Never ever for the n-word?

maloney We’ve touched on this before on WHYS. And it’s bobbed its head up again today: the so-called  “n-word”.

A US congresswoman has apologised for using it — even though she was just repeating verbatim what someone else had said.  In apologising, Carolyn Maloney says: “I repeated a word that should never be repeated”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Reverend Al Sharpton has bought into the debate, and said: “No public official even in quoting someone else should loosely use such an offensive term.”

Do you agree? Are some words simply off limits? Is there any hypocrisy surrounding the use of this word?

The issue has people in the US talking. Chris commented on one news site: It is a disgusting word and I sure would like for the African Americans in this country to quit using it. Go around any lower working (or non working) class of these people and you’ll get your ears burned with that word and many more! My Dad used to say to clean up your own house before talking about someone else’s house.”

And Ryan responded: Let’s get a grip people. It’s just a word.

On another site, Pam07 comments: there is NEVER, EVER an appropriate place to use the N-Word! It just perpetuates racial bias in our country hopefully will someday be overcome.

While NYHoney718 responded: “The woman was relaying a story so I don’t understand all the controversy. The N-word has gotten too much play, and getting out of hand.”

Just a word? Or a poisonous perpetuator of racial prejedice? Where are the goal posts for use of this word? (WHYS hasn’t even used the word in this blog – was that the right decision?) When it comes to the n-word, is it a case of “never ever”?

37 Responses to “Never ever for the n-word?”

  1. 1 Peter_scliu
    July 21, 2009 at 10:51

    My people have been called many names . We still maintained our self worth . Our colonial masters used to called the errand boys in Southern Indian language as tambis which politely means younger brother or ah nei which means uncle. Any other race using the same term will be called racist.

  2. 2 patti in cape coral
    July 21, 2009 at 13:14

    I don’t see the problem if you are quoting someone else, especially if you have made it obvious it is not a word you use. To me it is an ugly word, but I have often heard African Americans use it amongst themselves, which is puzzling to me.

  3. 3 Ramesh, India
    July 21, 2009 at 14:22

    In that case remove the word from Dictionary. Ridiculous political correctness.

  4. 4 steve
    July 21, 2009 at 14:24

    how can it be off limits if black people use the word constantly themselves? Listen to rap. Listen to conversations on the street. I would think they would need to stop using the word as well, right?

    • 5 Roy, Washington DC
      July 21, 2009 at 15:01

      African-Americans use that word among themselves as a term of endearment. If you or I (as white people) were to use that word in reference to someone, it wouldn’t exactly come across as endearing.

  5. 6 Ramesh, India
    July 21, 2009 at 14:32

    I guess the N-word just haunts the white americans for their past misdeeds. a slang word is just a slang word that nobody uses in civilised conversations. mistakes do happe and no need to show political correctness unless you are a politician and want to fool people around you.

  6. 7 patti in cape coral
    July 21, 2009 at 14:58

    This is going to sound weird, but in latino culture, it is considered a term of endearment to call your wife “negra”, or your husband “negro” even if they are white. It is also considered a term of affection to call your wife or husband “gorda” or “gordo”, which literally means fat in english. In spanish both of these words kind of have the same meaning as honey, or dear. My own mother has called me negra, even though I am white-skinned. It’s just one of those weird things about the connotations of a word. I would never call someone these things in english, because there is a different meaning associated with it altogether. The N-word in english has no positive connotations for me at all, so I wouldn’t use it.

  7. 8 Tom K in Mpls
    July 21, 2009 at 15:12

    It’s the meaning of the word as used that counts. So now you can just call someone a ‘n-word’, same thing. Besides, blacks use it socially all the time from what I see. This is just a case of the most simplistic denial I have ever seen. Ok, I guess the US institutionalization of racism, making part of our laws, is worse. Racism will only die when we no long look for a way to set ourselves apart from others. Personally, I doubt competition will ever die.

