One thing that isn't refutable. That word today when used is bound to produce an emotional response. Also, over time, it has developed widespread international usage. So, the question here today is who has the right to use the word?
The debate rages. Some Africans feel that the word is ok when used in social interactions between Africans. Some of us even assert that the word has no power at all. That its basically no different than any other word. The folks in this camp even argue that by using the word, as much as possible, we can even diminish and eliminate the hurtful and historical impacts of the word. The other side of the argument these people promote is that anyone not African cannot use the word and that by using it, they instantly and automatically are insulting African people.
Its an emotional word and therefore the arguments are going to be heavily fueled by emotion. That makes it difficult, but not impossible, to attempt to make a plausible argument for who should be able to use the n word. That's what we will attempt to do here. And, we will make our attempt using as much empirical and material evidence as possible in as clear and concise terms as we can muster.
To do so, we must make a distinction among those who are talking about the word as well as those who the word has historically been directed at. Whether the reference is negative or positive, that would be African people. Within the worldwide African community, there are Africans who have experienced the word as a tool used to dehumanize and degrade African people, usually with the threat and/or perpetuation of serious violence against us. These Africans find it impossible to compromise with the usage of this word on any level. Then, you have Africans who haven't experienced the word in anyway besides verbal communication, usually between African people, whether in person or through popular culture e.g. rap music, etc. These are the people who argue its just a word. And, as a side note this latter group of Africans usually have no direct experience with personal racist treatment. Not saying they don't know that racism exists. These people can detect the institutional racism in their lives, like being randomly pulled over for no reason when the cop who pulls you over doesn't exhibit any insulting behavior besides asking you where you are going when no crime is suspected of being committed. I'm saying that this group of Africans don't have those experiences where they have been assaulted for being African with the n word being used in that experience against them.
For context, let's re-state that white supremacy is a concept of history that is designed to discredit and wipe out the contributions brown people have and are making to contribute to the world's advancement. The purpose of this concept has always been to justify brown people being exploited and discriminated against. For example, as is stated often in this blog, this entire capitalist economy was born from seed money produced from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And, this economy today is maintained based on the systems of slavery and colonialism that were initially set up 500+ years ago. The architects of this oppressive empire knew that they needed a story to justify their plundering so they came up with manifest destiny e.g. the need to "civilize the primitive natives" and all the resulting systems that institutionalized their civilizing process like the Monroe Doctrine, the colonial terms in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, including the colonial education systems. The institutional racist doctrines of the Christian religion(s). The International Monetary Fund. The World Bank. The African Military Command. On and on. Fast forward 500+ years later and everyone is convinced that Europeans are the framers of civilization everywhere and that the rest of us have basically been along for the ride. Within this context, it would difficult to argue that the n word in its development and institutionalization was a term of endearment. It was without question used as a tool to dehumanize us by separating us from Africa. Our great scholars and activists and organizers against and around the psychology of oppression, like Franz Fanon, Bell Hooks, Angela Davis, Carter G. Woodson, Steve Biko, Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Marcus and Amy Garvey, Sekou Ture, etc., have all effectively argued that the only to control an entire people is to destroy their spirit and the best way to do that is to diminish their connection to their culture. The disconnection to the culture is critical because as Ture teaches us, culture is the method in which any people define their history and their legacy. Without it, a people cannot assert and impose their will on society. So, by convincing a people that they possess no culture, you effectively teach them that they have no essence. Consequently, it becomes easy at this point to tell them whatever you want to tell them and for them to believe it.
With African culture diminished from the conscious mind of African people, when the colonizer/slave master told us we were "worthless n _ _ _ _ rs" we had no choice except to believe it on some level, whether we wanted to or not because we were not armed with anything to combat this backward thinking. And thus, over the generations, the institutionalization of our internalized oppression was passed on. We believe ourselves to be inferior and others believe that as well. If this were not true, how would we be talking about something called "anti-Blackness?" The conversion is complete. We believe ourselves to be "dawgs" not prisonors of war against the capitalist system. Within this context, it becomes easy to convince us that the tools of our oppressors can somehow be transferred to mean something other than what the oppressor intended because basically, all we have to work with is what the oppressor has given us. So, although the n word has been used to trample on our human dignity, within this dysfunctional and oppression paradigm, some of us have unwittingly convinced ourselves that we can still pull some positive out of this. Or, at least, we can use it without any harm being done. Well, I've got news for you. The harm has already been done so when we use the word, we are simply reinforcing what has already been institutionalized. If you don't believe that, my ask is how you reconcile our use of the n word and the conditions of our people? I can show you countless ways the usage has helped oppress our people where I challenge to show me one way it hasn't.
