Is Using the N-word Really Confusing for White People?

Today, I sat and listened to the entire Dr. Laura n-word rant. And all I can say is ‘wow’… I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite so distressing. Now, I have a rather tough skin. Many times when it comes to race relations, I fall a little more on the other side of the track. I try to look at things from both points of view… and many black people only see things from their vantage points. But Dr. Laura left very little room for interpretation. I believe that anybody who listens to her 6-minute rant to “Jade” would find their hearts sinking a time or two. The call is rather hard to listen to and I found myself hoping that it would take a turn for the better and Dr. Laura would say something like, “April fools!” But the call just went on and on and Dr. Laura just went deeper and deeper!

Having said that, I would like to acknowledge something that Dr. Laura said that struck a chord with me. After the black female caller asked her if it was ok for her white husband’s friends to use the n-word, Dr. Laura said: “Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is nigger, nigger, nigger. I don’t get it… If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.”

Now, aside from the contempt in her voice when she said ‘black’, (she didn’t just say black, she said ba-lack’) Dr. Laura said that it is confusing when we (black people) use the n-word but it is offensive when another race uses it. The reason that made my ears perk up was because that is not the first time I’ve heard someone white say that. One of my best girlfriends is white. We are very close… so close that I’ve spent the night at her house, and she’s spent the night with me. Before we depart company, she kisses me goodbye every single time… and not on the cheeks. She has to kiss me on the lips. Every time we speak, she says , “I love you’ before she gets off the phone. And she doesn’t go through this routine with only me, she does the same thing with my mother; and my aunt; and my friends. That is just who she is. So, if there is one person in the world, black or white, who I’d say doesn’t have a single racist bone in their body, it is her. So when she tells me that it is confusing when we use the n-word is, then I have to believe it.

I, like most black people, use the n-word when I’m in like company, to make a point. Sometimes it’s with affection; other times; I want to show my disdain. One day, I used the word around my white friend. I mean, she’s a home girl, right? She said, “Please don’t do that; it’s very confusing.” I tried to play the conversation off, but she simply said, “It’s not a nice word, and it confuses me.” And from that point, I’ve never used that word around her again.

Note that I said I’ve never used it around her… I still use it and I don’t foresee myself not using it. I clearly understand when to use it and when not to. But when I choose to use it, I recognize that I am contributing to the confusion of a lot of people.

Many people, including Larry King, acknowledged that people, especially comedians, within their own group often make fun of each other. Blacks make fun or black; gays make fun of gays; Hispanics make fun of Hispanics. That’s completely understandable. But my girlfriend helped me to see that not everyone understands when it is appropriate and when it is not. Do I think Dr. Laura knew what she was doing… of course she did. You can tell that she was full of herself. She spoke with confidence and determination. But, as it stands, she crossed the line and will not renew her contract at the end of the year. And to that I say, “Good riddance”. But I also think her call can be a lesson to many.

If you choose to continue to use the word, in like company or mixed, you may hear it coming back at you in a manner that you don’t like… and from a source you don’t like.

To listen to the full audio, log on to: http://mediamatters.org/blog/201008120045