Who can say the N-Word?

By Seth Tamarkin, Contributing Writer

Today, no stone has been left unturned when it comes to having tough conversations about touchy yet neglected topics, such as Colin Kaepernick challenging the country to grapple with police brutality. A week and a half ago, the UMass Dartmouth chapter of the NAACP and the House of Deliberations held an event in which they discussed another of the prevailing tough conversations; who can say the N-word?

The event asked attendees to give their opinions on a series of topics pertaining to who can say the n-word. Moderating the discussion were House of Deliberations President Eric James and UMass Dartmouth chapter of the NAACP Vice-President Shamiah Cheeks, who according to James chose to co-sponsor the event with the HoD because they both were interested in educating people on the word since last semester. Attendees included Black, White, and Asian students alike as they all gave their insights into the topics, as well as the Co-Presidents of the Black Law Student Association, police officer Adam Brightman, and a few other influential voices.

Before the debates began, Shamiah and Eric compared the n-word to an oft-overlooked antonym to the n-word; Negus. “In ancient Ethiopia” Shamiah said, “Negus meant royalty.” Quite the departure from the meaning the n-word has been attributed to Black people in America, which makes their similarities that much more captivating.

 

A few years prior, Kendrick Lamar saw this coincidence too and rapped, “Oprah was right on time / Kendrick Lamar, the realest Negus alive.” By interpolating a common phrase in the rap community but replacing the n-word with Negus, Kendrick shows a possible future where Negus, royalty, replaces the hateful n-word. He mentions Oprah since she, too, is vehemently against anyone saying the n-word.

Which leads right into the topics at hand which asked who, if anyone, should be allowed to use the word. A quick consensus was reached unanimously that White people should not say the word, while decisions on the Latino and Asian community saying it were mixed. Yet while all agreed that White people shouldn’t use the term, the idea’s sustainability was questioned.

One woman bluntly stated that freedom of speech must extend to all people, Black or White, and eventually either everyone must say it or no one. Others contended that Black people reclaimed the word and turned a hateful slur into a meaning of endearment, in the same vein that other groups like gay people did with ‘queer’. Therefore, they’ve earned the right to use the term.

 

James said that the topic of reclaiming specifically “really garnered the attention of everyone in the room.” David Gomes, Deputy Director and Senior Investigator of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as co-advisor to the UMD chapter of NAACP, made a pointed argument about reclaiming.

“You never hear Jews saying the ‘k-word’ to each other. They have banished the word from their collective consciousness. When Michael Jackson said the word in his song They Don’t Care About Us, Jewish groups not only had him remove the word from the single version but even the master. That, is true power and a great example of reclaiming” Gomes spoke.

The idea of reclaiming the word by dismissing it is compelling, and seemingly approved on by Kendrick Lamar and Oprah Winfrey, although Lamar still frequently uses the n-word in his music, which shows just how pervasive the term has become. Similarly, many attendees acknowledged Gomes’ assertion but also confirmed that they used the word too often to suddenly stop.

 

Another interesting anecdote came from a sophomore named Amanda discussing how people in her home country of Ghana never use the n-word. As a matter of fact, no one in the African diaspora uses the word except for African Americans, adding more confusion on who can say it or why they would even want to.

No matter how sensitive the topic, everyone was cordial when speaking their points and there was an air of amiability that emanated throughout the room which is essential when discussing controversial topics. Even as the event wrapped up, everyone seemed eager to continue the conversation, something the NAACP and HoD hoped for.

“I think it left a good number of things unresolved but that’s fine because the part two is right around the corner,” James said. HoD is holding their semester finale on the twenty-fourth, and the n-word discussion with the NAACP will conclude on the 26 while the NAACP meets every Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

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