In a WTF Podcast with host Marc Maron, President Obama spoke of the United States' problem with racism and how we still have not overcome our racial problems; and I agree with him. But the President went a step further, using the "N word" to prove his point and setting off another conversation about race in America today, and whether the use of that word is appropriate.
The President, the first African American, biracial, man of color to be our Commander in Chief, certainly knows what that word means, and what it feels to hear it. Even more, he knows how it feels to be referred to as such.
As a white woman, I do not feel that anyone but an African American has the right to use that word; but I do believe there is a right and wrong way even for them to use it. When rappers, regardless of the race of the artist, refer to their buddies with this word, it softens the true and original meaning of a horrific term. Using it as it was originally intended, to look down on a person of color, a black person, a la Paula Dean, is obviously another wrong use of the word.
But using it to prove a point, the way the President did in his Podcast, I can agree with that.
Hearing the word is harsh on the ear, and it should be. It is an ugly word, with an ugly history and an ugly meaning. And using it only for emphasis on the issue of race as the President did, is the only way, in my opinion, that word should be uttered.
The word itself comes from the Latin Niger, meaning black. That then became Negro to refer to people with dark skin. Historically, the term has been used in both a derogatory and racist manner. If one continues to use it, and we continue to hear it repeatedly, the sting of this word and its meaning will all but disappear.
Although I'm a white chick, I too have a history with the "N" word.
I grew up in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. My father was a jazz musician whose best friend was a black man, married to a white woman. New neighbors moved in next door (ironically from South Carolina). The young boy living there, around my age at the time, threw a rock at me and called me an "N" lover. It was the first time I ever heard that word. I ran in the house and asked my mother, "what's a 'N' word lover?" She immediately brought me to the sink and washed my mouth out with soap! When I cried and told her what had happened, both she and my father explained what the word meant. That day, on my sidewalk, that I learned about racism and I learned the meaning of that dreadful word.
Later in life, the "N" word and I met again. This time it was during the OJ Simpson trial. Mark Furman was accused of using that word over and over and over; yet the word was never uttered in the court. I talked about it extensively on my radio show, for I felt that not using the word during the trial softened the use of the term and the racist feelings that belong to it.
The President's use of the "N" word is both being supported and criticized. It's trending on Twitter as I write this. But I defend the President's use of it, for it is Black Americans like him that know what it is like to walk down a street and be viewed suspiciously, to be stopped in their cars, to be followed in a store, to be turned down for a job, etc. all based on the color of their skin. They know what it feels like to be viewed as the "N" word; the rest of us do not. The "N" word and its meaning are a true part of this conversation on race, a conversation our society has begun, and on which the President has a responsibility to weigh in. I applaud him for doing so.
Although I agree with the President's use of the word in this scenario, America would be better served to focus on the problem of racism. It divides us as a nation and a people and, as we saw last week in South Carolina, it creates the mindset Dylann Roof had when he pulled the trigger.