The N-Word: Two RHS Teachers Weigh In
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
SDC Math/Science Teacher Denedra Anderson
In recent years, the N-word has become a mainstream term used more frequently outside of the African American community. No longer hidden to rap music or the African American community, it is no secret that it is frequently used around campus by students from other races.
Some students may argue that the N-word does not hold the same meaning anymore, or that it's just a word that is used among friends. However, I’d like you to ask yourself, have I ever been called the N-word out of hatred? Have I been called the N-word, because of the color of my skin? Have I been called the N-word, because of my ancestry? Has my life ever been dictated by signs that read “no niggers allowed”? If not, then, unfortunately, you don’t have the authority to say, “it doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.”
The history of the N-word is not a pleasant one. It’s origins began as a racial slur and is still used as a racial slur in the United States. During slavery, African Americans were not considered humans. We were considered property. We had as much status as cattle. Our traditions didn’t matter. Our birthdays didn’t matter. Our names didn’t matter. We were relegated to niggers. The most dehumanizing name in American history is essentially connected to white supremacy and violence.
Many of you may be reading this and think “...but I don’t say nigger, I say nigga, so it’s okay.” It is much deeper than how come black people can say it, but I can't? It requires one to reflect on American history and it’s treatment of African Americans. One must reflect on the lifestyle that older African Americans endured prior to and during the civil rights movement. Despite what you may read in history books, slavery did not end with President Abraham Lincoln. In fact, in many isolated areas of the south, slavery continued well into the 1960s. It is not an ancient event that we can brush under the rug and forget about. The trauma of slavery, Jim Crow, and racism continue to live with many families. And the use of the N-word for most African Americans triggers troublesome memories.
There is no doubt that entertainment has played a part in desensitizing youth to slurs and violence. At one point people of other races didn’t dare use the n-word in casual conversation or as a term of so-called endearment.
So, the question isn’t, “did you say the n-word using “er” or “a,” the question is, why do you feel entitled to use the word in the first place?
English Teacher Michael Montano
From a teacher’s perspective, I think the vast majority of us are in the same boat… WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT! I think people should find out how their grandparents or great-grandparents feel about using the N-word.
As our school’s population is better than 80% Mexican/Hispanic – the N-word reminds me of the word “wetback” – I have grown to love that word. A word meant to be derogatory and demeaning that goes back to 1955 with President Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” where the goal was to deport 1.3 million Mexicans back to Mexico. The word actually originated in the 20’s from the practice of swimming across the Rio Grande River into the US.
So why do I love that word? I love it because of the fact that some of my ancestors crossed The Rio Grande to get to the US – a river, while the ancestors of others’ had to cross an entire ocean! So it begs the question, “Whose back is wetter?” Furthermore, at one time Mexico territory stretched well into California and all the way through Yosemite National Park, so it’s more along the lines of my people didn’t cross the border, the border crossed my people. Lastly, how can anyone be illegal on stolen land? Now, when I hear the word “wetback,” it a term of endearment that I see as bringing all ethnicities/races together as all our ancestors had to cross some body of water.
As I, at least in my mind, have reclaimed the word “wetback,” others mindfully use the N- word as a subversive action: reclaiming a word, flipping it upside down, and thereby bringing a sense of triumph to a point where the word has lost power over them, leaving a pride and a resonating will declaring “We shall overcome” then, now, and forever forward. When Black or African American people use the N-word as a subversive action, I do not feel people of another race or ethnicity should have the right to say, “You can’t or shouldn’t use that word.” Unfortunately, when I hear the word being used on campus – it is not being used as a term of endearment or subversive action. There are many other words that could be used instead: bro, road-dog, ride or die, buddy, friend, or anything else that doesn’t carry a racial undertone or the social injustice that comes along with the N word.
Just about every race has a racial slur associated with it, and nobody from within a race wants to hear someone from outside the race use that racial slur. In fact, many from within a race don’t want to hear people of their own race use those slurs. Bottom line – it’s about respect! If you are using the N-word, you are definitely disrespecting someone out there.