Column: The N-word is not the worst thing about America

Racism is racism.

Black History Month, as I have stated in a previous column, is a time to remember the trials and tribulations of blacks in America.

Though it is relegated to the shortest month of the year, the celebration of black antiquity is still necessary in a nation still trying to figure out its identity when it comes to the acceptance of different races, genders and sexualities.

So it is only fitting that during the final week of Black History Month we are dealing with race in ways that Dr. Carter G. Woodson could have imagined — he was the son of former slaves — and ways that he couldn’t when he created Negro History Week in 1926.

The University of Mississippi, unsurprisingly, is dealing with racism again after a noose and the Confederate flag were found around the neck of the James Meredith statue on campus last Sunday. Meredith was the first black person to enroll at Ole Miss in 1962.

Three white male freshmen are currently suspects in the FBI investigation.

A day before the Ole Miss incident, Michael Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle during the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn, though, was not convicted of the actual murder of Davis; the jury deadlocked on that charge.

Paula Deen, best known for her cooking show on the Food Network and for subsequently losing that show last year due to allegations of racial discrimination, started the first day of her “comeback” on Sunday with an appearance at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Deen told those in attendance that she was “back in the saddle,” according to

The 67-year-old admitted to using the N-word and other racial slurs in the past.

Just hours after Deen’s appearance at the South Beach festival, ESPN aired a special report on the use of the N-word as it pertains to sports. “Outside the Lines” hosted a live discussion on the merit and dishonor of a word that solely meant the utmost disrespect to blacks not long ago.

Through the hour-long program, there were a wide variety of opinions on if the word should be used, who can use it and what exactly the word means in 2014.

The N-word is a complex issue that can’t be solved in just 60 minutes, but it does inspire discussion on how this word — and racism — is sophisticated even in the era of a black president.

To be completely honest, I use the N-word. I use it as both a term of endearment and as a negative descriptor of certain people. As many blacks will admit, I also don’t use the term around white people. This is because of two reasons:

First, I never want to make it seem OK for non-black people to use that word. Knowing the history of the N-word, I can’t in good conscious allow this word to become a pop-culture trend like “bling-bling” and “twerking.”

Secondly, as a 24-year-old black male, I understand and fear the “white gaze.” George Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Duquesne University, described the white gaze as “those poisonous assumptions and bodily perceptual practices that … ‘see’ the black male body as different, deviant, ersatz.” Although I wish I didn’t, I sometimes fear that white people will look at me as a “deviant” if I used the word.

But even after all that, I use the term regularly around black people I know. I didn’t grow up in a household that used it — in fact, I’ve never heard my parents say it — but I still grew up around the word. Maybe it was the rap music. Maybe it was the public schools. Maybe it was the poor neighborhoods. Who knows?

As someone who uses the term, can I call a white person racist for using it too?

Yes and no.

Just as black people use the N-word as a term of endearment, it is understandable that white people would think it’s OK to use too. I disagree with the logic, but it is understandable.

At the same time, when we study the history of race in this country, coupled with the incidents from above — pseudo-lynching, murder and racial discrimination in the workplace — then it should be understood that the N-word being said by whites is offensive.

Racial slurs are not the worst thing about America today or yesterday, though. It’s the covert actions behind the slurs that are the most detrimental to victims.

Sure, three fraternity brothers putting a noose around a black statue is hurtful, but it is way more harmful that black women at the University of Alabama — another SEC school — were still being kept out of predominantly white sororities based on their skin color.

And sure, Michael Dunn referring to Jordan Davis and his friends as proponents of “gangster-rap, ghetto talking thug 'culture'” is pretty racist. But is it not more important — and racist — that he feared four black men enough to shoot at and kill one of them?

Paula Deen is at least a little racist for using racial slurs many years ago. But the only reason we even know that she said those things was because of her deposition in a lawsuit that claimed she discriminated against black workers in her restaurant. No number of slurs can hurt more than actual discrimination.

So as we close out another Black History Month, it’s important to take these incidents and actually examine the effects on the country. At the end of the day, racism is racism is racism, but pulling away the curtain of the covert forms of racism is the key to healing the scars of this nation.

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