Of course, we still remember Kwame Ture's words that we cannot analyze anything happening to our people without including the enemy - the capitalist system. It is this system that has been the driver of this dehumanization process. It is this system that has used the n word for decades as a profit tool. The n word was used in the 1920s to sell products from lotion to hair grease to agricultural products. Today that medium is the entertainment industry. What's consistent for all periods over the last 100 years is that all of these products, from the hair grease to the rap records, have caricatured African people and no one can argue with the negative effects this has caused within us. Growing up in an African community, I remember recognizing as a young child that when Africans had a verbal altercation, which often turned physical, the n word was always used. And it wasn't from a standpoint of being about endearment. It was used specifically as a tool to diminish the humanity of the other person it was directed against. The institutional purpose of the word in the first place. "F _ _ k you! n _ _ _ r!" No one with any knowledge of the English language, or any other language, can miss the negative objective in using the word as a noun in that and any other way within that context. Its not like the protagonist in that example was going to say "f _ _ k you! Citizen of the human planet! Family! Friend and/or soon to be friend!" The purpose is to dehumanize so that any further action against that person is justified. And, its no different philosophically than how the words b _ _ _ h or h _ e are used by and against women/femmes to dehumanize them.
Plus, those of you justifying the use of the n word as being intellectually dishonest. Unless you can tell me that you call the people in your life you respect the n word on a regular basis, than you are lying when you say the word has no meaning. If it had no meaning you would call your pastor, your Imam, your parents, your grandmother, anyone you love and respect, the n word because its a term of endearment, right? And, if you really believed it just be a word, with no power, than arguing that Europeans cannot use it makes little sense.
Finally, we have to look at the institutional impact of the word because those of you who use it aren't doing so in a vacuum. You are using it part and parcel of the system that oppresses us. If you and your friends were the only people using the word anywhere on Earth, than we could evaluate it subjectively, but since that's not the case, we cannot look at the impact of the word just by looking at you and how you use it on an individual level. To do so would be the same as saying just because you have eaten a certain unhealthy diet and lived a certain unhealthy lifestyle, and you don't have high blood pressure and/or diabetes, it must be ok if all of our people followed your example. Clearly, that would make absolutely no sense.
The negative institutional results are all around us. When I was walking down a street in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, in 2003, I encountered an African who approached me wearing sweatpants with one leg pulled up as is the often popular method in which to wear this type of pants. Hearing me talking to my A-APRP comrade in my U.S. accented English, this person walked right up to me smiling. Using his very best English, he said "what's up my n _ _ a? That action produced a hour or so conversation between us where I attempted to educate this person on not calling me that word. As is often the case, our conversation evolved. Soon, we were talking about what Africa needed. This person declared that what they wanted to do to solve the problem is come to the U.S. or Europe and gain skills. I asked them how they would get here and their response was God would provide a way. My response was if God is the source of the resources, and God is universal, why then would they need to come to the U.S. and/Europe to get the resources they needed? Why wouldn't God provide those resources in Senegal? What you have to understand about this exchange is that we as a people have been convinced that we cannot move forward without European guidance and this thought is so entrenched in our psychology that really, when we say God, we are really talking about Europeans. That would be the only logical way to explain why coming to the U.S. or Europe is necessary. But of course, the only way this colonial way of thinking is possible is if we see ourselves as the n word and not African people living and acting from our African culture which is really our main tool for our liberation and our forward progress. Seeing ourselves as the n word means our history can only start with slavery and colonialism so that means the best we can ever be is a smart, well educated, and successful n word on the master's plantation. Maybe that explains why so few Africans in the U.S. even have passports or are interested in having one (I have to say that for those who will rapid respond that the reason is economic) and traveling anywhere outside of the master's plantation?
If you haven't guessed, I'm one of those Africans who has experienced, on multiple occasions, the n word directed at me by racist Europeans during the course of them making every physical effort they could to end my life. I've had approximately 10 of those experiences and I mean serious experiences. I'm not talking about fist fights. I've been called the n word within this context dozens of times. I have the stories of my father, mother, and grandmother, from their experiences growing up in Louisiana in the 30s and 40s, under Jim Crow segregation laws and discrimination. Still, my entire family, including me until I was 17, used the n word regularly. And that includes my four times a week church attending grandmother. This shows you how institutionalized this process is in our psychology. And, I know that if my family wasn't all deceased (except one of my sisters who still regularly uses the n word), all of them would still be using it. This is true because despite whatever lies we may tell, the truth is we believe that's who we are. If we don't know Africa, there's no other possibility because n word is all we have heard our entire lives (not just the word literally, but the dehumanization that the word represents).
So, I call BS on all of you who claim the word is just a word. I don't think anyone should be using it until we have institutionalized being African and understand what that means and act accordingly. I say this because I know that when that happens, we will have no further use of the n word. So, stop buckling to the pressure when you hear the word. Call the question. Raise a discussion. Let's have an international dialogue on using the n word. Don't worry about whether or not we should include Europeans. Most of them are so used to facilitating everything we do that they are going to insert themselves in the discussion anyway because what good is a discussion without European participation? Certainly, those of you who are serious will know how to manage their participation as well as those of us who are not nearly as "woke" as we want to believe we are. Its an important discussion for us to have because we need to deal with this question of how we have been diminished for centuries and how we can restore ourselves. Like everything related to African people today, the solution is with our mother - Africa.