally agree with you… since I have the freedom to judge that person how I want after they utter it

If anyone is wondering… someone uttered this word at work (seems like an HR no no) ... indirectly quoting someone in the context of telling a story

dragonflyfaith's avatar

Just because you are quoting something that was said or part of a song doesn’t mean someone passing by understands that.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s ever ok.

Spargett's avatar

Sure, but they can’t get mad if anyone else says it.

Or you can take Shakespear’s route… “a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet”.

AlexChoi's avatar

@Spargett… “they”?

vectorul's avatar

If it is such a bad word then why do Blacks use it all the time? Why it it offensive when a white person says it when Black people use it freely?

elchoopanebre's avatar


haha, there’s a Panamanian singer known as “Nigga.”

tinyfaery's avatar

The N word has been reclaimed by the AA/black community, much like the word “fag” has been by the gay community. Its hard to use a word to offend people, when those same people use that word to describe themselves. I try never to use the N word, unless its in a case like shilolo presented. If a non-black person says it, there is no way for an AA/black person to know its intention. I know some non-black people who do use the word, but these people have strong ties to the AA/black community. It really depends on situation, context, the people involved, etc. There is no way to really know if its okay to use the word; that’s why I don’t.

shilolo's avatar

I would add that I never said it in public or with other people around. Just mainly to myself to keep the rhyme going. :-)

syz's avatar

In my opinion? Never.

syz (35788points)“Great Answer” (0points)
marinelife's avatar

Never and I would that I do not let the word said in front of me go unchallenged. Silence is complicity.

Also, there is a lot of discussion in the black community about its use by members of the community and the tolerance for it seems to be lessening. Here is a recent news story about a black newsman fired for using it to refer to a producer.

Here is a quote from another article: ”(CBS/AP) Black leaders on Monday challenged the entertainment industry, including rap artists, actors and major studios, to stop use of the racial slur that triggered the Michael Richards scandal.”

buster's avatar

Its probably all right to say it at Klan meetings.

jlm11f's avatar

I know the word has many connotations, but i always found it interesting that the actual word really means “illiterate”.

TheHaight's avatar

I agree with SHIlolo. He named off some great rappers that I rap along with, only in the privacy of my own car or wereever else I am listening too that’s private. Other then that I think its an offensive word for anyone to say.

marinelife's avatar

@buster Bringing up the Klan here seems sort of crass.

butters326's avatar

why is it ok for african Americans to say you white people or crazy

But if a white person said you black people or crazy its not ok

marinelife's avatar

@butters326 Are you attempting to use the verb “are”? If so, I do not accept either of those staements that you made. It is usually not OK to generalize about large groups in my book. An entire group is not “crazy” to use your somewhat imprecise terminology.

AlexChoi's avatar

“You Butters is crazy!”

charliecompany34's avatar

actually “never,” except when mentioned in a documentary, play, film or period piece where the word authenticates the content or context. a disclaimer should proceed abovementioned that states dialogue used is not intended to hurt, defame or incite racial tension. those who view or watch should also be socially aware that the media will obviously involve such dialogue. you are offended when you don’t know better.

beast's avatar

The only time I’ve ever used the word was on a research paper, when quoting a man’s attitude toward Malcolm X. Other than quoting the word on an important subject, never use the ‘N’ word.

charliecompany34's avatar

well said, beast. i agree. it’s the context and content.

elchoopanebre's avatar

I stand by my statement that people should be free to say what they will.

There shouldn’t be any “banned “words.

I wouldn’t call anyone that (to their face or otherwise) but I still think it’s a lot of fuss about nothing. I also think it’s a word that’s use will continue (by and large the majority of use is by the black community; so who are non-black people to go on a crusade against a word that many black people themselves use?).

Also, just because you don’t say it doesn’t mean other people should be banned from saying it. For example, if you’re not a vulgar person, I don’t believe that gives you the right to judge others who are and tell them not to be.

Racism and racial issues are not a problem to me and just about the only time I even consciously think about them is when the “black community” (i.e. Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson) is demanding an apology from someone in order to get more face time on t.v.