  8. 9 Jim Newman
    July 21, 2009 at 15:46

    Hello again
    It wasn’t before I got to Patti’s comment that I realised that the n-word stood for ‘nigger’ at least I think that is what everyone is talking about.
    Nigger is the name nasty people called black slaves. I think that eventually the word will fall into disuse and be dropped from the English language.
    Unfortunately the underlying ideologies that give rise to these nasty concepts are still alive and kicking.

  9. 10 viola
    July 21, 2009 at 15:57

    I guess about the only place it could possibly be acceptable is in a scholarly paper or lecture discussing the use of the word. If you’re expressing indignation at someone’s use of the word, it would get very awkward trying to find an acceptable substitute for the word. After awhile, saying “N word” instead of the N word itself will be just as offensive.

  10. 11 Methusalem
    July 21, 2009 at 16:07

    Whenever my Spanish girlfreind got angry with me, she used to call me “un negro estúpido” “stupid black”. I was never angry of her because of such expression, because I was able to even the score with; “estúpida mujer blanca” “stupid white woman”. A couple of minutes later we were the best of lovers.

  11. 12 Ann in DC
    July 21, 2009 at 16:28

    Since I am an African American woman I feel differently about the word. As someone stated earlier the use of the by blacks is not used in a negative light. I personally do not like to use the word but I can accept the use of the words by some friends and family that will use it in conversation.

    However, the use of the word by someone of a different ethinicity is seem as a dagger. I hate to admit it but when I hear some people use the word it literally stings me.

  12. 13 Jennifer
    July 21, 2009 at 16:30

    What confuses me is that black people say the n word all the time. So, because I am not black; I can’t use the word when referring to them? If it’s offensive they should not be using the word either! But, that said~I have never called a black person a n……..

    • 14 Dennis Junior
      July 21, 2009 at 18:39

      I am in complete agreement the African-Americans used that word; But, when someone uses that HORRIBLE and POISONOUS word then an uproar occurs….

      ~Dennis Junior~

  13. 15 Ann in DC
    July 21, 2009 at 16:33

    The problem that I have about many people with the word is that I know many non-blacks that just want to use the word and they are irritated that blacks can use it at anytime but if they just slip out and say the word they will be seen as a racist.

    People will just have to realize that black/ African Americans will continue to use the word and if someone of a different race uses the word, they will be labeled. I don’t see a problem with the use of the word or labeling people as a racist.

    I can only say that my view of non-blacks who use the term will not change, regardless if they are just reading a quote.

    This guy was reading this quote in high school and he didn’t state any of the indecent terms used for people of other nationalities but he kept using the n-word. He was racist but the fact that he had to keep using the term when no one else would bothered me. However, I would rather know who the racist people are than not know.

  14. 16 Leo in London
    July 21, 2009 at 17:00

    I do realise the majority of people find the word highly offensive, but at the end of the day, isn’t it just a word?

    I’m oriental, and have been called every racist remark (chink, slant, gook, nip, etc. etc. ) under the sun in Australia because people thought it was funny. I just never let it get to me and laughed it off as it just showed their ignorance and insecurity.

    I know that’s just a personal strength that most people might not find that they have, but I’ve often found that when people don’t let “offensive” remarks get to them in the first place the “offender” eventually gives up.

    I obviously won’t know what it’s like to be called the N-word, so I can’t exactly speak from experience as there is a certain history behind the word. However, there are many many words in this world that people find offensive, but then again it’s only offensive if it’s deemed by the recipient of such a remark to be, isn’t it?

    Also, with the generational shift happening, will younger African-Americans who ‘may’ get offended by the n-word—actually be offended?

    P.S. I apologise if i’ve offended anyone.

  15. 17 VictorK
    July 21, 2009 at 17:14

    Yes, just as if a white person called Obama a n*gger and expressed a wish to castrate him that would be beyond the pale racism in the worst tradition of Southern lyncherdom. But when Jesse Jackson said both about Obama (and those of you learning of this for the first time might ask yourself why the incident was hardly reported) it was clearly an expression of ‘affection’. It had to be, since Jackson remains a pillar of the African-American community.

