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Rob Harper Headshot

The 'N' Word is Never Acceptable

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No matter what any one says, whether they are black or white or even God himself (not that he would use the word), it is never, ever OK to use the 'N' word. In a joke, in a song, in private conversations, never, ever should the word be seen as acceptable to use. There are no exceptions.

African Americans are deceiving themselves if they think that they "own" the word and only they are allowed to use it, as was suggested by Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd this week on The View when they discussed Jesse Jackson's invocation of the term. If you recall, Jackson landed in hot water last week when he was heard on a 'hot' mic saying he wanted to remove a part of Barack Obama's male anatomy. What wasn't heard or even reported until now is that Jackson also used the 'N' word.

Is Jackson a racist for saying he wanted to remove Obama's testicles? Many would say "no," because both he and Obama are black. For this reason, Jackson's comments get the 'in bad taste' label, instead of the 'racist' label. But how exactly did he get away with making such an offensive comment? A white man would have been castrated, metaphorically speaking of course, for uttering those words. The answer lies in history: During the Jim Crow era black men who were lynched were often also castrated by white men. If a white man of Jackson's prominence had made similar remarks he would probably be looking for another country to live in (even if he was speaking metaphorically, like Jackson). Lesson to learn: When it comes to race politics in America, what's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander.

But, even if America is going to give a 'pass' to Jackson's castration comments, no American, black or white or otherwise, should be comfortable with the use of the 'N' word. Some blacks have tried to take the sting out of the term by using the word themselves, by taking 'control' of it. Sorry folks, but that won't work. It's like body odor. No matter how you try to cover it up with cologne or spray, body odor is body odor, no matter whose body it comes from. The only way to get rid of it is to wash it away. Or, more crudely, crap stinks, no matter how you try to mask the smell. Likewise, the 'N' word is demeaning, hurtful, and derogatory no matter who says it.

Blacks are doing themselves a disservice if they continue to assert that they can use the word when it is taboo for people of other races to do so. How can we become one united group sharing the same values and ideas when separate rules are set up for different individuals? Some blacks say they use the word as a term of endearment. What?! History has already defined the word as being negative. Why then would a person want to endear a person with such a negative word? Can't another word be used, like 'honey?'

Any attempt to justify the use of a word that historically has a negative meaning, is an indication of deeper psychological issues with the group or person justifying its use.