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Sep 09 2013

The inexplicable desire to use the n-word

I can understand why some black people use the n-word though it causes great discomfort to others. They are trying to turn the insult around and reclaim the word, the way that the gay community is trying to do with some words that were used against them in a derogatory way.

I do not know if the attempt to reclaim the n-word will succeed or not but I personally have never used the word and have no desire to do so. But periodically one hears people who are not black complain about the fact that black people can use the n-word with impunity while if they use it they are considered racists. They say this with a sense of grievance. What I have never understood is why they want to use the word in the first place. There are plenty of other words in the English language.

Cartoonist Keith Knight has his own theory about this strange desire that makes a kind of sense though I doubt that it is the only reason.

nword

37 comments

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  1. 1
    Kimpatsu

    Come to Japan, Mano. Racist politicians and print magazines use the n-word all the time. At least one of the politicians in question will be on the platform during the opening ceremony for the 2020 Olympics. And they say Japan is a first-world nation?!

  2. 2
    Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts

    I liked the cartoon.

    I have had white people* complain about how it is unfair that they cannot use the word while poc can. I am always struck by the disingenuous way in which they argue. All of the “arguments” I have had about this consist of them asking “why can’t I use the word if they can”, and then me explaining the concepts of reclamation, and power differentials, and the importance of history, and … etc. Inevitably, they come back with “why can’t I do it if they can”. Like the last 5 min of conversation never happened. Not once has a single person argued with the reasons given to their “why can’t I” pout.

    When people have repeatedly explained why, you look like a dishonest ass when you keep asking why. Argue with the reasons given, or stop fucking asking the question.

    *I am white, fyi

  3. 3
    wtfwhateverd00d

    “I can understand why some black people use the n-word though it causes great discomfort to others. They are trying to turn the insult around and reclaim the word, the way that the gay community is trying to do with some words that were used against them in a derogatory way.”

    I don’t believe this is true.

    I don’t use the n word, and I am not sure why millions of black Americans use it, but I am certain that the vast majority of black Americans that use the n word are not trying to “reclaim” that word. They have their reasons, and there may be many reasons, but I will need some research from you that indicates any sort of reclamation is in progress before I believe your rationalization.

    Almost the same thing with feminists that use bitch. Some may believe they are reclaiming that word. The rest use it the same way everyone else in culture uses it. Sometimes out of anger, sometimes out of admiration. Many times because culture privileges that word to mean strong, in your face, brave, hot and the users of that connotation to apply to themselves even when their behavior denotes they are primarily whiny assed titty babies.

  4. 4
    cynner

    It’s dishonest argument that poc can use the n word without offsense. The n-word is a brutal putdown no matter who uses it. POC that use it are just fooling themselves and perpetuating a hateful, negative pattern of thought.

  5. 5
    Great American Satan

    wtfwhatever is a serial sockpuppet slyme pit trollock. I don’t know what your policy is on that, but I’d
    delete his comment and ban this account. Don’t worry about hurting his feelings. He’ll be back.

  6. 6
    wtfwhateverd00d

    @GAS 5

    I’ve never been a sockpuppet, anywhere, by the usual definition of sockpuppet as an ALT established to argue with oneself.

    If you can show any proof of sockpuppet activities here state them.

    Instead of ad hominem attacks against me, why not argue against any points I make that you disagree with?

    And if you have been visiting Mano’s blog for any period of time, you’ll know I am a regular here. That you do not know this indicates who the troll in the waters is here. And indicates that you are not interested in intellectually honest discussions but are at FTB to impose speech you like and other people you disagree with.

    I do change my email address from time to time for reasons I have outlined at this blog before, namely that gravatar is a huge privacy leak. People used to laugh at that, and frankly most still do, but the same people that laugh at that are aghast at the NSA spying. And yet, … gravatar.

  7. 7
    wtfwhateverd00d

    What is actually physically wrong with your brain that you have some compulsion to be the FTB Stasi?

    “Great American Satan” is a good name for you, because your behavior is distinctly feminist in nature, and very much anti-democratic, anti-American.

  8. 8
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I would tend to agree. In the past I certainly would have agreed, and I have heard your point of view expressed by members of the black community.

    Since I am not a part of that community, in general I hew to the policy of allowing members of a group to name themselves.

    You may wish to read:
    Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of a Pure Standard English By John McWhorter

    I bet it touches on that issue (but perhaps not.)

