There. Look at it. Properly look at it. Not “the N-word”. Not “racial slur”. Not “racist language”.
Look at it. Really look at that word. Really take it in. Have it pinball around your head a few times. Really wrap your mind around it. A word that is a permanent reminder that we live in a world where some people are viewed as subhuman, and deserving of fewer rights based on the colour of their skin.
When I was 19 I was at a university house party. Biggie Smalls was playing over the speakers. ‘Juicy’. Classic. I was singing along with someone.”If you don’t know, now you know...”
I sing “baby...”
They, very much, do not.
Cue horrified faces. “I was just singing along.”
“It just came out.”
“I’m nothing like that.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“I’m so sorry. I would never mean to do something like that.”
It always happens this way. Someone makes [what I legally have to describe as a ‘racial gaffe’], and we get some umming and ahhing about intention; mutterings of “let’s not overreact” – and the bag is left with the black person to deal with the clusterfuck of callousness.
The film Get Out is fantastic at highlighting this – it shows you the obvious microaggressions that “good white people” find horrifying and laughable and cringe-worthy, while also pointedly directing your attention towards the ever so slight head movements actor Daniel Kaluuya makes when he hears them.
For every “I love Tiger Woods” there’s a raised eyebrow. For every “I caught a tan and I’m like you now”, there’s an invisible exhale. For every “wasn’t Obama wonderful!”, a slight widening of the eyes. A concerned nod. Pursed lips. A pained laugh. An internal: “I’m just trying to go about my day, please stop bringing this racist shit to my door.”
I'm tired of having to explain the N-word. I’m so tired of having to explain this that it almost feels irrelevant to tell you why I’m writing this today.
Because I know six months down the line, yet another person who really shouldn’t is going to use that word, and I can simply point to this piece. (And if you want to know more, it is definitely worth taking a look at Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking (To White People) About Race)
I’m deliberately leaving details blank, so you can have a nice, non-time-specific reference point the next time someone thinks it acceptable to use the worst word in the English language.
So when we end up doing this all over again, instead of you bothering the black people in your life with your protestations, hollerations, and misunderstandings, you can come back and read these words.
If you are not black, you are distinctly unqualified to understand the use, meaning, context and impact of that word.
If you are not black, you do not understand the depth and meaning of hurt to that word.
If you are not black, I do not want to hear how much you are not racist when that word is spoken.
If you are not black, you never have a good enough reason to use that word.
You are not just making a joke.
You are not just quoting a song. (This is the point where I humbly suggest the words 'homie', 'baby' and 'people' work out the same phonetically when you're rapping along to songs)
You are not from a “different time”.
You can be six, 16 or 65 – if you are alive, then this is your time.
You are not playing Devil’s Advocate. If Satan exists, he doesn’t need you to do his work for free.
If you use that word, you are bringing up a millennia of racial brutality. Kindly stop that.
And no, having a black friend does not give you a pass.
Nor does a Dr. Dre song.
Or a Kanye West one.
Or a Quentin Tarantino film.
Or a black partner.
Or a variant spelling.
Or a Chris Rock segment. You know, the one he has gone on record saying he regrets doing.
Or a black person who responds to news like this with a, “Well *I* don’t find it offensive.”
If your kneejerk response to racial language is to do a “yeah, but...” then you need to take 30 seconds and ask yourself why you’re doing that.
Why the accusation of being called “racist”, shocks and angers you more than actual racist language.
Why you don’t understand – that as a non-black person – you dictating what is and isn’t racist to a black person is in and itself a racist act.
Why you think you can “logically break down” racism, when the belief that some people deserve more based on the colour of their skin is, at its very core an illogical position.
Why you think the ugliest word in the English language is some sort of funfair item, where maybe, just maybe, if you collect enough race relation tickets and exploit enough carnival loopholes you can win the magical prize of using it.
It’s not a prize. It’s hurt.
Ask yourself why you want a weapon of hurt.
And stop blacking up for fancy dress. For fuck’s sake.