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C’mon My N… (Is It Ever OK To Use That Word?)

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Nonie B.
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I’ve been on both sides of the “n” word debate.

And after watching CNN’s “The N Word” last night, I’m still conflicted.

I feel empowered at times, but I’m ashamed at others; so I only use it around my brothers and sisters.

Is the use of the word right?

I will never feel it’s right. But I do feel that it’s OK.

Jay-Z may have said it best when he told Oprah:

“It’s just become part of the way we communicate. My generation hasn’t had the same experience with that word that generations of people before us had. We weren’t so close to the pain. So in our way, we disarmed the word. We took the fire pin out of the grenade.”

Then I hear Don Lemon saying in the CNN series:

“If you’re using the N-word aren’t your just playing into what Massa wanted?”

That burned deep because I do understand the history and how so many black people are still enslaved mentally.

The conflict really boils down to my honest feeling that the “n” word with “-er” at the end and the “n” word with “-a” at the end are two very different words with two very different meanings. And depending on the context in which you use either one, you could be putting yourself in danger.

Let’s take Paula Deen for instance. The conversation about her using it takes me back to the 8th grade. I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I responded, “Whatever I do I just need to make enough money to get these Vietnamese out my beauty supply store and nail shops. I want the Arabs out my gas stations and corner stores, and I want these white folk gone too. They’re not contributing to my community. They’re just taking so I want them out.”

The class was upset. I know it sounded hateful, but in my mind I was just pro-Black. I was being raised by my grandparents and my grandfather was a part of the Black Panther party in his youth. So what I said stemmed from what I was taught.

So I forgave Paula because she’s from a different time. That may have been what she was taught.

Plus we know that we have changed the word and use it as a term of endearment. And yet we’re very much aware that racism still exists and not everyone is friendly with us.

So as I search my mind for higher ground instead of this contradictory middle ground I’m stuck on, I think about the first time I used the word. I was in 4th grade and I was just singing along to a rap song. My grandmother heard me say the “n” word and was so hurt.

She said: “That word is not allowed in my house. I better not ever hear you say that again. You need to grab a dictionary and look up that word.”

I was spelling it with an “-a” at the end. so I was confused when I found it with the “-er.”

It had three definitions, and the first one said “a person of ignorance, easy to be controlled, like a robot.”

So I went back and told my grandma, “so basically, anybody can be a ['n' word]? So there’s white ['n' words], Chinese ['n' words], Mexican ['n' words] and all?”

She got quiet, and all she could say was, “I guess you’re right.”

So now at 24, I use the “n” word as inflammatory language towards an ignorant person with no regard for gender or race. Anybody can be a “n” word, with an “-er” at the end; but not everybody can be or even use the “n” word with an “-a” at the end.

And again, while I don’t feel like I’m right, I feel like it’s OK.

- Nonie B, CBS Local

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