The N-Word, Bill Maher and Us

Immediate and full disclosure: I’m confused about how I feel about the “N-Word.”  My feelings weren’t conflicted when I was ten years old and beat hazel-eyed Thomas’ ass at the small park located across the street from my house for using it; nor were they confused when I made the school principal want to buy a one-way ticket to hell when she didn’t handle well another student calling my child a “Nigger” when he was in fourth grade.  No, I was clear then about the viciousness of the word.

But when I get into conversations—one of those dope conversations when you are lounging around a table, in a backyard, or strewn across a large family room floor with your closest peeps and solving the world’s problems—I’m not real clear on my point of view about the use of the word.

This absence of a strong opinion about certain subjects in the Black community is somewhat janky.  Salt or sugar on grits? (salt).  Was O.J. guilty or innocent? (guilty).  Should we abolish the “N-Word”?  I’m not sure.  I don’t have a strong opinion; though I do have several thoughts on the subject:

Membership Has Privileges

If you aren’t Black, you can’t use the N-word or any version of it.  Period.  I’m unsure if we should be using it amongst ourselves; but I am sure that if anyone can use it, only we can.  When a person in the “club” uses a word, you are 100% sure that the intention is innocent.  For instance, some women who call each other “bitch,” would lose their damn minds if a man were to do the same.

White People Know They Can’t Say It

White folks know that they shouldn’t say the N-word, just as much as they know and we know not to use other epithets.  How many people do you hear calling Latinos, Jews, etc. a bigoted term?  I promise you not as frequently as you hear of others using the N-Word.  I don’t ever buy the “I didn’t mean to offend,” or “I didn’t know what I was saying” bull-crap.  When White people say that word to or about a Black person, their intention is to offend and injure.

Some White People Think They are So “IN” That They are Allowed to Say It

I believe that Bill Maher did not mean to offend or injure.  I believe that he is a foul-mouthed comedian, who says what he thinks without a filter.  I think that his years of advocating for Black people, having Black friends, and sleeping with Black women made him feel as if he was IN.  He’s not.  One never can be.  I can talk about my kid’s big head . . . you can’t. Note to White People: You may have had several Black friends who have been cool with you saying the N-Word. You will come across 1 who ain’t cool with it.

It’s Our Fault – Kinda

Black folks are not only resilient, we are ingenious, resourceful and innovative.  If you throw a stick at us, we will build a fire.  During slavery, we were rationed the worst part of every animal — White folk’s leftovers; but, we made chitlins, pig feet, pork rinds, chicken livers, and ox tail soup.  We were left with the toughest, least desirable vegetables and we made collard greens, okra and turnip greens.  We were only given cornmeal, so we made cornbread and corncakes.  These items are now gourmet cuisine across the world.  Similarly, White people tagged us with the word, “Nigger”, to break us down, and we now use it to build each other up.  It’s often used as a phrase of endearment.  We made something so cruel . . . cool — so cool in fact that White, Latino, and Asian kids now call each other Nigga.  Think about that for a minute: we use the weapons formed to tear us apart to pull ourselves closer.  We take something that’s so horrible and handle it in such a way that others want it, want to be a part of it.  That’s incredible when you think about it.  That’s power.

That’s what the rappers said they wanted to do—take the power away from the word and give it back to the people.  Did this effort come back to bite us in the butts though?

We Do Need to Stop Giving the Word So Much Power 

Bill Maher screwed up.  No doubt.  I don’t think that we need to put so much effort into getting him fired, however.  What are the diversity numbers at HBO?  How many Black actors, executives, and writers do they employ?  Do the employees work in an inclusive environment where they have equal advancement opportunities?  We need to focus our efforts on issues that greatly affect our community.  It’s easy to go on a tweeting tirade when we are offended; but rarely does it do anything.  All people remember is that we are angry.  I’d rather have them start thinking that we are impactful—that our anger matters because we will act strategically, collectively, and decisively with  purpose.




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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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