Why White People Can't Say the N-Word
And Why Your Fried Chicken Joke Will Never Be Funny
So, I know that you have Black friends who let you say the N-word. I know you are saying it with an "-a" and not an "-er". And I know you can rattle off a list of Black "besties" you have, BUT it will never be OK for you to say the N-word. And your Black friends who have told you it was fine for you, because you are the exception, have done you a huge disservice. I know it can be confusing to some, there may seem to be mixed messages, but you just can't do it. Here are some points that will bring some clarity:
1) The Privileged Have Trouble Understanding Limits - As white people, we have enjoyed free reign of, well, pretty much the whole world, but especially in the United States for the past 400+ years. When we are given boundaries or told there are places we cannot go or things we cannot do, we immediately resist. "Well, Why Can't I?"
To be honest, it is perplexing that we have to have this conversation. When Black people say, "Hey, white people, don't say the N-word", we could have been like "Ok, cool." But we didn't and we aren't cool with it. That, in and of itself, needs some analysis. Why is our knee-jerk reaction to resist complying with non-white suggestions? I live in the South, and often wonder why do we still want to proudly wave our Confederate flags, wear our Confederate flag belt buckles and don our over-sized F-350 King Ranch Edition trucks with Confederate flag bumper stickers... when an entire demographic of people are saying, "Hey, that is hurtful and offensive."?
I think the truth of the matter is that somewhere in our white subconscious, non-whites are still viewed as inferior. To many whites it is like the janitor just told you to do something and not the boss. That is sad. Sickening even. But it is something we need to think long and hard about.
Remember, whether you want to admit it or not, as a white person, you enjoy certain privileges that a non-white will never know... at least not in our lifetime. Our names are more "job friendly". Our hair is "better-suited" for Corporate America. "Talking White" is the professional way to speak. Department Store employees do not think you will steal from the store. Police officers do not assume you are "up to something". All of these things and more, coupled with hundreds of years of a head start, make up what we know as "White Privilege".
I know you have worked hard, I know your father and your grandfather poured sweat and blood into this land... I get it, mine did, too. But it still happened after this system was already in place. It still happened after Enslaved Africans were forced to build this White Nation on their Black backs. And, you, my friend, still benefit from that.
There is nothing we can do to shed your privilege, so at least acknowledge and understand it - and try to find a way to wield it for good. But, please, do not let it blind you to the fact that non-whites have every right to place a restriction on you as a white person when it comes to referencing them. That is their prerogative - and we should listen and support it.
2) I know what you're thinking, "But-But, 'they' say it all the time!" - And??? That's them. Not you. You have to understand the history of the word in question and the history of the relationship between the various races. This word was literally invented by white people as a pejorative for Black people. It as created to be offensive. And it was employed during the 600 year period where Black people were being sold like cattle, beaten, raped and treated as mere animals. (And, if you say, "Some slave owners were good to..." so help me! - just don't go there.) After the emancipation of the Enslaved Africans, then Black people were subjected to Jim Crow, and even today mass incarceration, gentrification and the like are still employed as a means to keep intact the existing power structures. Yes, you have privilege. But this is one privilege you have lost.
3) We don't get an opinion in every arena - I know this is hard for us to imagine, because we are so very smart. But we literally are not entitled to have an opinion on this matter... and a great deal many other racial issues. As the privileged to the under-privileged, the oppressor to the oppressed... we just don't get to dictate to Black people what offends them and what doesn't, what is acceptable and what is not. It is kinda like the rapist going to the rape victim's therapy sessions and telling them how to heal from the inflicted trauma. It's just not cool. So, let's stop.
We have to understand that our history has affected the way we relate to each other. We seem to understand this in every instance, except when it comes to race. The video below gives a perfect example. If I am out for dinner with my boo and he puts his arm around me and calls me "Baby"- that is perfectly fine. Why? Because we have that relationship. But if some stranger walked up, and did the same thing to me, it would not be OK. (Unless he looked like Idris Elba, but I digress...) It is not OK, because we do not have that kind of relationship.
So, what CAN we do? Listen. Think. Listen some more. Read some good books. Talk less. Debate even less. When you get a better understanding you will see why you can't say certain things and why no matter how funny you think that perfectly-timed fried chicken joke may be, it is just not... Our history affects our present and our the level of sensitivity used today will affect our tomorrow. Watch the video below if you have a couple of minutes. I hope this helps.