After the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, America has been forced to look at itself in the mirror and review its racial relations.
Out of this homicide has come discussion on one of the most offensive but prevalent words in this society: the N-word. It is perhaps one of the biggest contradictions that our culture has. It’s a term of endearment and a racial slur at the same time.
What effect it has not only depends on the context of it, but who uses it and the amount of times people are faced with listening to this word has begun to desensitize the American public.
“Personally, I think it’s a derogatory term. Some people use it to mean ‘bro’ or whatever, but overall…it’s showing a lack of respect,” said Paul James, junior and mechanical engineering major. “When I first moved to the US, a lot of people used it, and that’s a culture shock for me because back at home you get beat up for saying that. I was caught off guard but I can’t swing any fists,” he said.
The South Texan hosted a roundtable discussion at AMK to see what reactions and opinions were manifested when people were confronted with the issue of the N-word, it’s usage in present-day America and the state of racial tensions. The discussion led to some heated moments and a rise in tensions, fingers stabbed the tabletops as participants expressed their passionate opinions. The discussion began with the hard-hitting question: What does the N-word mean to you?
“I think to some people in certain environments, it would definitely be offensive, but I’d be lying to you if I said I never used it in the inoffensive tense. It’s common vernacular. It’s vulgar, but I don’t think it was meant to be offensive or as a sign of disrespect,” said Andrew Frimpong, civil engineering senior.
The N-word carries a dirty history full of connotations that are below the moral and social belt set in a diverse U.S.A. It is a word that now goes against any progress that was made during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. However, during the past two decades the word has peaked in popularity. We constantly hear it in music and among people in and outside of the Black community. The constant exposure to the word has left some populations immune to its the shock value, while others believe that the growing popularity simply has to do with “taking back” a negative word.
At the end of the day, it’s just a word. Words have no meaning. People bring meaning to words. If it was sensitive back then, it might not be sensitive now. As far as it being used for ‘my brother’ I can attest to that. I came from that. They don’t say it because it’s cool, they say it because they’re oppressed. It’s a mindset, it’s negative,” said Justice Payne-Tyson, junior and psychology major.
Countless popular hip-hop songs from the late 80’s to present-day have used the word heavily. It has meant close friend, an uneducated black person, a black male, or a male in general. Although it is edited out of mainstream public radio and television, it is not usually hard to fill-in-the-blanks. The use of the word has even trickled into other genres and, because of the heavy influence Western ways have on popular culture it has made it’s way into music in parts of the world that didn’t use it previously.
“I want to say that in terms of West African music it’s starting to pick up, because they emulate a lot of the music they hear over here,” Frimpong said.
As the roundtable discussion progressed, the comments and opinions became even more passionate. This led to talk about the racial tension felt in the United States and the state of race relations, a seemingly deteriorating thing since the Trayvon Martin case.
“You’re telling me that if I was to go outside in a hoodie, I would get shot,” said Demarcus Kelly, a sophomore bio-med major and a KTAI DJ. “Now it’s to the point where if I’m wearing a white t-shirt and some basketball shorts, you look at me like I’m about to go rob someone instead of shooting hoops with my friends.”
Through the heated comments, the group was able to come to a few points of clarity, one being that we can’t deny our differences.
“We’re different. We finally understand that we have to keep talking about our differences, not overlooking them,” Frimpong said.
The last point that the group could agree on was that even though racial tensions are high in this country, there is hope that through dialogue, people can look through their differences and find common ground.
“Everybody is different, everybody has a different skin color, but we’re all human. If we can agree on that concept, I believe we can move forward,” Kelly said.