He Says Black People Shouldn't Use the N-Word

by Doyin Oyeniyi

News from earlier this year indicated that the NFL was attempting to eradicate the use of the n-word on its fields, and somehow that led to a recent declaration from Piers Morgan that black people have to "kill" the n-word themselves. My question is, who asked Piers Morgan?

I'm all for allowing people to reclaim words that have been used to insult and marginalize them. I also understand that the sense of reclamation isn’t uniform across identities. Not all women want to reclaim “bitch,” or “slut” or other gendered slurs, and not all trans people want to reclaim transphobic slurs.

The same is the case for the n-word. But whether or not the the n-word should be used is solely up to black Americans. I, a Nigerian-born woman, generally don’t voice my opinions about what black people should do, because even though the n-word can be used to insult me, I know I don’t have the same history with the n-word that black Americans do. While I have my opinions about the use of the word, it’s not my place to tell black Americans how to feel about it.

And it's definitely not Piers Morgan's place.

First of all, his reasoning for why black people use the n-word is incorrect:

The reason it is so ingrained in pop culture is that many blacks, especially young blacks reared to the soundtrack of N-word splattered rap music, use it in an ironic way.

They’re aware of its history; they know from their parents and grandparents that arrogant, dumb, racist whites used it as a wicked, derogatory insult against their black slave forebears. And they enjoy the freedom of being able to say it now in the knowledge that it’s become taboo for whites to do so.

So black people like to use the n-word because they know white people can’t? Wrong. Racist white people still use the n-word, so it’s not about that. What reclaiming the n-word is about is reclaiming ownership of the word so that it no longer carries the oppressive weight of it, but can now be used to express closeness and a bond. It's removing white people from the equation and making it something that belongs to the black community. Because believe it or not, sometimes it’s not about white people.

Piers Morgan doesn’t agree with that idea, because he thinks it doesn’t work. He believes the n-word has to be removed completely from the English language. He believes so strongly in this that he uses Antebellum slavery imagery to get his point across.

Better, surely, to have it expunged completely. Eradicated, obliterated, tied to a literary post and whipped into such brutal submission that it never rears its vicious head again.

And who should be held responsible for eradicating the word? Black people, of course.

But this will only happen when America’s black community applies the same level of tolerance to its own use of the word as that now applied in the National Football League: zero.

Because somehow black people are responsible for what other people do.

The reason the n-word is such a big part of popular vernacular is because popular culture has a history of appropriating things from black culture, from music to clothes to braids to — you guessed it — language.

So should black people just stop being black in order to have people stop copying them? Obviously not. To end the use of the n-word among racists and non-black people who want to be "down" you need to address them directly instead of holding black people responsible for other people’s appropriative and racist behavior.

In addition to blaming black people for the popular use of the n-word, I’ve heard some other “solutions” to the use of the n-word that just don’t hold up.

Ignore it.

Honestly this makes me think of telling kids just to ignore their bullies. Needless to say, ignoring the bully — or in this case, the racist — simply doesn’t make the problem go away. And it once again somehow puts the blame on the person who gets upset.

Just call them a “cracker.”

The fact that I can spell out one word, but have to abbreviate the other pretty much shows how these words don't carry the same weight.

It means "ignorant person," not black person.

Dictionary definitions are pretty arbitrary (we add new words to the dictionary every year) so choosing to focus on a dictionary definition while ignoring the historical context behind a word is insincere. So if this is your argument, just stop, because you sound real ignorant right now.

Images: Getty; Uproxx