At the 2016 Hullabaloo music festival, during Isaiah Rashad’s performance, a non-Black person argued the n-word was “just a part of the music.” The person questioned my right to judge them for using the word, since according to them, the word is apparently no longer used in a racist or demeaning way. The argument lasted approximately two minutes before they said, “Whatever. You just don’t get it.” Me, a Black woman.
Do not say “nigga” if you aren’t Black. You ask, why?
- You aren’t Black.
- Refer to reason number one.
- Refer to reason number two.
When we talk about the n-word, non-Black people need to take a step back and listen.
It is astonishing that this is still a debate. I should not have to write an article about this, but with the history of UC San Diego’s anti-Blackness and more recent events that have left the Black community hurting, like a midterm study guide being defaced with the n-word, this article seems necessary.
The collective condition of Blackness cannot be hidden or absolved by a degree. I occupy space on this campus and in this world as a Black woman. It is not possible to become Black; it was attached to my personhood the moment I entered the world, and it impacts every aspect of my life.
One of the most uncomfortable experiences I have ever had at UC San Diego was when a white fraternity member decided to start rap Kendrick Lamar’s “M.A.A.D. City,” along with me, the only Black person at the party, word for word. They were thrilled to scream the lines, “Now crawl your head in that noose / you wind up dead on the news / ain’t no peace just pieces BG’s up to pre-approve,” at the top of their lungs. I was not sure they, in their Sperry Top-Siders, vintage Carmelo jersey, and chubbies, would ever understand how real those words are to the Black community. After the song was over, I asked them what they thought of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. They said something along the lines of, “Why do you have to bring race up at a party? Just relax!”
A Black person saying the n-word in a song lyric does not create the public license to use it. The n-word is a pejorative rooted in slavery and imperialism. It does not matter if it is said casually to friends (who are not allies of the Black community if they are quiet in that moment). It does not matter if one of your Black friends, or your one Black friend, said it was okay. It does not matter if it’s your favorite artist at a small concert or a major music festival. It does not matter if you are from “the hood” or Los Angeles or the Bay or Chicago or wherever.
Marc Lamont Hill, host of BET news and political contributor for CNN, summed up why a Black person saying the n-word is different from a non-Black person saying the n-word in a CNN interview. He said, “I might see Trinidad James on the street and call him ‘my nigga.’ You know why? Because he is my nigga. And the difference between Trinidad James and you is that Trinidad James has to deal with the same oppressive situations. He was born into a world where anti-Black racism prevails. He lives in a world where police might shoot him on the street no matter how much money he has. We share a collective condition known as ‘nigga.’ White people don’t.”
When a Black person tells you something is offensive, do not dismiss it as sensitivity or expect them to do the emotional labor of explaining why said thing was offensive. Instead, do research and try to understand why it is offensive or exploitative behavior.
Ta-Nehisi Coates recently explained why non-Black people shouldn’t use the word. He said, “My wife refers to me as honey. That is accepted and okay between us. If we were walking down the street together and a strange woman referred to me as ‘honey,’ that wouldn’t be acceptable. The understanding is that I have some sort of relationship with my wife; hopefully I have no relationship with this strange woman.” He went on to say, “My wife with her girlfriends will use the word ‘bitch.’ I do not join in. I don’t do that. And perhaps, more importantly, I don’t have a desire to do that.”
If you have gotten to this point and you are thinking, “But I’m not racist,” I am not saying you are; that is what you think I am saying. I am saying there is no way to distinguish between the word being used “just to say it” or it being used to demean an individual or the Black community as a whole. If you as a non-Black person have to explain or justify its usage, you shouldn’t say it.
My ears are still ringing from the sound of thousands of students shouting out the n-word during DJ Mustard and Schoolboy Q’s set at last year’s Sun God Festival. I can promise you most of the people in the crowd have never been a “nigga with an attitude” and never will be unless they try to pull a Rachel Dolezal. The last time I checked, there were only 691 Black students at this university.
Non-Black people of color are not scotch-free in the fight against anti-Blackness. Those who claim to be allies of the Black community have to do their part. Stop telling me to “ignore it” or “just let it go.” Do not remove yourself from the situation and say “not my business,” especially if a situation is violent. As Zoé Samudzi, a PhD student at UCSF, said perfectly, “Every act of racial violence in your proximity has to do with you.” Step up and remind people we must persistently act to combat anti-Blackness. Recognize the social and cultural ramifications of your actions.
Do not say “nigga” if you aren’t Black.
Amarachi Metu is an Arts and Entertainment staff writer for The Triton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.