Friday, April 9, 2021

No Good Reason to Use It

After all of this time, why would a non-Black writer or speaker not use "N-word," opting for the full word instead? What does using the offensive word get you that the substitute word does not?

It seems pretty clear that the only reason to use the full word is to be antagonistic and signal to racists that you're with them. Even if you use it in quotes, or you're talking about someone else using the word, you're still using the word: you're making other people read it or hear it.

The list of reasons to use it as "N-word" is longer:

  • you acknowledge that the word's history represents something so hurtful and vile that it should not be said or written
  • that it's not a word for non-Black people to use
  • that you are not trying to punch down with your words
  • that you are not aligning yourself with racists.

Maybe you feel awkward or fake by using "N-word," but so what? You feel slightly uncomfortable. Your grammar and usage feelings are hurt. Meanwhile, all the people who've been hurt by that word and what it represents in our history of oppression won't be.

Which one matters more?

Just remember: your word choice says who you are aligning yourself with.


When I woke up thinking about this and sat down to write it, it came accompanied by a memory.

White readers, what uses of the N-word were natural to you (or were naturalized for you)?

I remember one.

At Christmas time, we would often got a box of mixed nuts from a family member. One of them was the Brazil nut, which you may also have heard used to be called a N-word-toe.

I don't remember who told me that was its name. A grandparent, maybe? I think I already knew enough to understand why it made "sense" as a visual reference (that is, I knew what the N-word meant and what a toe is, and could see that the nuts are elongated and sometimes still had their brown skin). So that tells me how far back my knowledge of the N-word goes: before I can remember.

I also remember my mother telling me to call them Brazil nuts instead, too, but that came later.

What I didn't know until recently is that the name may not be just a general reference to resemblance, but a specific reference to amputated toes. Toes of enslaved people. After all, the nuts do come from Brazil and South America, which was the part of the Western Hemisphere that received the majority of the ships during the Middle Passage.

All the more reason to make sure the term goes out of usage.

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