Why I still use the ‘N’ Word

Apparently we should never use the ‘N’ word in any circumstance. It is offensive and should not be allowed to be spoken because that is racism.

Let me clarify what I am talking about, the word is ‘Nigger’

Nigger Nigger Nigger

Are you offended yet?

Now I must clarify that I would not in ordinary speech use this word. I do not see any reason to call anyone this word that does indeed carry with it some rather unpleasant connotations and baggage, and could be considered offensive for very good reasons. In the same way that I don’t normally swear. Walking around and swearing all the time in ordinary conversation is very coarse and unpleasant, and I would not like to be that kind of person, nor would I want to spend much time with one who speaks like that, but there are times under extreme stress or pain that a swear word has been known to pass my lips. There are cases where it is appropriate. There is a study that has shown that swearing actually increases your tolerance to pain. It is a useful part of human society and culture – in moderation.

Now there are places where any word is appropriate or inappropriate, and I would attempt to use them in an appropriate way.

What happened recently is that I was explaining to my children the origin of the childrens rhyme:

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo – Catch a tigger by the toe.

When I was a child it was ‘Catch a knicker by the Toe’ which I always think of as a very funny image, and I felt it was important to also explain the origin of it ‘Catch a nigger by the toe’ and one person who shall remain nameless found this to be very offensive and asked that I never say that word, but I can see serious problematic implications of taking such an extreme stance – ‘never’ is a long time. In this particular case I do not believe that all the children I was speaking to would have even understood me if I said ‘the n word’ instead of saying ‘Nigger’ and how can we begin to discuss historical literature and culture without using the words that were used back then? Do we ban books like Huckleberry Fin that use the word because that was how people spoke at the time despite being clearly in favour of respect towards all races? Do we constantly wonder whether any other words I might be using are also going to be offensive, but I don’t know it? There are so many good classics of literature that use the word that to refuse to ever speak or use that word would deprive us of so much of our cultural heritage.

Or is it possible that we take another approach? An approach where we treat each other with respect, and those speaking do their imperfect best to express themselves in a way that others will be able to hear and appreciate, and those listening do their very best to listen in a way that can understand the message without getting offended – to take in the deeper spirit of a person’s meaning even if their expression is not perfect. In Non-violent Communication this is called ‘Giraffe ears’ as against the way of listening that easily gets offended ‘Jackal ears’ – the image being that the Giraffe stands tall above the issues and can look down and see the whole pattern, whereas the jackal leaps in to attack.

Let me tell you a comparative story – in the city of Samara, Russia there once was a statue to the Czar Alexander II which commemorated his compassionate works including freeing the serfs – freeing the slaves is worth commemorating no? And after the bolshevik revolution it was destroyed and replaced by a statue of Lenin. Is there not something wrong with destroying art because we changed our minds about what we believe in, should we not hold onto our cultural heritage even when it is disturbing?

And there are more issues that this brings up as well – the fact that company cultures where people are focused on using the correct, inoffensive words have been shown to be detrimental to people’s sense of wellbeing, and even to reduce the ability for people to negotiate issues of equality and race – making it so difficult to talk about that people avoid the issues rather than solving them. This is totally counterproductive to the reason for making this stand against offensive language – shooting ourselves in the foot if you will. And then there is the question of how far this extends – do we avoid anything that any person finds offensive? How many people have to find it offensive for us to stop using the word? One in a hundred, one in a thousand? One in a million? Is there actually anything that we can say safely if we are focused on not offending any single person? And if we do not take it that far, then what is the basis for deciding what is offensive and what is not? Is it only the minority groups that have made enough of a fuss for us to realise that they find something offensive who we have to think about? As Jordan Peterson says it is difficult to say anything important without risking offending someone, so what do we sacrifice in this attempt to avoid offense? Our cultural heritage, our ability to communicate, our ability to express ourselves clearly?

Don’t get me wrong I am not about to go around shouting the N word everywhere. It is not a word I am likely to use very many times in my life, but the creation of a very strict rule around the word, is completely counterproductive and is likely to create more racial tension not less, and more importantly prevents us from truly meeting and understanding ourselves, our history, our culture, and each other.

here are some important videos and links on the topic:

Censoring Mark Twain is unacceptable

Rethinking Political Correctness

Learning the N Word