In the wake of Gwyneth Paltrow’s much talked about tweet, a couple of writers have echoed what I said back in January: As a community, we can’t stay silent when our artists–particularly those in music–use the N-word gratuitously, in the name of “keepin’ it real” and because they’re too lazy to say what they really mean, but then get bent out of shape when non-black people start using it, too.  If we put it out to a global audience–which we have–then let’s not be surprised when everyone else wants to use it, especially when they’re trying to get their swag on.

Over on, Janell Hazelwood writes:

Some of us are mad at Paltrow, but the person to blame is right in the mirror. The culprit behind the bru-ha-ha is our constant affirmation of the N-word’s use in our everyday lives, our daily habits and our consumption of popular media that uses the word as casually as a “Hi” or “Bye.”

Further, she states:

Many of my favorite hip-hop and R&B hits include multiple use of the word (as well as the B-word). In supporting these things, which have international reach, we let the world know that it’s okay for them to embrace the use of the N-word— no matter what their race or ethnicity is.

On, Damon Young writes:

As a black person who occasionally uses the word and frequently listens to music incorporating it, I realize that my activity has progressively weakened any moral high ground I’d have about the use of “nigger” or “nigga,” and I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I won’t say that our feelings have “evolved” — evolution implies a change both organic and positive, and I’m not so sure that the gradual cultural softening of “nigger” is a good thing — but every time it is used in popular songs written by the president’s favorite rappers or freely incorporated by someone speaking in front of an audience that’s not all black, a piece of the shield of self-righteous outrage surrounding the word chips off.

Like I said, until we have a massive internal conversation and make some different decisions, we have no right to be outraged. Period.




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Rob Fields is the founder and publisher of Bold As Love Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @robfields.

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  • Fair enough. But not every black person uses that word, is under 30 or listens to (c)rap music. So just because some ignorant black people use that word with abandon doesn’t give whites the “right” to use that word any more than the spate of women trying to reclaim “slut” as a positive word gives me the right to start throwing around that word against women. I am questioning the principle of “we” here as if all black people bear collective responsibility.

  • Kwebb

    I never bought the argument that using the word as a term of endearment = reclaiming it and robs it of its power to hurt. The fact that the same people who use it can still be offended when a non-black person uses it proves that alleged attempts to recontextualize it have not robbed it of its negative power. Further, the same people who use it as a term of endearment also continue to invoke it in anger or to demean, diminish, or threaten other black folks (i.e., “n****, please,” “n****, what?,” “we gon’ get these n****s!,” “f them n****s!,” etc.). However, I’ve begun to think that maybe the mass marketing of the word by (mostly) young black men may ultimately result in the recontextualization of the word after all. Since it seems that many of us – including some of our most prominent “cultural ambassadors” – cannot or will not stop gratuitously using the word and eagerly selling it to the world, maybe the rest of us will come to the conclusion that the n**** genie is out of the bottle and our outrage is futile, or we just become numb to it. Another victory in the struggle! The ancestors would be proud!