I think I’ll pick my battles and let others worry about this one…

Mangus's avatar

The difference comes down to one of power and history. The reason it isn’t ‘ok’ for a white person to use the word is that it has a very specific meaning when one does. Historically, it is shorthand for “remember your place, which is below me, and if you don’t I can get away with killing you”. It has meant that for much of its history. The threat was never empty, and is still arguably not empty. That’s why cracker, or butter are more easily acceptable. Those words have nothing like the power of the n-word.

Power is the most salient part of this debate.

marinelife's avatar

@Mangus Well said.

elchoopanebre's avatar

I don’t know about you, but I definitely have no power over any black people I know. Even if I attempted to have power over them by using the N word, it would fail to do anything.

I would be more scared of what their reaction would be than anything. The notion of having power over an individual because of the N word in this day and age is obsolete. When slavery was around, yes slave owners had power of slaves and using the N word was a way to verbalize this power. Nowadays, however, a non black person using the N word to a black person has no such implication of power…

robmandu's avatar

@elcho, I think you’ve illustrated how that flow of power has reversed.

shilolo's avatar

@Elcho. I disagree completely. I’m Jewish. If someone, using their freedom of speech called me a derogatory term, or used it in my presence, I would not take it kindly. I’m sure lots of people on here can think of personal examples that would make their blood boil. If I were black, and a white person used the N word in my presence, I would not tolerate it. Its that simple. You can talk all you want about freedom of speech, but I bet you would think long and hard before dropping the N word in front of a black person. You might end up hurt.

robmandu's avatar

@shilolo, I think that was @elcho’s point.

If he had power, he’d be able to use the word without fear of reprisal (a form of power directed against him). As things stand today, that’s not the case.

And no, (putting words in @elcho’s mouth) he doesn’t want to use the word.

I don’t like the tone of my response here. Just want to say it’s a positive thing that people on the receiving end of derogatory names can indeed retaliate. The power between majorities and minorities is definitely balancing out (if not quite there yet). Yay, progress!

shilolo's avatar

@Robmandu. Sorry to disagree, but this is what he said. “I stand by my statement that people should be free to say what they will. There shouldn’t be any “banned words.”” Power or not (I also disagree with his notion that there isn’t still a power discrepancy between blacks and whites, in general), using the N word would be highly inflammatory and hurtful to a large group of people.

robmandu's avatar

@shilolo, I see what you’re saying.

I was giving @elcho the benefit of a doubt. I was assuming his use of the word would not be intended as part of a derogatory statement.

< < Sits back to let @elcho actually say something. ;-)

shilolo's avatar

See, this is the crux of the issue. I think any use of the word by a non-black person could be derogatory. You couldn’t walk up to someone and say “What’s up, my N?” just as someone shouldn’t say to me “I got a great deal today…I really Jewed it.” (Look at some of the later descriptions).

robmandu's avatar

In all fairness, you just did!. Yah, you substituted N for the actual word, but the point was the same.

In a theoretical discussion quoting fictional other parties with an end goal of understanding and enlightenment, it is okay. And, as mentioned earlier, historical reference is okay. And Mark Twain has special exception.

This illustrates the whole point of free speech (including the caveats of not supporting inciteful language).

shilolo's avatar

Well, in all fairness, I can’t convey the point without at least referencing something. I think this discussion gravitated towards real world use in person-to-person speech. Fictional use is fine, within the confines of storytelling.

robmandu's avatar

Thank you. And hence, a blanket ban on any word is not useful, productive, or reasonable.

We have freedoms. And we have responsibility to use those freedoms respectfully, carefully, and dutifully.

elchoopanebre's avatar


Your first response did not go against my point, it helped further illustrate it.

We differ on the opinion of whether people should be free to use the word or not.

shilolo's avatar

@Rob. Glad we could agree. I still think because elcho said “that people should be free to say what they will,” that my interpretation is valid. An author or playwright etc. might take some liberties in a fictional work, but noone should take it upon themselves to verbally harass someone else using derogatory and inflammatory words while wrapping themselves in the First Amendment.

