The ‘n-word’ still offends

Katlyn Grieve

I am white, or Caucasian to be politically correct, and I overheard a group of black male students talking among each other the other night. I wasn’t eavesdropping; it was actually almost impossible not to hear them as they weren’t exactly being quiet. However, I was attempting to tune them out and carry on with my work until one word caught my full attention: the “n-word.” I was appalled and half expecting a fight to break out, but instead laughter and continued use of the word ensued. At that point I asked myself, how can a word dripping with disdain and representing extreme hate be used among friends? And not only that, but be met with laughter?

I can proudly say I have never once used that word, except, unfortunately, while reading some required text in high school; even then, just seeing the word in print made my skin crawl. It is not due to the color of my skin but more with the fact that the word carries immense baggage from its unfortunate use in history. It is not so long ago that the term was used as an insult or by an owner to address a slave. How can that word have evolved into a term used to address one’s friends? says, “the term n—– is now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years, although it has been used in a derogatory manner since at least the Revolutionary War.”

However, it also goes on to list three different definitions, the first being the offensive racial slur, another an Irish term and the third description: “it is sometimes used among African Americans in a neutral or familiar way.” How can this term be seen as neutral or represent familiarity?

In a country where the issue of race has dissolved immensely, there is still prejudice and discrimination in today’s society. It is not merely too soon in history to use the word in common banter, but simply wrong. Have the Martin Luther King Jr.s, the Rosa Parks, the W.E.B. DuBois, and the Malcolm Xs been forgotten? With the use of a single word, all the blood, fighting and sacrifice done by these incredible and brave individuals to gain acceptance, equality and freedom, is diminished.

I wanted to approach the table of men, but was hesitant, having anticipated the response I might get. I know some, if not many, will say: why should you be bothered by it? You’re not black. But out of my deepest respect for the heroes who’ve fought throughout history to get the equality we all have today, and out of shame of my ancestors who, unfortunately, most likely used this term and ones similar to it, it does bother me.

I feel anger, despair and frustration when I hear that word used. The significance of the term is full of pain and suffering. It confuses me how I am more affected and offended to hear it spoken, whether by a white or black person, than some black people are. You could have the most brilliant mind in the world, with outstanding intellect, but with a single use of that word, your IQ plummets, whether you are black or white.

Katlyn Grieve

Sophomore exploratory major