The N-Word "Debate" (It's Not A Debate...)
My podcast life began in and around a decade ago now. It was at a time when I was really into American Sports. NFL, NBA, Baseball, damn, even NASCAR for a couple of years! For the major US Sports, I listened to a ton of weekday sports podcasts, all about US Sports. Some were ESPN TV shows that are put in podcast format, some were sport specific.
I still have a few I listen to, simply because they have been integral in my need to have something on at all times. (Sometimes music isn't the one)
In recent years, those podcasts have accidentally given me a consistent pulse on American Culture. Like football in the UK; the NFL, NBA and other major sports are constantly in the National conversation about society and it's intersection with sports.
(Okay... Football less so admittedly.)
This intersection is so prevalent now. With the recent changes in the NFL where they're making it mandatory for players to stand for the National Anthem, it has sparked another backlash for the NFL and, in society, brought up the conversation of Freedom of Speech.
Freedom of Speech. Nigger, Nigga... The N-Word.
As you have seen in the past week, this conversation about the N-Word, a conversation that should be dead by now, has come up again. The genesis of this one, came as Kendrick Lamar invited a white woman on stage to help him perform "M.a.a.d City".
You know the rest.
I feel like every black writer has had to put their thoughts onto something like this, as it pertains to race & society. But the fact that I have to explain why white people can't say it in any context, Film, TV & Music included, honestly jars me. It aggravates me. Not because a majority of white people still don't understand in 2018, (The Public Education System failed you there.) it's because white people ask "why not?" and a black person can say why, but then they still give themselves some reason to, regardless of what the black person said.
Now, not every black person is educated in the historical context of the word. I am not the most educated I will admit. Not all black people are Fred Hampton! To rely on one black person for your whole experience on how society paints people of colour, is stupid. Especially in a Country where white people preside over a systematic dominance that has lasted for hundreds of years. You want to know... But do you REALLY want to know?
In a space of a few days I watched the Netflix show with David Letterman & Jay-Z where a well covered part was Jay's view on the N. I was also having a conversation with a white friend and they made some points towards it. We had a dialogue, a little back an forth and it was great. No argumentative tone, strictly to educate one another. And it is that conversation that inspired me to do this.
Many people have put their thoughts on it, this is mine and only mine.
You can judge by the title that I am pretty definitive about this. Put simply, if you're not black, don't say it. But obviously it can't just be that. I have to present more. Fine.
One of the points my white friend made, specific to the Kendrick show, was "Why invite a white girl on stage to rap a song with the N-Word on stage?". On this front I agree. I am not an artist, I don't have fans, but I'm guessing that when you have as many fans as Kendrick does, when you make music with the messages that Kendrick has, you would assume that white fans would get the memo. In this case, clearly not. He trusted this woman to be smart, but she thought that because she's such a big fan, she could go full fat. Some artists don't have that trust. Artists like Akala have taken the N-Word out of their music because he saw white people thinking they have this "pass" and was evidently jarred by it. I would probably be the same way. I do it every time I see somebody like a Kendrick live. I do it in clubs & bars, watching to see if white people will have the audacity to say it. Most of the time, they unfortunately do. I agree because if I was an artist that had the N-Word in my lyrics, I wouldn't trust white people to do the smart thing and censor themselves.
There are clearly deep cultural & societal issues in this, but I'll steer away from that because I have more to get to.
Going off the back of that, my white friend also said, "How can you write lyrics and not expect people of any race to sing along?" Another good point! Not bad so far right?
The last thing my white friend said on this is that they're not living in a world where they're encouraged to use the word in a derogatory way and that they assume white people use it with an (ignorant) meaninglessness or (intentional) rebelliousness.
Here is what is wrong with all of that. Think of a screenwriter that are creating characters in their head. If they're making a role with a black person in mind, who do you think they're going to have play the role? A black person.
Here is what it all boils down to. Kendrick Lamar and all the other rappers that have the N in their lyrics. They write those bars for themselves, black people, to perform. As much as that white woman and all you other white people think that you deserve a "pass" for whatever reason. The truth is that these black artists do not write those lyrics with you in mind.
But in an attempt to see my white friend's side. There was something I have realised in terms of how some white people see the N-Word. Whenever I listen to an album, sometimes I accidentally put on the clean version and I give this audible sigh as I go to the explicit version. I wonder if some white people see the N-Word as any other expletive. If so. That is just another chapter in the long history of white people being wilfully ignorant.
This article isn't definitive by any means, but for those that don't know my personal stance. No, I don't say it. I don't find any enjoyment in saying it. But if every other black person says it, that's fine by me. In a perfect world, everybody would be educated in the historical context, I have a feeling that there's more rappers that don't know the history than rappers that do.
White people. If you take anything from this. Don't say it, in any context. It is not "just another expletive", I don't care if a black person gives you a "pass". Not every black person are the same on that front unfortunately. And if you genuinely wonder why this is such a hot button topic in Hip-Hop and society in general, educate yourself. Hell! My door is always open!
And sometimes education finds you! It's just up to you to absorb it. Just look at my podcast consumption. You might also learn why those NFL players knelt in the first place.
"We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity." - Fred Hampton.