The “N” Word: Has Its Meaning Changed?


NOTE: Coming from a teenage African American male, I can only give you my perspective. I have heard various opinions, and I respect them all. I ask you do the same for mine.

There hasn’t been a word more controversial in history than the “n” word. Earlier in the NFL season, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was reprimanded for his usage of the word at a Kenny Chesney concert. Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito is being publicly  crucified in the media for using it.

What is the meaning of the word? Will it forever have vitriolic connotations of racism and prejudice? Some say the words’ harmful meanings have lessened. Others, like former NFL player Shannon Sharpe, feel as if the word should not be used at all.

Their sentiments can be understood. There is no word like the “n” word. Hundreds of years of bondage and discrimination are entailed in these two syllables. “Knowing that so many people suffered were hung, harmed, and damaged,” Oprah Winfrey said in an interview with Access Hollywood. “That’s the last word they heard when they were being hung on a tree.”

On July 9, 2007, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) tried to officially bury the word, which in fact brought more attention to the word and brought forth more usage of the word.Most African Americans will say they take exception when the word is used outside of the race.

However, many point to the fact that the word is used in abundance in hip-hop, as well as personal communication between African Americans.

Most recently, hip-hop artist YG’s hit song “My N****” peaked at number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song uses the “n” word synonymously with friend, homie, buddy, and so on. There are countless other examples of hip-hop’s use of the word in the same manner.It seems this generation has adopted the same ideology of the world. There seems to be no racial barrier with the word; it is freely used by people of all races.

The generational viewpoints on the word differentiate widely. Many say the word’s meaning has changed, but can a word’s meaning change? Can such a historically negative word shed its vitriolic connotations? Absolutely not.

Walking through the hallways, I hear that word far more than I probably should. My friends say it, even the non-African Americans. Even so, I never get upset. I bite my tongue. I know they have no racist intents; they’re just saying a word they hear every day when the listen to music.

But deep inside, I cringe everytime I hear it. Hearing the word, as hypocritical as it may seem, sounds different coming out of the mouth of someone who isn’t African American.

The idea is quite simple: When a black person uses the “n” word, it has no chance of coming from racist intent. They say it’s okay for other races to use the word depending on the context, but why go through all that? Why not just avoid using it?

Honestly, as unfair as it may seem, it’s especially dicey when the word is used by a white person. Maybe it comes from the racially-charged usage of the word out of those like Riley Cooper or Paula Deen.

No, the meaning has not changed. How people use it though, has moved far from its demeaning intent in the past. Of course there are still outliers, those who use the word to put down and discriminate against African Americans. Generally, it seems the “n” word comes from a blissfully unaware place, from those who aren’t entirely sure of its historical presence as they should be.

The “n” word’s polarizing viewpoints seem to have no middle ground, which is why the word will always remain controversial. If you do choose to use the word, I don’t let it ruin my day. I just ask that those who use it know of the hate that word conjures, and that others may not be as easygoing as me.



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