“N”

I’ve been hesitating to write on this topic because it’s rather charged and, when dealing with things of which I am passionate, I tend not to step softly. Let’s give this a try.

For those who do not already know, I am half black (other half Korean, but that’s not of consequence here). I grew up in mostly white (especially in the 80’s and 90’s) Northern Virginia. I grew up in Burke and “Falls Church.” I went from being in the minority here to the majority at Norfolk State University – an “HBCU” (Historically Black College or University).

I do not use the N word (“N” for the purposes of this post, and that’s of the ending-in-”a” variety).

Up until high school I never had much exposure to “N”. When I hit high school it seemed as though most of the few black students had banded together, hung out together, and went everywhere together. I knew many of them on a passer-by basis but never became part of the group – I don’t dig self-segregation very much. (So, I-66, why did you go to NSU if you don’t dig self-segregation? Because NSU and Hampton were the only schools that accepted me. I didn’t have many choices.) Only then did I hear “N” slung about recklessly. I’d already formed my stance on the word: If they want to use it that’s alright for them. I won’t use it because it’s demeaning and carries a bit too much historical weight. For a while my friends and I would play football at lunch in the courtyard. One day another guy in our class (Arabic) came to play. He ended up scoring and turning to me and saying, “That’s a touchdown, ‘N’.” I flew off the handle. I got in his face (though he was bigger than me) and said “What the f’k did you just call me? I should kick your f’king –“ and before I could finish, 3 other guys in our class ran over and separated us. I turned and walked away with fists clenched and my eyes welling up in rage. I paced back and forth and calmed myself down. He attempted to apologize, “Hey I’m sorry man”, later on and I dismissed him with the wave of my hand. Sorry indeed. Were it not for the intervening parties I would have hit him as hard as I could as many times as I could. That was then.

At NSU things were different. “N” this and “N” that. “Yeah! That’s my ‘N’” in times of excitement. “Man, that ‘N’ ain’t sh*t” about someone you don’t like. “What up, ‘N’?” as a greeting. I became more or less desensitized. I even slipped and used the word myself a few times and hated every time it happened. That was then.

This is now. Don’t people know what that word means? Let’s establish that changing the “er” ending of a word to “a” does not change the meaning. Do you truly feel it’s alright to call your brothers and sisters (and I don’t mean family) the same word that has been used as a racial slur since the slave days? I’ve been part of the “if it’s ok for blacks…” discussion before. “Why isn’t it ok for everyone else?” It’s not ok for everyone else. It’s a double standard. I admit it. A man gets called “N” by one of his brothers or sisters and it’s cool, but if someone asian or white or latin or whatever calls him “N” they should fear for their lives. Now they’re a racist. They might as well call him “coon” or “boy”. Double standards ought not to exist but we know that they do. Personally there is no double standard as far as “N” goes. It doesn’t matter who uses it. There are no acceptable circumstances. One might be able to make an argument for music and, more specifically, lyrics. Listen to Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes – all of them are in my CD collection in numbers – and you hear “N” all the time, the argument being that you’re only saying the words of the artist. I know the words to the songs and, when singing along, will go so far as to censor myself.

I don’t expect everyone to see this from my point of view. I realize I will probably be viewed as having an opinion that’s rather extreme. My stance isn’t changing anytime soon. What’s yours?

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