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Society’s obsession with the ‘n-word’ ignores the real issues plaguing black communities & encourages racial division

Helen Buyniski
Helen Buyniski

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

Society’s obsession with the ‘n-word’ ignores the real issues plaguing black communities & encourages racial division
Multiple public figures have landed in hot water in the last week for using the ‘n-word’ in the context of condemning its use. Such an absurd catch-22 is emblematic of a sick society in which wokeness is used to control behavior.

Perhaps the most notorious racial slur in the English language, the “n-word” is generally considered anathema in US and UK society. This is 2020; we’re supposed to have moved beyond using race and ethnicity as insults.

But the pre-Civil Rights era is resurfacing in strange ways: ‘woke’ agitators are pushing for everything from reinstituting segregation in schools to purging controversial figures from history, all in the name of (supposedly) improving race relations.

Instead of making race irrelevant, as civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. hoped to do, they’ve appointed it the most important attribute that can define a person. Accordingly, racial slurs have been elevated from venal to mortal sin, and the n-word has once again become a lightning rod for controversy.

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Two white BBC presenters were excoriated on social media last week for using the dreaded word, even though both broadcasts roundly condemned its use and incorporated plenty of warning and context. In one case, it was a historical quote from Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth that set off the woke alarm, from a program that aired in 2019 with no issues. Despite being prefaced with a ‘health warning’ and providing some valuable historical context on why Booth might go on to shoot Lincoln, the use of the word was deemed inexcusable, and presenter Lucy Worsley took to Twitter to apologize.

But in the other case, the segment concerned a racist attack on a 21-year-old black musician that left him in the hospital with multiple broken bones. The perpetrators rammed him with a car while shouting the racial epithet, which presenter Fiona Lamdin uttered uncensored. The BBC defended her use of the word by pointing out the victim’s family “wanted the full facts made public,” but social media nevertheless seemed more upset by a white reporter quoting the word on air than by the attack itself.

This kind of laser focus on appearances (use of the n-word) over reality (a racially motivated attack) is depressingly typical of 21st-century woke racial politics. In this type of magical thinking, cracking down on racial slurs is the equivalent of stopping racism itself.

If a company like Johnson & Johnson, which continues to hawk asbestos-laden talcum powder outside North America, can be hailed as racially progressive for releasing a line of Band-Aids corresponding to darker skin tones, or PepsiCo can get off the hook for flooding black communities with obesogenic high fructose corn syrup by merely changing the name of its Aunt Jemima pancake syrup to something less offensive, attempting to fire a football coach for pointing out the n-word is bad seems perfectly reasonable.

Football players at Texas Christian University boycotted practice on Monday after their coach, Gary Patterson, ordered player Dylan Jordan to stop using the n-word around his team-mates. It didn’t matter that Patterson was only using the word (in a private aside with Jordan) to denounce it - “that word is unacceptable under all context,” the boycotters roared after Jordan tweeted about their conversation.

Though he never denied using the word himself, Jordan nevertheless led the witch hunt against Patterson, squealing“This behavior is not OK now or ever” and calling for “repercussions to these actions”.  As calls for his firing mounted, Patterson had no choice but to issue a public apology.

Such incidents may sound like the plot of a South Park episode, but they’re reality in two countries that once considered themselves bastions of free expression.

Unlike other racial slurs, which fell out of favor with the arrival of the Civil Rights movement, the n-word has lingered like a bad smell on the fringes of society and in the mainstream alike. Many blame hip-hop music and culture, in which a variant of the word (“n***a” as opposed to “n***er”) has multiple non-derogatory meanings, for its ubiquity in inner-city black communities.

As hip-hop came to dominate the music charts, so too did its argot spread into white and suburban communities, occasionally bumping up against actual racists who may have been surprised to learn it was now OK to say the n-word as long as you pronounced it a little differently. 

Rappers like Ice Cube, who popularized the word’s ‘reclamation’ in the 1980s, have pushed back against responsibility for glorifying either the word or the violent lifestyle their music portrays, however.

In a bitterly sarcastic song called “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It,” Cube argues that his lyrics, harsh as they may be, are merely a reflection of the unpleasant realities Americans live with. “You the ones that we learned it from,” he tells white authorities who seek to ban his music; “I heard 'n***er' back in 1971.”

Certainly, black people have the right to decide whether a racial slur demeaning them has any place in modern society. But declaring the word off-limits only for all other groups opens the door to the kind of fetishization that now swirls around the n-word, the use of which can get a person fired based solely on the color of their skin.

It also begs a series of increasingly absurd questions: is a person who’s only 1/16th black “allowed” to use the n-word? What if they’re another dark-skinned minority, but not technically black? The arguments over whether white rappers or fans of hip-hop culture are “allowed” to use the word can be downright farcical, and completely gloss over the real issues - generational poverty, separate-but-unequal race-based policing tactics, mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline - that continue to cause immense suffering in black communities, even as corporations pour millions of dollars into the coffers of Black Lives Matter and other race-grifters.

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Adopting melanin-based double standards only fans the flames of racial animus. It’s become painfully clear that the leaders of the BLM organization do not really want a post-racial society where all groups live together in harmony - they want division along every “intersectional” line in existence, and are willing to invent a few to further atomize the working class while collecting fat checks from corporations terrified of running afoul of the new thought police.

This aim does not reflect the wishes of the vast majority of black activists, a growing number of whom are speaking out against BLM’s cooptation of their efforts. But those who profit off racism will do anything to ensure it continues.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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