  9. 9
    wtfwhateverd00d

    It’s always an ironic but hearty laugh to find a “Free Thoughts Blog” commenter or blogger demanding the banning of others for no reason other than to suppress opposing views.

    Really shows how “Free Thoughts Blog” and Atheism+ and Contemporary Modern Feminism reach directly back to their roots in Orwellian NewSpeak.

  10. 10
    Rutee Katreya

    Do you just invent nemeses to attach to?

  11. 11
    Rutee Katreya

    I don’t use the n word, and I am not sure why millions of black Americans use it, but I am certain that the vast majority of black Americans that use the n word are not trying to “reclaim” that word. They have their reasons, and there may be many reasons, but I will need some research from you that indicates any sort of reclamation is in progress before I believe your rationalization.

    I’m not quite racist enough to tell black people what to do about their problems. Doesn’t seem Mano is either.

    Almost the same thing with feminists that use bitch. Some may believe they are reclaiming that word. The rest use it the same way everyone else in culture uses it. Sometimes out of anger, sometimes out of admiration. Many times because culture privileges that word to mean strong, in your face, brave, hot and the users of that connotation to apply to themselves

    You don’t know what privilege means, and yes, bitch’s negative connotations can, I suppose, have someone attempt to focus on ‘in your face’ (although you’re the one adding brave and hot there). I don’t bother with it – it’s a lost slur.

    even when their behavior denotes they are primarily whiny assed titty babies.

    Oh, you are just a barrel of laughs I can see.

  12. 12
    Rutee Katreya

    PoC who aren’t black definitely can’t use it, that’s for sure.

  13. 13
    wtfwhateverd00d

    “I’m not quite racist enough to tell black people what to do about their problems. Doesn’t seem Mano is either.”

    Great! That makes three of us then.

    But that has nothing to do with trying to understand and explain the solutions they choose.

  14. 14
    bad Jim

    I don’t think there’s any question that people who complain about not being able to say ‘nigger’ are right-wingers and almost certainly racist, but the cartoon’s explanation doesn’t satisfy me. I’ll have to admit that I don’t really understand their resentment, but I suspect it has to do with their belief that blacks are the real racists and whites are their victims, as well as their disdain for “political correctness” and every sort of attitude considered liberal.

    By defining themselves in reaction to caricatures of liberals, right-wingers turn into caricatures themselves.

  15. 15
    smrnda

    As a white person, I have no desire to use the n word or any other slur that applies to another group of people. Black people discuss the appropriateness of this all the time, and I just don’t think as a white person I could have anything to add to their discussion.

    Though I don’t think any right-wingers really think this much, I think part of their attitude about the use of the word is that they ascribe to a faulty belief that ‘colorblindness’ is an admirable goal (as if it were possible) and their usual inability to grasp issues of privilege – they tend to think that *the same rules for everyone* means ‘fair’ and any special consideration given to any group is ‘unfair’ since they refuse to acknowledge differences in levels of privilege. White culture in a sense dictates how Black people are supposed to behave (to the extent that a Black kid can get told their hair is ‘distracting’ in school) but all the right-wingers see is that Black people are telling them not to use the n word, they’re ignoring the fact that white people are telling Black people what to do all the time.

  16. 16
    wtfwhateverd00d

    Check out the feminists reclaiming the word “Bitch”

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/mug-shots-9313?page=4
    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/mug-shots-9313?page=5

  17. 17
    bad Jim

    I swear the Wikipedia entry has been re-written since I last read it. The term has almost always been derogatory, and even Jefferson avoided it. It’s hard to imagine why anyone who isn’t black would want to use it now. Are any other ethnic slurs as irresistible?

    A personal note: I grew up knowing the word was forbidden, with no memory of being told not to use it, even though I’m 62, old enough to remember separate drinking fountains and restrooms in Virginia. There are definite advantages to being raised by godless liberals.

  18. 18
    left0ver1under

    I did as the cartoon suggested, and searched for “25 blacks 1 white”. That news story makes me embarrassed to be alive.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/24/1233588/-Restaurant-Asks-25-Black-People-to-Leave-Because-1-White-Person-Feels-Threatened

    “I’m not black, but there’s a whole lot of times I wish I could say I’m not white.”
    - Frank Zappa

  19. 19
    cityzenjane

    I think the cartoon has it right…. for some white people the idea that there is a rule that they did not write, that they are not in a position to enforce – some boundary which they will be penalized culturally by crossing in a way that seems as arbitrary as ALL THE RULES they have imposed on people of color for ever…well….that’s just intolerable.