Mangus's avatar

@elchoopanebre: If a white person in a racist society doesn’t have power, who does?

Power is the ability to make one’s environment conform to one’s wants and needs. That definition works for race, social relations generally, and geopolitics. That ability isn’t something an individual often possesses intrinsically (except where brute force is the power in question), but is rather possessed by virtue of relationships with other people and groups. Power isn’t something you always decide to have or not have. Membership in a group, class or caste can give you power whether you like it or not. In fact, denying one has power in a situation where they do generally only serves to protect that power, not disrupt it.

It’s clear that the power of the n word is not the same as it was when a white person could own a black person. Or even the same as when white people could get away with lynching a black person–not getting accused of murder. However, two facts remain:

1) That history is long, recent and shapes our social world today. The question is one of appropriateness. So the use of the word calls on that history.
2) White people still enjoy easier access wealth, education, legal help and healthcare. Much of that access is in the form of resources, held as a group, that have been accumulating since the time periods described above (slavery, Jim Crow, etc.) Using the n word is undesireable in that light, because it is still a verbal (interpersonal?) instantiation of that fact.

None of this argues with the freedom of speech issue, except where we’re talking about outlawing the use of the word, which is not at issue here. I’m arguing it is inappropriate and morally problematic, not that it is or should be illegal. I’m free to call women ‘whore’ whenever I want. But that doesn’t make it right.

yetanother's avatar

Never, not ever…

When quoting a hip-hop song or something I substitute the word “cracka” for the “N” word…

Mangus's avatar

@yetanother: Nice one.

margeryred's avatar

It’s funny… it’s okay for others to call me a Cracker and a Honkey and it isn’t that big of a DEAL!!!

Okay, when I was a young lady in high school… early rap dayz, I transferred to mostly black school and I remember my first black friend, India Davis. She liked me so much and made such a big deal how “cool” she thought I was she said, “You’re my nigga” and she gave me PERMISSION to use that expression with her. Now me, being naive and not really knowing what the stigma around the word

(Calling someone a NIGGER is different than saying NIGGA in the context below)...

Anyhow, One day I walked up to her and said as a greeting, “What’s up my nigga?” and a black person who was standing within ear shot questioned India because I used that expression with her. After that no one really gave me heat and I continued to say it with all my black friends… it was just okay. All the kids used it… whites and whites, blacks and whites, blacks and blacks.

Long story short (for me) is that it is all about the meaning you give the word. I was just using it as an expression like, “What’s up my BFF?” or any other popular greeting…

marinelife's avatar

@margeryred That is a very poor rationalization.

beast's avatar


Notice how nobody used the actual word (nigger) except you. That is very disrespectful and derogatory. Shame on you!

elchoopanebre's avatar


Get over it…

Also, you just used it yourself.

TheHaight's avatar

I actually enjoyed what margeryred had to say. And Beast, shutup!!

beast's avatar


I only used it to specify the word he/she used.

shilolo's avatar

This is ridiculous. Words in our current lexicon SHOULD NOT reflect current or past injustices, period. There is no way someone should be using ethnic slurs in their day-to-day speech. I’m not arguing for political correctness, but frankly, moral politeness!

Knotmyday's avatar

“Context and content” be damned. Why would any enlightened person discuss even wanting to utilize language so steeped in injustice, oppression, and generations of painful memories?
Because you think it’s funny? Because you think it’s socially relevant? Because you feel sociopathically compelled to exercise your “right” to free speech regardless of the effect?
I submit to you that the word “bitch” has its proper place in modern usage, when used as either a verb or a proper noun (breeding female canine). It loses that social redemption when used in reference to, say, your mother.
Racial epithets have no such socially redeeming quality whatsoever, no matter who uses them, regardless of situation.
I don’t agree with the Rev. Jackson on every count, but I stand by him on this one. “Dignity over Degradation,” indeed.

margeryred's avatar

Ah ha, I quoted myself using the word 20 years ago… not saying or using it in a derogatory term now. The fact is that the word wasn’t even used in a derogatory nature. I didn’t say NIGGER or NEGRO… if any of you have “black” friends, ask them the difference between those words and “Nigga”... (for BEAST & Marina-wasn’t rationalizing… that was a true story with REAL black people that accepted me. Knotmyday-it was not being used as a racial epithet, I guess the story got lost in translation with all of you! And I would much perfer a quote from someone who actually did something in history to help his race like MLK instead of JJ.)

