But Lil Wayne, Jay -Z, Nicki Minaj said it


Colloquial use of N word has changed its connotation


Use of the N word has become a cultural norm. Rappers and celebrities use it, politicians and lawmakers have used it and thousands if not millions of Americans use the word in every day speech. At this point the history associated with the N word is understood. Schools teach children that slaves were referred to using the word and learn that it was intended to dehumanize them — slaves were no longer individuals or people with a rich history. Instead they became objects that could easily be referred to using a universal term that denoted their skin color. As a result the N word has become taboo and the assumption is that unless you’re black you shouldn’t say it and even if you are black, you probably shouldn’t say it either.

Despite such assumptions, there has been an internal cultural appropriation of the N word leading it to have a myriad of connotations, hence its colloquial use. In some sense it is used to refer to a friend. If you’re talking to someone you heavily associate with, then calling them the N word is not as bad as history leads us to believe. Because of this there is a difference between ending the phrase with an –er and an –a. The former is inappropriate and the latter is intended to be endearing. Musical use of the word has similarly thrown water on the meaning forcing it to carry less weight. Countless artists like Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z use the word in their music. The infamous Bobby Shmurda dance track uses the word in it’s title. “My N---a,” by YG, a song that used the N word roughly 120 times, was played on the radio, although the N word was changed to “hitta,” — showing how interchangeable the word can be.

The connotation also shows that there is a class element intertwined with use of the N word. At this point the term has transcended ethnic boundaries and has become a term used interchangeably in speech by almost everyone but specific groups of white people. For those living in areas that are or once were dominated by black people, the casual use of the N word has an obvious root. Reactions to hearing the word vary depending on individual experiences. For someone who has grown up hearing the N word used casually, it might not mean anything, but it can cause alarm for those who have never heard the word used in casual speech. Similarly teachers questioning the word while reading novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin creates historical context or merely offers students the chance to use a taboo word.

Casual references aside, when you know what it feels like to be the subject of hate speech or how it feels when a derogatory term is directed at you in a hateful manner, a word can mean something entirely different. Given the historical connotations surrounding the N word, it is incredibly difficult for some people to wrap their heads around why the word is used so freely. However the only apparent answer seems to be that things have changed. We’ve seen that regulating speech will not work. Countless organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have tried to “bury” the N word by holding funerals, touting out caskets across stages and giving eulogies detailing its horrid history. But the word continues to be used and in 2015, that’s just the way it is.

American cultural use of the N word shows that there are limits to being politically correct. A word only has as much power as a society gives it. Curse words are bad because society tells teaches that they’re bad. Through casual use rappers and hip-hop artists have begun to chip away at the immense weight the N word once held. However, the existence of the abbreviation demonstrates the way society as a whole feels about the word. So maybe artists can be a little more creative and maybe individuals can be a little more sensitive, but unless there is a mass moral movement against the use of the N word, it’s sticking around. 


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