No Excuse for Using the N-word

Alondra Contreras

Dear white people, on January 20, 2018 I decided to attend a party to celebrate the first week of my last semester at an off-campus house. Like any Whitman party, there is random trap music playing, beer pong on a broken table and intoxicated bare-footed white people having the time of their lives. I’m walking through the hallway and I hear one female sounding voice sing along a song with the N-word. I was furious and confronted her to never say that word again. Her facial expression registered shock that I called her out. Apparently white people still do not know why they cannot say the N-word and instead wish to  get away with it, a lot. To keep women of color like me safe, I enter spaces with a checklist. I have to check if people attending these parties: have not sexually assaulted someone, are not openly Republican or are not annoying white feminists. But after January 20, I added an overlooked qualification to my list, racist people.

Let me break it down for you. You can’t say the N-word, even in songs. Whether or not a black person says it is OK, you, as a white person, emphasize and regurgitate the violence and trauma that was perpetuated through centuries of slavery in the act of saying the word. When that word exits your lips, it establishes the power dynamics of whiteness and white supremacy and even more so, as you continue to ignore historical context.

In other words, you may not have owned black slaves, your family may have immigrated to the United States after the abolishment of slavery, or your parents may even have marched with Dr. King, but you can’t expect every person to know your family history (or want to know your family history). Therefore, even though you mean it in a way that means friend or as an arbitrary lyric in a song, you need to acknowledge the power your white body has in the racialized landscape of the United States.

Being restricted from using a word must be hard to understand, especially when white privilege has given you better and favored access to almost everything (e.g. health access, jobs, education, wealth, positive stereotypes). It will take time to unlearn the blindness that comes with the privileges you have been granted. That means you need to be more consciousnesses about the actions and words you employ.

If you are still having trouble with this concept read this book before you ask your token black friend for their opinion: “The New Jim Crow,” “The Alchemy of Race and Rights,” “Citizen” and “Racial Formation in the United States.” At the end of the day, you can say whatever you want but just know there might be consequences.