I want to start off with a disclaimer. I know that this is a touchy subject, and I will try my best to not overstep any bounds. I’m specifically calling out the South Asian community; to anyone with a right to the word and a right to reclaim the slur (ie, the Black community), it is obviously not my place to tell you otherwise. That said, please do call me out if I cross lines.
Technically, I didn’t need to say that. I mean, we live in a free country; we all have freedom of speech, right? We can say whatever we want with no consequences, right? Not entirely. For some reason, people seem to equate the two, and it’s simply not true. Believe it or not, just because the government can’t put you in jail for expressing your “opinion,” doesn’t mean you’re not capable of being wrong.
Words have power. Some words have more power than others. Some words carry hundreds of years of oppression in the spaces between their letters, and tongues become whips drawing blood when they are uttered.
It’s pretty much universally accepted that White people aren’t allowed to say the n-word. Anyone who disagrees with that is undeniably racist and therefore probably irrelevant, because to disagree is to deny the fact that white people have oppressed people of colour for centuries.
But guess what? Non-black people of colour can’t say it either! All too often, I hear people in the South Asian community use the n-word. Usually casually, but I’ve heard it used degradingly as well. It’s like People of Colour believe they get a free pass from being racist. They don’t. Contrary to popular belief, words can belong to groups of people, and the n-word does not belong to us, nor is it our word to say. Regardless of whether you say it with the suffix “-er” or the suffix “-a”, it is still harmful, wrong, and not your right.
The history of the word goes back to the time of slavery and pre-civil rights. A time when the word was used with hatred, disgust, and condescension against the Black community. The history behind this word is that of degradation and abuse, as it was used alongside enslavement, whippings, and murders. These victims did not do anything wrong, they were simply born into (actually, ripped out of their homes and dragged into, but I digress) a land where their skin colour made their mere existence inherently wrong. Their dark skin colour, was the reason they were enslaved, whipped, and murdered, among other things. The n-word may denote dark-skinned, but it inherently connotes inferiority.
To quote a section from N*gger and Caricatures by Dr. David Pilgrim and Dr. Phillip Middleton:
Historically, [the n-word] defined, limited, and mocked African Americans. It was a term of exclusion, a verbal justification for discrimination. Whether used as a noun, verb, or adjective, it reinforced the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless parasite. No other American ethnophaulism carried so much purposeful venom.
The n-word carries all that behind it. As South Asians, it is simply not our word to reclaim, nor use in any form. And if you do use it…well, I can’t fathom why you would want to, and still want to.
Truth is, police brutality against Black individuals is more or less a modern form of lynching. I don’t want to get into this topic too much in this post, but I will say that, in an age where a black man is shot by the police in America every 28 hours, including innocent 12 year old boys, while white serial killers and mass murderers are apprehended without a scratch, I don’t think we’re allowed to claim that racism is no longer a problem in our society. The n-word is still used degradingly all over North America, and every person who is not Black chooses to say it, be it casually or venomously, is a part of the problem.
I know some people are going to brush over this entire post and continue to say it anyway. That is nothing but a sign of privilege, insensitivity, and entitlement. Why must you, Brown boys and girls (and other non-Black People of Colour) continue to use this word? Why do you feel entitled to it? I don’t understand why anyone would want to use a word with a history like that. I don’t understand why people can’t remove one word from their vocabulary when they have the rest of the English language (and then some) at their disposal.
Don’t use it casually. Don’t use it when “no one Black is around.” Don’t use it because it was in a song. Especially don’t use it because “you’re Brown and it’s only wrong if a White person uses it.” You’re not Black, don’t say it. Period. No exceptions.
It doesn’t matter if your Black friend “gave you permission.” It is offensive, period. It doesn’t matter if YOU don’t find it offensive, because you have absolutely zero cultural history with the word.
And seriously. Why do you want to use it? Why is it so important for you to use this word? This word carries far more blood and bloodshed than you do in your body. Why is it so difficult for you to stop, and must you be so disrespectful to those who ask you to stop by continuing to say it?
It’s a slur. It has a history of oppression. It is still used to oppress even today. It’s not edgy to say it, you don’t sound “cool,” you sound like an insensitive, socially unaware, racist jerk. Stop saying it. One word, take it out of your vocabulary. Out of respect, out of empathy, out of shame, whatever your reason may be. Just choose to stop using it. That’s all there is to it.
(Of course, you may be of any race and still disagree with me, but multitudes of Black people still feel it is oppressive and wrong, as they have every right to, and deserve respect, especially after everything that they have been and continue to go through.)
PS: On a final note, if you’re one of the people who uses the word, please stop. If you’re not, and you don’t actively call out members of your community for doing so, please start.