    What good is white privilege if I cannot run around violating people all I want to? For kicks, for shits and giggles – for whatever reason?

    It’s infantile.

  20. 20
    Charles Sullivan

    I’m not completely convinced of this analysis / interpretation:

    “They [black people] are trying to turn the insult around and reclaim the word, the way that the gay community is trying to do with some words that were used against them in a derogatory way.”

    I think the word is often used in a derogatory way by black people toward black people (although not always), and I think the word has been used historically by black people to put other black people down, to put them in their place, just for this purpose.

  21. 21
    schmeer

    I love that “trollock” is used in your comment. I think it’s time we mix in some fantasy insults from newer sources. Bravo.

  22. 22
    doublereed

    Whenever people make this argument, I just point out that we live in a world with a social and historical context. You don’t just get to ignore that when you please and not be considered an asshole.

  23. 23
    Pen

    OK, so I’m not American, but… I had a black American interrupt me in the middle of reading in a public library to ask me for help with something and he referred to himself as a ‘nigger’ (seriously, the word is not so taboo, we can’t use it for illustration purposes, right?). Anyway, he totally crashed my software and I just sat there wondering whether I should explain to him that word wasn’t considered suitable for mixed company or what? I mean, why, when he wants me to help him out? Instead, I reminded myself that it wasn’t my country, waited for my operating system to reboot and generally failed to be helpful.

    Moral of the story: maybe not when you’re addressing a white person with a view to getting assistance from them, OK? Especially if they’re foreign?

  24. 24
    Marcus Ranum

    your behavior is distinctly feminist in nature

    You say that like it’s a bad thing…?

  25. 25
    Rutee Katreya

    It is, by no means of the imagination, a ‘conservative thing’ to want to use the n-word.

  26. 26
    wtfwhateverd00d

    A significant number of black Americans use it.

    It’s present in an enormous amount of popular music.

    It’s all over Hollywood.

    Why on earth would anyone expect that other members of homo sapiens would not pick it up and use it?

    At other times we are all told that “race” is a social construct.

    So you’ve got this message being sent to a intelligent species of primates (homo sapiens) known for mimickry and social behaviors that a certain word conveys hip, edgy meaning.

    And this message of social approval is being blasted at this species (all homo sapiens regardless of ‘race’)

    But then you want to partition off word use based on a socially constructed boundary that more and more members of that species (homo sapiens) are failing to recognize – racial boundaries. And this species sees that with more biracial families that other distinctions are more important (perhaps economic)

    And you want this species to police itself in how it uses this word based on this social construction of ‘race’ as well as their understanding history to the same degree and with the same interpretation you do.

    And then you get all poutraged to find this highly fallible species fails to live up to your expectations.

    I mean, what the fuck could possibly go wrong with your plan?

  27. 27
    dezn_98

    Well…. This, the commentary section, was a particularly disgusting read. As usual whenever this topic comes up you will get a bunch of people spewing borderline racist things…

    I was going to write a reply detailing every racist micro-aggressive thought here….. but damn, why bother? In this type of atmosphere any commentary is going to be taken on by privileged dolts thinking it is their time to shine and flex their intellectual muscle trying to “debate” racist assumptions about black people.

    As usual, people thinking in monolithic racial way and on culturally unaware terms always want to have a say about issues they know so little about. So yeah, way to go people… way to go.

  28. 28
    wtfwhateverd00d

    On the folly of rewarding a while hoping for b

    http://www.ou.edu/russell/UGcomp/Kerr.pdf

  29. 29
    invivoMark

    Really, it’s just one guy making the micro-aggressions (as well as the not-so-micro aggressions), as well as all the stupidity.

    Our host seems to be generally averse to micromanagement of his blog’s commentary, so you can’t expect this place to only display the friendliest and sharpest of comments. Still, it’s probably better not to judge the entire commentariat based on the behavior of a single member (a member with whom the rest of us nearly always disagree).

  30. 30
    wtfwhateverd00d

    Well on my arrogant assumption you are referring to my posts in this thread, why don’t you come in out of the cold and make explicit what I have written in this thread regarding the n word that you disagree with, and why.