    Double-standards, anyone?

  16. 18 nora
    July 21, 2009 at 18:54

    On Jesse Jackson and language: If you google African-American, you will find that ten years after calling New York “hymietown” and offending a whole lot of Democrats, it was Jesse that is credited with telling the world that you have to use African-,American, not Black, to be correct in your speech.

    None of the irony makes it less disgusting when twisted whites blame everything wrong on people of color. The sickness of cultural hate carries on without the word, but the word helps get their spittle going.

    • 19 Rich
      July 22, 2009 at 02:05

      One of my closest friends has the nick name ‘n’ its something that caught on years ago for some comment he made about something or other as kids cant quite remember what. However it’s not used maliciously and he doesn’t have an issue with it at all and answers to it without a pause similarly I don’t have any issue with answering to pommie bast**d or similar. It’s a nick name used amongst friends sure it has got us some funny looks at times but then that’s other peoples prejudices and issue not ours. It’s a word and that’s all as with many words it’s the intent and inflection used when it is said; as with ‘f’ off mate your kidding or just plain ‘F’ OFF!! Same ‘f’ word, completely different intent. As many coloured folk from black to brown use ‘n’ regularly and it occurs over and over again in music etc then we need to get over the double standards and political correct nonsense! As an aside we are now in our 40’s and our group of friends are a mixture of European, Samoan and Maori and the p#ss take regarding or mixer heritages can be quite amusing.

  17. 20 T
    July 21, 2009 at 20:05

    If you use it in context to try and make a point, that’s one thing.

    Otherwise, is there any excuse for using it? No. There is no “post-racial” America. Obama himself stated that the Great Race Debate lasted for a day after his election. And that was it.

    There never will be a full and truthful discussion of “race” in the States.

  18. 21 T
    July 21, 2009 at 20:07

    There will never be a truthful discussion. Why? Because the MSM could care less about it. It’s only for hype and ratings. Would Al Sharpton be allowed to tell the truth about race on the MSM. If he did, he’d be banned forever from the airwaves.

  19. 22 T
    July 21, 2009 at 20:11

    There are those who keep saying how come black people get to use the N word, but I don’t? How come we can’t have “white power”? The answer? Using the N word among many blacks goes back to the slave days. And, considering that whites still have the power in society, doesn’t “white power” sound slightly silly to you?

  20. 23 Venessa
    July 22, 2009 at 03:24

    Choose to be offended or not, it is a word. I think Leo in London has a good perspective on that.

  21. 24 Venessa
    July 22, 2009 at 03:26

    Since when can words only be used by certain people and that’s acceptable?

  22. 25 deryck/trinidad
    July 22, 2009 at 04:13

    Words have the power to kill, enslave, free, hurt, heal and create life so don’t just believe that the n- word is just another word.

    The idea is that when a white person uses it they are expressing their racism which black people believe that white people have against them. There is some truth and then there is perception and some people’s PERCEPTION IS REALITY.

  23. 26 Dennis Junior
    July 22, 2009 at 06:42

    Re: WHYS Decision not using that word!!!!

    I am very glad that the WHYS Editorial Staff and “staffers” made the inform decision…By not using that word…And, I support the decision.

    ~Dennis Junior~

  24. 27 ardavin lope
    July 22, 2009 at 12:28

    Regarding the spanish language, I would like to point that “Negro” or “negra”
    does translate to english as “black” and it is not considered offensive or racist in any way. There is not a word in spanish that can be translated as “n****r”, so better keep spanish language out of this debate.

  25. 28 patti in cape coral
    July 22, 2009 at 12:55

    @ Ardavin – That is exactly what I was pointing out, that there aren’t any negative connotations to the word “negro” or “negra”, which is what the word “n****r is derived from. Obviously it is not the same. Language, and what words mean to different people is definitely a part of this debate.

  26. 29 Keith
    July 22, 2009 at 19:47

    As long as the word remains taboo, it will keep being used as slang by hateful people, just as the word “gay” will remain slang because people still take offense to it. If the word loses its power it fades from the common vocabulary. (I don’t think it should become mainstream, I’m just saying that’s the way the world is.)

