No excuse to use N-word

The issue of identity is confusing. We spend our whole lives figuring out who we are and what we want for ourselves. Throw race and gender into the mix, and it adds even more layers of complexity to our identity.

I’m not black and I don’t consider myself white either. I’m still struggling with my own racial identity. Whether it’s growing up in a mixed race family or racially diverse neighborhood, many people can relate.

For example, it was normal to hear the N-word at Englewood Middle School on Chicago’s Southside. Or even Lincoln Junior High in Skokie. I heard it everywhere at school, and on the street.

Then I moved to the New Trier District, where the majority was white. Already that was a culture shock to me. I honestly wasn’t used to seeing so many white people. It was weird. What was even more shocking was hearing white people say the N-word when addressing one another.

The majority of the time, I hear it at parties but rarely in the hallway. In my experience, I didn’t think it was used in a derogatory way. It was used to I guess be funny, or act “hood.” In some group chats, a lot of the guys would use it and try to talk in an awkward “ghetto” accent, the way they think a lot of rappers sound.

I understand why some students talk like that. Since hip hop and rap culture is in now, everyone wants to be a part of that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But when you try to imitate it, whether it’s trying to act black by saying the N-word in a song or to one of your friends, same difference. You’re still saying it.

The recent N-word presentations lacked an essential question: why do non-blacks use the N-word in the first place?

It’s always baffled me why people who aren’t black feel the need to say it. I’m not condoning the non-black students at my other school saying it either, even though they were minorities. I can understand why it’s confusing for younger kids to comprehend why only a certain group of kids could say a word that they hear thrown around mercilessly.

For teenagers in a white community to think it’s okay is absolutely ridiculous though. There’s no excuse for it. No, it’s not okay if its in a song, or if it’s used to imitate a rapper. And it’s not funny when it’s used in a joke.

Yes, in some cases it is used to target blacks and be racist. But the most common use I’ve heard is to ‘act black.’ That’s a whole other issue.

I’ve debated writing this article for so many reasons. Although the use of the word is becoming more common among the student body, I didn’t want to offend anyone because I’m not being directly affected by it. The N-word presentations we recently had in our advisors emphasized that.

Once I was at a party and someone was playing rap, and a few white kids said the N-word and flailed their arms in the air. I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t out of fear, but because I felt like it wasn’t my place.

I didn’t realize until after I attended the minority alliance meeting that I was indirectly contributing. Even though I didn’t say it, I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t put the perpetrators on blast.

It’s ridiculous to think I was both embarrassed to call out racists and it was ingrained in my mentality to think this is an issue for only black people to deal with. It’s not.

The N-word is everyone’s problem. It impacts non-blacks too because it establishes a precedent that it’s okay to use derogatory language in our community and that affects everyone.

Regardless of race, gender, and sexuality, by using that language, we are building a toxic environment that encourages ignorance. There’s a sense of humanity that’s lost when we dehumanize each other using malicious words.

So, if you hear someone say the N-word or a slur, be the bigger person and say something. Although it’s a cliche, the same “golden rule” of treating everyone the way you want to be treated still apply. And honestly it’s
more crucial now than ever since we all have a basic understanding of the implications of bigotry.

At this point it’s ridiculous that our school has to reiterate, to grown adults and teenagers, that it’s not ok under any circumstances to imply or use hate speech.