    If you are referring to me and cannot come up with any significant disagreements, I will just put your fatuous insults and complaint down as yet another typical Free Thought Blog’s microaggresssion against their perceived enemies.

    If you are not referring to me, who are you referring to? Your vague insinuations of bad acting or bad faith are beneath most people.

  31. 31
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    you will get a bunch of people spewing borderline racist things…

    dezn_98, my only quibble is: “borderline”?

  32. 32
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I think that if someone sees racism they almost certainly have an ethical duty to precisely point it out, and name it.

    I think you have an ethical duty to the targeted group, as well as ethical duties to the poster of the comment, the community and yourself.

    By naming it and explaining the racism, you support the targeted group. You help educate the poster. You raise the standards of the community.

    To sit back and tut tut, “racism” and say nothing else is to shirk those ethical duties. It doesn’t help the targeted group. It doesn’t help the poster of the comment learn, and it doesn’t help the community understand.

    It makes you part of racism culture and a racism apologist.

    Girls, don’t do that.

    And you might be wrong. To cry “racism” is a serious charge and you may be wrong. To simply, tut, tut injures the community if no actual racism is present.

    If you’re going to call “racism” you have a responsibility to the community and to yourself to allow your charge to be examined.

  33. 33
    invivoMark

    Oh fuck no, I don’t have the time nor the patience to hold your hand through several lectures’ worth of the basics of racism and privilege. And with your truly charming personality, neither do I have the inclination. I already know that we wouldn’t get two posts in before you got distracted and started ranting about the Evil Feminists. You have an unhealthy obsession with that topic; you’re a bit of an issues. And with how quickly you seem to pick up on subtlety, it would take far more than two posts before you had even the lightest grasp on the topic.

    So as far as I’m concerned, you’re a lost cause as long as you continue speaking on the topic without doing your homework. But in any case, anything I could tell you, others have already said and far better than I could. Shit, man, use your Google. The concept of white privilege is neither new nor esoteric.

  34. 34
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    It’s a word I only ever use when quoting “Blazing Saddles” (specifically the self-hostage scene), and even then I’m cringing inside because, hello, racist slur, not cool!

    I also use it sometimes when explaining why other nasty slurs are a Bad Thing, e.g. explaining why “cunt” (sorry!) is a slur while “dick” is nowhere near as bad, using “nigger” (again, sorry!) and “cracker” as a comparable example.

    I have a crude-but-effective understanding of how power and privilege and position on the social ladder in regards to race and class have affected this particular minority; enough to be able to draw comparisons to the social ladder in regards to other minorities and oppressed people (i.e. women, the disabled).

    So, in the interest of not causing harm to others, and not, you know, “shit-stirring”, I don’t use That Word outside of these highly specific contexts, and even then, I apologize for using it, because it’s a word that I was taught not to use, ever. And I will give a person a right earful if it’s used within range of me.

  35. 35
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    The last time I used the word in a non-”academic” context (such as this post) was when I gave a player a red card for saying it to an opponent; I had to write down exactly what he said, as is the practice for referees, and then to appear at the discipline hearing and read out my notes.

    He got six games, in a twenty-game season. Foolish reason to miss a third of the season, to my mind, for the joy of insulting an opponent.

    I don’t even like singing along with hip-hop songs that use it, I usually just sort of mumble past those bits. It’s not my place to determine whether such usage is okay, but I know whether it is for me or not, and really, really don’t feel the loss. The closest I come to feeling bad about not using words around “nigger” is the loss of “niggardly”, if for no other reason than I don’t want anyone to mis-hear me, though I’ve heard a few different arguments about its etymology. I don’t think that the inability to use a couple of words seems a pretty small imposition, to me, to help make society a little less stuffed with microaggressions for people who get plenty already.

  36. 36
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Er, rather, sorry, I don’t think the inability to use a couple of words seems like a large imposition. Or I do think the inability seems like a small imposition. One of those.

  37. 37
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I’ve said nothing in this thread that’s racist.

    And you’ve got nothing or else you would easily point to the problematic sentence.

    What you do have is a shit ton of #FTBully in you, in which you think that random name calling and ad hominem forms a valid argument and way to deal with dissent.

    As for unhealthy obsessions I would point to your stalking my comments being apparently compelled to make baseless name calling bullying attacks all because you dislike what I write.

    And FWIW, I haven’t brought up the concept of white privilege in my comments in this thread one way or another.

    You’re a bully Mark. And hollow.

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