Who Gets to Use the N-Word?

This guy can...


In the circles I travel with the N-word is used about as often in normal conversation as “antidisestablishmentarianism.” When the N-word does come out to play it is usually as a sudden epithet such as, “NIGGER, PLEASE!” You learn to pardon it like it was a particularly loud fart. That or we’re trying to throw lines from a Chris Rock routine or Blazing Saddles

Otherwise, I’m of the mind that it’s primarily youngsters saying it so casually. Partially because they don’t know any better and partially because they do know how much it ticks off older folks and what normal teenager doesn’t take sadistic pleasure in ticking off older folks as much as it is humanly possible to do? 

Some of them grow older and hopefully smarter and outgrow both the word and the need to tick off old folks. Some just grow older and stay dumb. They never learn how truly wretched a word it really is so they keep using it and the next thing you know they’re stuck talking like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction for the rest of their lives. 

Speaking of which, the most stilted dialog in the whole movie is when talented director but talentless actor Quentin Tarantino starts dressing down Samuel Jackson with his wholly unconvincing “dead nigger storage” harangue. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean. It sounds totally artificial and not the least bit authentic. Normal White Folks say “nigger” but they don’t say it like that. At least I’ve never heard any of them ever say it that way before, after or since. 

...and these guys can...


Dr. Laura did not say the caller “Jade” was a nigger. She simply used a racial slur in a clumsy, spectacularly clueless and totally inelegant and inappropriate way. In retrospect she should have just farted. 

Still, even her moronic outburst is an opportunity for a “teachable moment.”  Why does it seem that a Black comedian can drop N-bombs without a care in the world, but let a White talk show host try the same thing and we’re fitting her for concrete sneakers.  

Here’s why. Comedians are by nature of their job description supposed to try and find the humor in anything even when it appears there’s nothing funny about it. A good comedian can take an eyebrow-arching word and make it funny. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Redd Foxx, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Margaret Cho, Lisa Lampanelli, Chris Rock can do it. A bad comedian throws out a “bad word” and it kind of just lies there like a soiled diaper. I’m looking at you Andrew Dice Clay, Katt Williams, Jackie Martling and especially YOU, Michael Richards. 

I believe Dr. Laura was referencing the long vanished from the airwaves Def Comedy Jam series when she talked about Black comedians saying, “nigger, nigger, nigger.” Her reference point was out-of-date by 13 years, but she was pretty much right. You could turn on Def Comedy Jam and hear comedians saying “nigger, nigger, nigger.” Pretty much because the majority of them were lousy comedians and a lot of lousy comedians swear when they can’t think of anything else. Like Richard Pryor said he tried to mix some jokes in with the cuss words. Too many comedians learned the second part of the formula and suck at the first part. 

...and so can these guys (though they do way too much)...


There’s no double-standard here. Ignorant people reach for ignorant words because it troubles them too much to find smarter ones. 

As a writer and I wouldn’t dream of telling another writer they can’t use the N-word, the C-word, the MF word or any other word simply because it offends me. There are times people need to be offended and a well-applied epithet, vulgarity or swear word utilized by the right person can have as deft a touch as surgeon’s scalpel and cut deeply without drawing blood. As far as it goes for a painter, poet, actor, author, singer or rapper, I won’t be the one to tell them “You can’t say that.” But when if you do be prepared to suffer the consequences. There are limits even to artistic license. For those who are not comedians or artists such as Dr. Laura they should step lightly lest they step on their own tongue. 

She didn’t. She stomped all over the joint in big honkin’ combat boots. And all she ended up doing was kicking her own tush. There’s probably a way she COULD have used the N-word without being a total arrogant, condescending rhymes-with-witch. 

Unfortunately, that would require the bad doctor being something more than a totally, arrogant, condescending rhymes-with-witch. Anyone who has the chutzpah to practice psychology without license and get it away with it this long doesn’t do humility. 

Does this mean Black people can say “nigger” and White people can’t? 


White people called Black people “nigger” a lot longer than Black people ever called each other “nigger.” There are still some die-hards on both sides who won’t let go. Blacks can still shock and offend Whites by using it casually and it’s always a hold card to be played by Whites when they really want to get raw with Blacks. There is no equivalent retort a Black person can throw back in retaliation. 

“White devil?”
“White trash?”
“White MF?”
“Dick Cheney?”

Nothing quite seems to measure up in comparison.  “Nigger” is still the go-to smear when you absolutely, positively want to hit us where it hurts.  

Which makes it something of a verbal hand grenade.   Anyone can handle it, but’s it’s best left to those who know how to use it in the proper circumstances. 

...but no N-word for you!

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