Thoughts on “The ‘N’ Word” from a White Fag

This past week, a video was leaked to FOX News that showed Jesse Jackson using “the n word”. The newsworthiness of this story, seemingly, is the hypocrisy of a black leader. Jesse Jackson previously criticized rap musicians for using “the n word” and called for a boycott of Seinfeld after one of the show’s characters used “the n word” in a comedy routine. The hypocrisy reported this past week was not that Jesse Jackson varies the level of punishment he feels necessary depending on whether you’re black or not, but his own use of “the n word” in a side comment.

I think it’s stupid for the major news media to dedicate time to discussing a word when we’re at war/occupation. I think it’s even more stupid that we can’t use the word being debated when discussing its use. This is the type of conversation that should be reserved for The View and my blog.

(ABC is stuck in the 20th century and won’t let me embed a video from its website. To see the clip referenced, go here and search for “Hot Topics 7/17: The N Word”.)

Sherri Shepherd exploded at the notion that the word should not be used by anyone in any circumstance. “Don’t tell me I can’t use that word!” she said before proceeding to explain why black people can tell non black people they cannot use the word. Apparently, Sherri can use it as a “term of endearment”, but Barbara Walters cannot because she is be incapable of using it in such a way. I maintain that the only people who get to make rules about language are members of the MLA.

Whoopi made an insightful comment: words gain meaning when we give them meaning. Unfortunately, the rest of her thought was bleeped by ABC. The network claimed that the opinions presented on The View were not those of the network, yet the network took a position in this debate. By bleeping Whoopi, ABC endorsed the opinion that the word cannot be used, even when its use is being debated intellectually (or not so intellectually in Sherri’s case).

Moments after bleeping Whoopi for 10 seconds, ABC allowed Elisabeth Hasselbeck to say, “You’re a dumb polack.” So… one racial slur is okay, but not the other? Does ABC not like Poland?

Words are just references to definitions and definitions are defined by culture — a culture that everyone gets to participate in regardless of ethnicity. If we focus on a word instead of its intended meaning, we won’t get anywhere. I can say “the f word” — fag — as a term of endearment to Arthur and feel special in our little clique. Or a female friend could burst into a party and say, “Hello my darling fags!” Or it could be yelled at us from a dumpy car full of Mexicans while we cross the street and feel insulted (it happened). I know what definition is being referenced in each scenario.

The words we use are indicative of the power relationship we feel to those we talk. I can use a paragraph or a single word to make you feel intimidated. However, it is your decision what to feel. Unlike physical offenses, being verbally offended is always a choice to be made. I can choose whether or not to be offended and accept the power dominance suggested by a word’s use.

All of which brings me to the idea of redefining words. Dan Savage, famous gay American sex advice columnist, wrote:

When I started writing this column in 1991, there was a debate raging in hellish homosexual circles about words like faggot. The idea was that if we used these words ourselves–Queer Nation, Dyke March, “Hey, Faggot” — straights couldn’t use them as hate words anymore. I chose “Hey, Faggot” as my salutation in joking reference to this lively debate about reclaiming hate words.

Dan did not say, “straights couldn’t use the word ever again.” I agree with Dan and this is how I feel about “the n word”. If those who were oppressed by a word want to reclaim the word, they should, but then they have to give the new definition back to the culture. Otherwise, they need to bury the word forever. If they reclaim and harbor the word, it’s maintaining a segregation, a power relationship of “us and them”, and it will always be divisive regardless who uses it.

Jesse Jackson used “the n word” as a black man speaking about some black people he felt were being ignored by a half black man more powerful than himself. That was the real story. I regret that the major news media missed a productive conversation about economics, opportunity, and the long term effects of discrimination.


  1. Posted 2008/07/20 at 17:32 | Permalink


  2. Posted 2008/07/20 at 23:43 | Permalink

    (My personal response to your blog entry is below. I think you made some interesting points, but I see a few things differently that being said the following isn’t posed directly to you, but anyone reading this.)

    There are thousands of words in the English language. Who knows how many of those words go unused and neglected. But the so called “N” word in -er and -a forms is certainly not one of those words. Despite the multitude of word options, we as Americans feel entitled to say anything we please not because we need to, but because we can. In to this situation comes the infamous “n” word, a word historically used to degrade a whole continent of people.

    Somewhere around the 20th century Black people in America got hold of the “n” word and deformed it. Curiously, they began to use it on themselves both as a term of endearment and disdain. Now the debate rages, why can Black people use the word and no one else?

    Well, firstly, Black people culturally use the -a form of the word, the -er form is taboo even within the culture. Secondly, one can make the argument that the word can be likened to property. The word has been purchased with the toil, death, and destruction of Black ancestry. (Why would someone want to make such a purchase? Well for the same reason a Holocaust survivor might purchase a concentration camp. You control the destiny of the property, while it will always have its history you have its future, good, bad, or ugly it will be your creation. The same is true with the “n” word.) Thus, it is a fiercely guarded, purchased property.

    So now imagine if your ancestors had fought and died at the hands of an ideology embodied in a word. You too might be on the defense. You might argue that current use of the word by Blacks only is divisive. Well, one could say it is, but it is as divisive as having private property. One might argue that the whole thing is absurd and perhaps it is, but for sure this is, what is. It was the illogical theory that Blacks were subhuman that created this situation to begin. How can one make sense of nonsense? But I digress.

    In sum, the whole world could start using the “n” word tomorrow, outnumbered there would be nothing Black Americans could do about it. But, who among those people who are truly honest with themselves could walk up to a small Black child, and say “hey little n****”, and feel righteous about it? Is that you? If you can, you say it already, and if you can’t, ask yourself why you would want to?

  3. Posted 2008/07/31 at 13:58 | Permalink

    You should totally have titled this “…from a cracker faggot” instead.