Ta-Nehisi Coates asked if it's OK for white fans to rap along to songs with n-word in them


Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/11/13/ta-nehisi-coates-asked-if-it.html


That guy really has got something.
He just moved his new book to the top of my list.


B-but Chris Rock said it was okay if you sing along to Dr. Dre.


So make the two of them arm wrestle, it’s the only way to determine who has the right to set policy.


My 5th grade teacher [Black Woman] fled Apartheid South Africa with nothing but the clothes on her back, I haven’t the proper ability to narrate her positive impact on my life. I witnessed her being called the n-word by a parent once, her reply was to bow and thank the racist douche bag. We students asked her if she was upset, she replied that she never misses an opportunity to baffle the opposition without raising a hand. I’ll never forget that, and often duplicate it.


I’ll take your word for it rather than navigate the twitiverse.

Whenever people say “the N word” I have this nearly uncontrollable urge to say “which N word is that? Could you say it for me so I am sure I know what you’re talking about? I’m sorry, you’re whispering, did you mean to say ■■■■■?” really really loudly.


What a cool guy you are.


I suspect I am the uncoolest person who ever lived, but unfortunately I am too out of touch with the cultural mainstream to even know. I do have an onion on my belt, which I understand is the style.


This was quite an illuminating little clip. I felt a bit smarter and wiser after watching. I have never heard of this fellow but he seems very well spoken and I might take a look at his book.


I used to advocate for non-black folks replacing the n-word in raps with “brother/brotha,” which maintains the rhythm of the flow while having a more respectful connotation (and sometimes can even improve the rap [IMO] via consonance and assonance, depending on the context, e.g. “Fuck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground / A young brotha got it bad ‘cause I’m brown”). However, after listening to Mr. Coates’ response, I realize that even doing this crosses a line. And maybe it’s just as bad as singing along without the replacement: “I’m gonna rewrite your song in order to make me, a white person, feel comfortable enough to sing along to it.” So now I regret advocating for that.


That was a good way to reframe why it’s not ok to use that derogatory term, and why it gets used a lot within said community. I had not thought about how other communities and groups do the same with similar terms aimed at them. Very well put and i will try to remember this clip in case i need to send this to someone.


Seems to me that he was not advocating for you to not be able to enjoy the music but rather to be aware that your use of certain terms are inappropriate even if only spoken while singing a song.

I think your suggestion of replacement lyrics is still a great solution.

Regardless of whether it is an F-bomb or the N-word, I’m still not going to sing it out loud in front of my mom. I’m 36 and I still think that’s a pretty good test.


Chris Rock also said only with certain extremely specific exceptions.


I admit, I clicked on this post with some reticence; because these kinds of sensitive topics tend to go sideways mighty quickly, even amongst a ‘more enlightened than average’ community like the one we have here at the BBS.

And as a woman of color, it can be extra tedious to hear the same fallacious reasoning time and time again.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by Coates’ poignant response; context matters greatly, as does one’s level of familiarity with the audience one is addressing.

The point he made about the assumption of ownership of all words (and all things) is also very compelling; just because one has been systematically conditioned to believe that one is a veritable ‘master of the universe,’ that doesn’t automatically make that perception accurate.


Thank you.


Yes, the word ownership example was great. I also like his point, towards the beginning of his response, about “not wanting to participate.” And then the example of how he doesn’t go around wanting to cry out faggot all over the place, even with friends, or refer to his friend’s cabin as the white trash cabin. He just “wouldn’t” and so why use the n word? Why the desire to participate so badly?


Akala on similar topics:


While we’re at it, let’s question why there are so many tanning parlors and self tanning products on the market if darker skin is truly so ‘undesirable.’

Or why music and fashion created by Black musicians and artists are often co-opted and appropriated by others.

Don’t even get me started on in-jokes, slang and vernacular sayings, because “ain’t nobody got time for that.


Likely for the same reason why pale skin was highly desired in previous times. Pale skin was desired because it made the person look like they were well off and did not need to be outside doing work.

These days it’s the opposite. Having a tan means that the person has the wealth and time to be engaged in leisurely pursuits outside and having fun, while the rest of us common folk are inside working. This is my hunch, i could be wrong.


If I’m not mistaken, the title of this post suggests signing along to a song that includes the word in question. Ta-Nehisi and others here seem to expand that to just using it in general. My take is that singing along with the words as the artist performs them is just staying with the art. I don’t feel weird about it just like I don’t feel weird about singing along when the song, written and/or sung by a woman, talks about her man, etc.

When I’m reading a book that contains that phrase, I’ll read along with it. If I want to quote a passage later than contains this phrase, I’ll stay with what the author intended.

Now, using it in day to day speech, that’s a different thing. I agree with Akala (I guess that’s his name, I’ve never heard of him before right now) and Chris Rock. There’s a lot of bad history and blood associated with the term, and we should all rise above it and don’t continue perpetuating it.