Shilol, no surprise you would have a problem with something I say! LOL I don’t use that in my day to day speech, I was a kid then and you know what.. sometimes KIDS are better at being more tolerant of other races and blind to the “stigma” of being politically correct.

A while back I posted about race today and I guess this thread has helped enlighten me to why I am having a problem with it now. I think that back then I was truly accepted by my black counter parts. To this day I still talk to many of them and we are planning our 20 year reunion this summer. So I guess my point is that race relations in this country have not gotten any better. I haven’t felt this kind of discrimination in a long time and it seems to be getting worse. To me anyway!

Some white people this day use the words Cracker and Honky with the same amount of bitterness and intentional anger and insult that this country’s founders used the word “NIGGER”... None of it is right! My story, in my eyes, is very different. :) I didn’t degrade anyone. It was a bonding experience for me… just thought I would add my 3 cents…

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richardhenry's avatar

[Fluther Moderator:] The part of the conversation where we started stamping our feet and calling each other idiots has been removed. Play nice, guys!

shrubbery's avatar

I sincerely apologise
to richard

Knotmyday's avatar

Margery- The use of that particular term, however it is pronounced, obviously does carry a stigma, as evidenced by the initial reaction of the affected persons in your anecdote. I am happy that you were accepted in this localized instance; however, were your friend not available to vouch for you, the experience would not have been quite as pleasant. If you don’t agree with my assessment, feel free to address it; that is what the forum is for. But I urge you to ask yourself- Would you walk up to any random African-American gentleman on any college campus and address him in the same manner as you addressed your friend? Please answer that honestly before waxing accusatory.

@beast- what the hell? Take it easy, man.

sndfreQ's avatar

Okay here’s the thing beast and others may be missing here with the anecdote-margeryred was giving a specific context that had a social and urban reference to it-in the mid 80s, when rap (back then it was called hip-hop) was coming into fashion, there was the first influence of urban language in the social context of those youth who were of the time-teens who listened to and subscribed to hip-hop culture. Even for that time, the use of the N-word and other terms of endearment (what are now considered epithets or derogatory terms) were part of the culture, part of urban social custom. Most kids I went to school with (and I mean most-regardless of race) didn’t question the fashion or the language, as the term N-gga was meant as a term of endearment amongst friends or acquaintences.

That was the point she was trying to make, nothing more. She even mentioned the particular peculiarity of the situation in explaining that as a caucasian using the term amongst her black friends, her saying this term within earshot raised eyebrows; I can vouch for her that this was often the case when I was in high school as well, but again, this was in a time and context that were a lot less serious and more socially oriented toward the embracing of the “urban” culture of the day (FYI I am referring to my high school years-1986–1990; Run DMC, Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, etc., all cassette tapes playing in my hooptie)...

I wasn’t there at her specific high school, but can vouch for it; I attended high school in an urban center in L.A., where the population’s vast majority was (and still is) African-American. I think margeryred and I grew up around the same time and in similar circumstances. I can attest to the fact that, this was before Rodney King; this was before 9/11; this was perhaps just on the cusp of the racial consciousness re-vitalization of the early nineties (Red, Black & Green anyone?)...

Beast, I’m going to side with Margery on this one because we come from a different space and time, and it’s a relevant topic for me; I was raised in a mixed race household, am of multiple ethnicities, and have experienced racism on several accounts. I don’t believe she was condoning the term, just explaining how it might have been used 20 years ago by kids.

