Recently a question appeared on my Twitter timeline:
Do slurs deserve violence as a response?
My immediate response was: Yes, they very much do deserve violence as a response. If someone who isn’t black says “nigga” is carries a long history and has a very strong emotional impact on me. So, yes. I think it deserves violence as a response.
But why? Why does a single word make me want to fight someone, even someone that I considered a friend?
It’s simple to me. I live the life of someone who has experienced racism. But not everyone has. And not everyone understands why a word can elicit a violent response. So, as your friendly neighborhood black person, I’m going to explain it to you.
Slurs Are Violence
Not physical, but emotional and mental. And those aren’t any less real just because they don’t leave visible scars.
I haven’t been physically attacked for being black, but I have been verbally attacked. Most of the time the attacks aren’t even intentional. It’s through micro-aggressions, stereotypes, incorrect education, etc.
All intentional on a structural level, but just unconscious, yet harmful, acts on an individual level.
There are a lot of black people, like Oprah, who refuse to use the word. They don’t think it has any place in this world, and is inherently harmful, even if black people attempt to reclaim it. I agreed for a portion of my life.
I had my reasons. The n-word with a hard R is horrible. I don’t even like saying it or typing it. It carries so much weight and power. Hundreds of years of oppression and dehumanization packed into one word. Two syllables.
The Hard R
So even without the hard R I felt the strength of the word whenever it was said. It took away my humanity and made me feel like an insignificant object worthy of being treated worse than dirt. It made me feel like a slave. Not an enslaved person, but a slave. An object.
That word is violent. It has a history of violence, oppression, and dehumanization whenever it’s said by a non-black person. When it’s said by a black person it’s in an attempt to put themselves above other black people. It’s self-hating, and it’s disgusting, but it’s not the same as when a non-black person says it. And it’s definitely not the same as when a white person says it. We, as black people, have no history of using that word as a tool to oppress. It’s always been used against us.
When I hear that word in person I get goosebumps. I feel uneasy and unsafe. I feel angry. I want to fight. It elicits a fight or flight response, and as I’ve matured I’ve started to lean more toward fight. Flight would be giving in to the word, letting it control me. Letting it continue to oppress me. So I fight back.
The word hurts. But I choose to not show that pain. Instead I fight back. I fight back against the word, the person saying it, and the history of it.
The Light R
Ah. The word everyone and their mother wants to use. Fun Fact: It’s the same word as the hard R, just with an accent.
That version of the word has changed in the black community however, taking the power away from the oppressors and giving it to us. When non-black people say this variation of the word it snatches the power away from us, and turns it back into a harmful slur. Even if the person using it isn’t using it in an intentionally harmful way, it’s still harmful because they’re using it from a position of racial power. The only people who can say it without having racial power over someone is black people.
So when a non-black person says it, we get upset. We get mad. And we deserve to. It undoes all of the work we’ve put in to gain power and retool that word to uplift ourselves and our community.
When a white person says it we get infuriated. They have been our main oppressors. The people who have been ungrateful for our help in advancing society and culture. For building America. The people who have spent hundreds of years dehumanizing and killing us. So many black people are much more likely to fight a white person saying the word than a non-black person of color. I said many. Not all. A bunch of us will still fight you.
Now… the word is inherently racist so why would anyone use it?
Black people use the word as a way to have power over our oppressors.
So the only explanation for why non-black people would use it is to take the power away from us. They claim it’s for equality and because “words don’t mean anything” or “because it’s cool”, but it’s really just to take something away from us yet again.
Cracker isn’t nearly the same as the n-word, the f-word, the s-word, or any other slur against oppressed and marginalized people because it has no power. It’s an attempt to fight back. For us to have power.
Cracker has no roots in systematic dehumanization and oppression. It is not nearly as harmful as any other slur. Some will say that because it refers to the cracking of a whip on an enslaved person that it’s offensive. Really? Equally as offensive as the word shouted at the enslaved person as they were being whipped?
So we’ll fight. Some of us will fight people who use the word if they aren’t black. Slurs are harmful when they’re rooted in power and oppression.
So we’ll fight. We’ll fight to have power. We’ll fight against the oppressive and dehumanizing slur. Because that’s easier than dismantling an entire oppressive power structure that’s thousands of years in the making.
And if you’re not black and you even think about saying the n-word, you better believe we’ll fight.
Cause this nigga doesn’t play around.