  27. 30 Keith
    July 22, 2009 at 19:47

    @ Ann-
    I also think it’s ignorant to label someone as a racist because they said the word in the context of reading aloud from an assigned text in a classroom. I had to do that once, when we were reading a poem in English class. The entire time I was waiting to read, I was stressed out about whether they would laugh at me for saying “N-word”, or omitting it from the poem, or hate me for saying n*****. If you get mad at a kid for reading a passage as it was written then you are picking on a poor confused kid at school, not a white supremacist.

  28. 31 Ann in DC
    July 23, 2009 at 14:31


    I can completely understand your sentiments. I was in high school, when I was in classes that we had to read passages that included vulgarity and offensve comments. Most people realize thatif you use the term while there are som black people in the class they will get offended and if the person still chooses to use the term, I will label the as I see fit. I did not consider th people in my classes in high school to be a confused kid. I would not label the person a white supremacist but I would probably call them racist. Only because I would not say something in someone’s presence that I know might be offensive. The person that did it in my class was the same person who talked about how the South would have been so much better if slavery had not ended and talked about the end of a great era.

    I may be ignorant and a hypocrit but I would not read something verbatim that included offensive comments and I am not an elected official, so she should have known better. She may say that she is sorry and didn’t mean to say something to offend anyone but most people would have realized that it could be seen as offensive before she said it.

    Also I don’t say the “f” word or “gay” because I know people might get offended. I try to think before I talk, not afterwards.

  29. 32 patti in cape coral
    July 23, 2009 at 15:52

    This is probably unrelated, don’t know if it will make the blog, but this all reminded me of a Star Trek episode where Abraham Lincoln saw Lt. Uhura and said “What a charming negress!” After a beat of silence, he apologized, saying that he didn’t know that would be offensive. Lt. Uhura replied “There is no need to apologize, Mr. President, we have learned not to fear words.” Or something to that effect.

  30. 33 Natasha
    July 23, 2009 at 17:29

    While I come firmly down on the side of ‘words only have the power we give them’ and I will use the word if it comes up in a song (I love rap, what can I say?) or if it is in a piece of text I am reading, I do feel that because it has SUCH a derogatory history it shouldn’t be used in conversation, no matter the colour of the user. I think many young black people try to reclaim it, much in the same way that gay people have reclaimed some of the insulting names used on them. But ultimately, it doesn’t work because it’s still a very divisive word. Creating a situation of ‘we can do this, but you can’t’ is only ever going to prolong the racism – which when you get right down to it is tribalism/pack mentality by another name – that lead to the invention of the word. Richard Pryor realised it. He used the word for years in his stand up (to great effect) but after visiting Africa in 1979 he realised that ‘its a word to describe our own wretchedness” and that it will always carry that connotation no matter how much you try to reclaim it.

    What we need to do is understand that there are no niggers or any of the other probably hundreds of derogatory names we use for others. We are all just folk and if we don’t realise that soon, we’re all doomed.

  31. 34 Reverend LMF McCormack
    July 24, 2009 at 19:04

    You know, it would be a good idea if we all had the correct definition of the word under discussion.

    nigger: a person of little or no account.

    No mention of colour or race. Now that you’ve got the correct definiton, retire for a bit to your neutral corners, adjust your thinking in light of this and then come forth and see what comes of it.

  32. July 25, 2009 at 11:48

    Reverend, that is an interesting point. However, I must inform you that the first three definitions of the word in my dictionary make no mention of your information. The nearest I get to your version is in the fourth definition which refers to it being a “snag”. This word is used in rap of course and it never sounds inspiring. Only black people should be allowed to use this word, if they see fit.

  33. 37 scmehta
    July 28, 2009 at 07:57

    You know what does the word ‘hurt’ mean in passionate and legal terms? Any people having any feelings towards the others’ sentiments and sensitivities will definitely not use such words as could cause hurt.

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