The N-Word Isn't the Problem. America Is.
Anaya Rodgers ‘20
As black people, we are constantly met with checks on our freedom, traveling through a crossroads of being property, and seeking ownership of both the self and otherwise. Historically, we’ve had to ask for basic humanity, equality, and liberty of both our actions and our speech. This pattern of asking for permission to live freely is one that has existed since the creation of race in the seventeenth century. The foundation of race introduced white supremacy, something that effectively ruined race relations. As we all know, feelings of white supremacy led to the bondage of black people for hundreds of years. During this era of slavery, the word n****r was used to create a psychological and physical barrier between black and white people. Unfortunately, this word makes appearances in current times as well; I am a victim of this violence. Over time, n****r became Negro, Negro became colored, and, in the 1970s, African-American made its first appearance. These transitions, however, have not been seamless. The recognition of how we are identified by others and the identity we create for ourselves presents a unique double consciousness (W.E.B. Dubois) of the self. The necessity to be aware of perception and reality simultaneously is a feat with which we have been tasked, sometimes for survival, and the Close is no exception.
I am a bridge person (Carolyn Forché) between my identities at home and at school, a trait termed “code-switching,” and I know I am not alone in this. The question here becomes, Why do I feel the need to mask either of my identities? For two reasons: either I would be ostracized from the community for my apparent otherness, or my otherness would become the focal point of my personality and I would become an entertainer like a joker amidst royalty, my vernacular becoming comedy. At PWIs like NCS and STA, the n-word manifests in a very similar way. Depending on the use, frequency, and culture surrounding the word, the user and the community will react a certain way. In this sense, the n-word is a microcosm of the troublesome, unspoken, and awkward relations between black and white people. In my opinion and evidently, the use of the n-word by black people is not the scapegoat of the tension between the races, and the notion that it is is factually false yet historically accurate. The expectation that blacks should eliminate this word, one that has been reclaimed by the community to be a term of familiarity and endearment, is another limit on our freedom of speech. Black people are not responsible for the comfort of others, especially considering our American experience has only been uncomfortable, though this is the role we have been forced into.
In conclusion, each black American has the right to choose whether or not to exercise this word in their vocabulary, in white or racially diverse or black spaces. And any person educated on the history of the word or the racism blacks face has the responsibility to respect the reality of black Americans. Again, the Close, a community of highly educated students, is no exception. Obviously, this word may be weird to hear, but this simply represents that race continues to be a weird, tense, and awkward subject that no one wants to discuss, but at some point must be acknowledged. And until then, the presence of the n-word is merely a grain of salt compared to the mountain of unrepaired history.