The case against ‘the N-Word’


I hate the n-word. No, not “nigger.” I hate the phrase “the n-word.”

I want to preface the following by emphasizing that this writing is my opinion as a black man in America, and readers should not take this as a representation on how all black people feel about the n-word; we’re all different people with our own personal feelings on the matter. Mine just happens to be that “the n-word” is a problematic phrase that ought not to exist.

I wish we lived in a world where people did not say “nigger.” I wish this was a world in which white people had never invented niggers, where the slave trade never existed, where Jim Crow never happened and where black Americans in the year 2017 had an equal shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is not this world.

We may have reclaimed “nigga” for our own use, but black people everywhere still suffer from the vile word “nigger,” and it is a vile word. So vile in fact that the American public, attempting to fulfill MLK’s dreams of a post-racial America, decided to strike it from the list of acceptable words, only to replace it with the surrogate “n-word;” as if not speaking the word out loud would be enough to move past its evils.

That is all “the n-word” really does. It allows people to keep the concept of “nigger” around while pretending it’s a relic of a past America. When I hear someone say “the n-word,” I still connect the dots to “nigger” in my mind. If you don’t, you’re ignoring what both those words mean. “The n-word” is still just the verbal symbol of a concept meant to make black people inferior to whites, but this one is somehow palatable to the general public.

I hate “the n-word” because it allows us to ignore the implications and consequences of the word “nigger.” Now don’t get me wrong, I wish people would stop saying “nigger” all together. I wish only that we would stop using a hollow substitute to talk about the word “nigger” when it does come up.

When our very own Echo wrote about Elijah Anderson’s speech he gave at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, they changed his phrase, “nigger moments” to “N-word moments,” unintentionally taking back Anderson’s reclamation of the word “nigger.”

When Paul Smith, the chief of the Cecil Township Fire Department — located about 20 miles outside Pittsburgh — posted on Facebook that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin “just added himself to the list of no-good niggers,” all the news coverage replaced the word “nigger” with “n-word.” That bothers me because it makes what Smith wrote just a little easier to swallow and just a little easier to discuss. I think the fact that the word “nigger” is still alive and well in America in 2017 means it’s about time we had that hard discussions on what “nigger” really means. So long as we still say “n-word” instead of “nigger,” I don’t think America will ever have that discussion.

This article first appeared in the Friday, October 13, 2017, Edition of The Echo.