The ‘N word’: More popular than ever

The Washington Post is courageously tackling a word that it can’t even use in its article today — the ‘N word.’ The paper today rolled out a huge series examining the use of the word.

The word cannot be banned, despite some attempts to do so, because it’s more popular than ever.

If anything, in 2014, it is the very notion of banning the n-word that appears dead and fit for burial. It was a long and noble fight, waged largely — but not exclusively — by an older generation for which the word is inseparable from the brutality into which it was born. If there is still a meaningful n-word debate left to have, it is over context, ownership and the degree to which it should be tethered to its awful history — or set free from it.

A word that is used 500,000 times a day on Twitter — as “nigga” is, according to search data on the social media analytics Web site — is almost by definition beyond banning. By comparison, “bro” and “dude” — two of the terms with which the n-word is synonymous to many people younger than 35 — are used 300,000 and 200,000 times, respectively. For many of this generation, the word is tossed around unthinkingly, no more impactful than a comma.

“It’s such a regular part of my vernacular. It’s a word I use every day,” said comedian/actor Tehran Von Ghasri, a 34-year-old D.C. native of African American and Iranian American heritage. “I’m a ‘nigga’ addict.”

The word is expanding, the Post says, because of its acceptance by a generation that is more multicultural than any other — those who came of age in the ’80s and ’90s.

“I’m empathetic to the older generation because they lived it — [but] why are we still attaching ourselves to that word?” said Stallworth, the former NFL wide receiver. “Let it go. I’m not saying let the emotions go or let what happened [in the past] go, but that word – let it go. To me it’s a word of the past. I’m not downplaying the significance of it. But today, in 2014, it’s time for us to let go of the baggage that word comes with and just start looking at ourselves as a different type of people.

“Let evolution happen. Let pop culture take that word away to the ocean, and let anyone use it. . . . That word’s not meant for us anymore. ‘Nigga’ is a part of pop culture. It’s just a word, but it shouldn’t be chained to us, for lack of a better word. It shouldn’t be a part of who we are.”

The problem isn’t the n-word. The problem is racism. But it’s easier to fight a word than a complex, institutionalized system of oppression, the Post says.

In an extraordinary presentation, the Post offers several custom videos based on the readers response to a series of questions.

  • davehoug

    Wouldn’t NOT caring about the N word be the best way to kill the hate that was intended with the word???? When a slur is met with a yawn, that is a more powerful response than a violation of a ban.

    • That’s addressed in the series, which focuses on the generational differences in culture and word use.

  • Robert Moffitt

    I’ve done my best to leave that word back in Indiana, where I first heard it.

  • Gary F

    Why was my comment deleted Bob? If we are to have an honest discussion on racism and the plight of young black males we also need to look at what factors are contributing to this. The blatant double standard of using the N word isn’t helping black youth further themselves in our society.

    • Because there’s a difference between an “honest discussion of race” and “race baiting.” It was a distorting comment to a comprehensive series (which you didn’t read) that looked at why the word is popular now and it includes the question of white people using it. It’s a complicated question that demands more thought than a quick one-sentence spitball from the back of the room.

  • Rich in Duluth

    Words are just symbols for meanings. So, it seems that context is important. If the “N-word” is used as a slur that user should be called out as racist. However, as it is used these days, it seems more ironic or as a description, which should be okay to me.

    But, I’m a boomer who came of age in the 60s in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. The population, at that time, was composed of old south natives and northern “immigrants” who came to the area for all the government jobs. My folks were the latter. They let me know early on that the “N-word” was never acceptable and they told me why. However, I heard it a lot from my friends and I heard it as the slur it was intended to be. It always amazed and angered me how; otherwise, very good people could be so hateful. So, this experience, long ago, leaves me hating the word and wincing every time I hear it.

    • kevinfromminneapolis

      The problem with using it ironically or descriptively is it dilutes the meaning of the word and why it’s wrong.

      This word is all over social media. Just this morning I was typing out a hashtag starting #dl and the first auto-suggest tag was #dln*****. People use it in their @names, their name names and freely in their text. It’s discouraging.