I am a black woman, and I wouldn’t have read the piece without first having read H.
Ré Harris
223

Hi Ré Harris. First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to respond to my question that was housed in the above response; that being how individual POC saw the use of the N word in Elliot Nichols post. I appreciate you sharing your perspective, and I view this exchange as a foundation for potential dialogue.

I should say that, for a number of reasons, your responses were not particularly surprising to me. While individual perspective is just that, and I have no doubt there is much breadth of opinion here, from the other POC I have discussed this issue with as well as from my own experience working in anti racist environments with POC I know personally, your sentiments have been by far the normative response.

I’m not sure if this is particularly helpful, but I can only offer my perspective on the use of the word as a white male who identifies as an anti-racist ally trying to promote racial justice and equity. A perspective that, by necessity, is a cautious one. In this case I knew Elliot and respected him as someone who works against racism in his writings. I also understood his intent with the usage. Did I agree on the use? No, but I understood what Elliot was trying to do. And I trusted him.

Speaking personally, I can’t think of a time I would feel justified in using the word in any context beyond, perhaps, a specifically journalistic one, ie reporting on the use of a term, but not actually using it as a legitimate description, though I have never done so. But whatever my perspective and view, it is largely academic, since there will be no tangible effect on my lived experience based on anyone's use of the word. Therefore, I think the only ethical response is for an author to defer to the feelings and views of those the word does have material effect on; POC.

In other words, if one is going to use oppressive language that has the cultural baggage the N word has, there needs to be a large degree of flexibility that defers to the individuals for whom it matters. An imperfect analogy might be that as a gay person I may not like the use of word faggot. So, the intentions of a straight man using that term of oppression in an article are, to me, secondary to the way gay people experience the word.

Obviously this gets complicated fast, based on a number of factors including tone, overall ideological stance of the writer, trust in the writer based on track record, whether the word is intended as satirical or functional etc. Individual situations aside, I suppose ultimately the voices of those with a potential for harm need to be privileged.

Given the rambling tone that this response has taken on, I will close and say thank you again for your response.

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