As an epilogue to this long and drawn out debate, having studied sociology of African Americans and other related coursework in college, I can say that the sociology of the term N-, in all its versions, is a complicated one. On the one hand, you have people of the African American heritage and ethnicity who, depending on geography, socioeconomic constraints, and even religion, have differing opinions about the usage of the term; most will say that while it is intended to be innocuous in its intent and usage, it still retains vestiges of a time when the term was pejorative to a whole ethnicity; I think like many issues of culture, the debate will roll on and change with time.

sndfreQ's avatar

@beast-and yes, back 20 years ago in context to the time and culture, as MargeryRed mentioned, calling a person of African American descent a “Nigger” was definitely different than referring to them as “my N-gga” or “what’s up my N-gga.” I was there, it was said (often); it was even alluded to in numerous examples in entertainment (TV, movies, etc.), in more comedic settings; often, it was the “wannabe” white kid trying to assimilate in an urban social group, dressing the part, “walkin’ and talkin’” as they say.

I can say that this condition/setting has changed with time. As I mentioned in the last post, today there is a much differrent set of circumstances, and as a society, we have come a long way in the development of standards that are recognized across all races and ethnicities (to our credit).

gooch's avatar

When you are Jessie Jackson speaking about O Bama?

margeryred's avatar

Ah ha… I went to my 20th High School reunion this weekend…

It was a blast… all the old music was played, La Di Da Di, I’m A Hoe, Freaks Come Out At Night and any Beastie Boys song you can remember!

I mentioned this thread and we ALL laughed about the phrase and it was so wonderful to see all of the educated, successful and open-minded classmates being so relaxed and non-judgmental. It made me realize the stress from my other thread (about getting aggravated with the “reverse-racism”) is very situational…and is more the other person’s problem than mine.

Thanks to sndreQ for trying to explain and reitterate my post… I wasn’t trying to offend, I was doing what Fluther is supposed to do; explore topics and present different experiences and opinions with a fact basis…

If you can see this THESE are my peeps!

margeryred's avatar


He probably used it as a casual reference to this man… a black saying about and or to a black usually racial based… but then again, OBAMA is half white… so maybe it was meant to be a “racial slur”...

Breanna93's avatar

Personally I think the whole “N” word thing is stupid. I would never say it in public because I wouldn’t want to get jumped, but I think you should be able to say whatever you want.

Strauss's avatar

I once used the term when relating a story about drive-up windows in liquor stores in the old south. My wife, who is black, took great offense and told me (I’m white} in no uncertain terms that I did not ever need to use the word, nor the term “N-word” or “N-bomb”. It was not necessary to make the point or tell the story.

At the other extreme, I had a cousin (also white) who lived in a predominantly black neighborhood (so predominantly that he was the only white person who lived within a 10 block radius). He developed some close friendships, and they would toss the word around jokingly.

robkorczak's avatar

I was born in Europe and lived there till I was just a couple years shy of being a teenager. My parents are also European so I didn’t really grow up in a culture where a word could be considered so terrible that people would freak out over it.

In my opinion, and keep in mind that this is an opinion of a European, the word nigger should only be used in context when trying to put emphasis on the point of your sentence or story.

I dare say it’s a little bit like the word “Fuck”... It has it’s place but really shouldn’t be used out of context as it will only make the person abusing it appear to be an idiot.

Hope this was a decent contribution on this topic.

daemonelson's avatar

When is it not ok?

Say whatever you like. It’s the manner in which you say it that gets you in the shit.

Nullo's avatar

Giving the word taboo status, and respecting that taboo status, ensures that you’ll never offend anybody with it.

I still crack up any time I hear one of the talking heads yak about “the En-Word;” we had similar practices in first grade for the “Eff-word,” even though none of us actually knew what the “Eff-word” was.

I have never had the pleasure of being in an English class where they read the more politically-incorrect works of Mark Twain; I imagine that the brouhaha would be tremendous. Especially in a school where about a quarter of the students were bussed in from the inner city. Not that I like to offend people; I just enjoy a good spectacle.

Strauss's avatar

I think there is a similarity between this thread and another conversation here on fluther.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Advice columnists hate questions that begin with “Is it OK?”

In other words, have your own judgment be at least a partial factor in your decision.

Answer this question




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