I find myself agreeing with commentator Keli Goff: Now that we’re a decade into the 21st century, it’s time for all of us–especially black folks–to retire the N-word. And I have to admit: I don’t mind hearing it used by Mos Def or even Netic of Game Rebellion, whereas I do mind hearing it used by Kanye or Jay-Z. The only difference is that, in the case of the first two, I trust that they’re using it to make a point, not just as a crutch.

Keli wrote an incredibly thoughtful piece on the N-word rant by Dr. Laura Schlessinger (above) to a black caller to her show.  The piece was then was subsequently picked up by the Huffington Post. Here’s an excerpt:

By no means am I a fan of Dr. Laura, (as she’s known), but I’m even less of a fan of the n-word, which I find more offensive, more harmful, and more poisonous to our community than Dr. Laura will ever be. So the reason I’d like to thank her is because I’m hoping that her recent on air meltdown will finally help settle a philosophical debate over the n-word that has raged for years. On one side of the debate are those of us who believe that no one should say the n-word — not a white racist and not a black comedian — ever. On the other side are those who believe that if you’re black, you essentially get an n-word lifetime free pass. (I don’t recall ever receiving mine in the mail, but I am black so I must have one lying around somewhere.) But Dr. Laura reminds us why such logic is not just flawed, but dangerous.

She goes on to say the following:

But the fact that she felt justified saying what she did confirms a fundamental reality: Arbitrary rules about who can say the n-word and who cannot simply do not work. Dr. Laura felt justified saying what she did because a host of rappers and comedians continue to validate her perspective.

Keli’s point should be well taken.  Don Imus even put forth the same argument as justification for his “nappy headed hoes” comment.  And be clear: I’m not trying to stir up another witch hunt on hip hop, as happened in the wake of Imus’s comments.  However, when the use of the N-word becomes normalized, one starts to wonder why anyone shouldn’t feel free to use it.  Now, I know the answer to that, but it becomes harder to justify when performers with global platforms use it out of course.

Like Uncle Ben (Parker) said to Peter Parker: “With power comes responsibility.”  We all need to keep that in mind.

Anyway, check out Keli’s piece here, and let me know what you think.

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  • Valgb

    Hey, it's a free country. Use whatever words you want, and deal with whatever reaction you get. BTW, can we stop pretending that the folks looking for “permission” to use this word aren't already using it? In the '70s, I thought Blacks -in a burst of racial pride- had banished the N-word in favor of “brother” and “sister.” It came back with a vengeance in the '80s. It seems to mean something to some of us, and it's not the same thing it means to whites. We should just get over it.

  • Hey, Valerie. Maybe since we can't agree on appropriate usage (either internally among ourselves) and certainly don't want to give whites carte blanche to use it, we should just stop using it altogether. I mean, I'm having trouble thinking of a more hateful word that was created for any other ethnic or racial group. Maybe there is, but I don't know it.

  • Valgb

    Rob, while I'm uncomfortable defending the N- word, I have always been in awe of the capacity of African American people to take what was hatefully hurled at us and turn it around. James Baldwin wrote, (excuse me for paraphrasing) “The damage is not done when a man is called a nigger. The damage is done when he believes it.” If the speaker says the N-word without intent to insult or injure, does it make difference? Sometimes when one black man says to another, “My nigga!”, the affection and approval is undeniable. I'm just sayin'…