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



Don’t miss this one either:


Ahh, that makes sense. A forum I used to admin for some friends had a word replacement system which everyone was allowed to add entries to, but nobody was allowed to delete from. For lulz, basically, and about half the time trying to trick people into looking like they were being politically incorrect. It got pretty chaotic, but because of the FIFO order of word replacements and the rule about no deletions, there got to be some very creative hacks to change previous entries.


Thanks for the intro to Akala! Just from listening to the first one, I can see he has given the topic some thought, so he would definitely be one to comment, like in that prior video of him at that talk show.


The best example of this I’ve seen is auto replacement of both “vi” and “emacs” with “Microsoft Word™, part of the Microsoft Office™ suite.”


I wasn’t arguing. Unless you mean about the part where I clicked the link and it didn’t work because I don’t facebook and would have to modify my browser settings a bunch to make it work. No, that’s not an argument either, just me being snobby.


I love Coates, but I’m not sure this settles anything, it’s more of a place-holder for something that we don’t have a perfect answer to yet.

I don’t think you can really expect people to not use the word when it’s being offered up to the public as part of a creative/artistic commodity; Coates himself uses “faggot” to describe Dan Savage’s show, but describing the name of the show is different than just randomly saying “hey faggot” to a stranger on the street. He answered the question by saying “white people also get to feel discrimination here.” Fair enough, but if the ultimate goal is a world where everyone is equal and free (a long shot, I know) then logically at some point the word would either be frowned upon by everyone, or accepted by everyone.

FWIW: I first heard white kids using the n-word as a familiar term in the presence of their black friends more than twenty years ago, kids on the subway, both white and black, saying “my nigga said blah blah blah”, and “that nigga is blah blah” to each other. It was surreal.


I am still mystified why (so many) white people want so strongly to be “able to” say the word. I don’t say the word. I don’t want to say the word. I think it’s an ugly, hateful word. I’m fine with not saying it.


Yeah, that’s a good one too.


This scene from Dope nailed it.



And yet we still encounter the “velvet rope syndrome”, where white people, even after having it explained to them clearly and concisely with examples, pictures, and bullet points, look for a way to give themselves access to something they should not have access to.

“Yes, but if…”

Just no. If you have ask, you can’t afford it.


That’s kind of naive in thinking, and i don’t mean you but in general. Mankind hardly is ever able to have unanimous agreement on a particular thing, and language is such a hard thing to pin down as it means different things to different people… even among those that talk the same language.

For me i know where i stand on not just racist terms for black people, but in general and they have no place in my vocabulary. I can’t control what other people do or say but i sure as hell can make sure i’m communicating with understanding and compassion. It’s an evolving thing though, 5-10 years ago my stance would have not quite been the same. 10-20 years ago i would have been far less thoughtful.


Personally, I say the word whenever it is useful or when I want to, i.e. never. This has worked our remarkably well for me, and I recommend it as a useful praxis.


It doesn’t ‘settle’ anything because like the institutions of bigotry and racism themselves, it’s extremely complicated.

And it goes without saying that there is no such thing as “perfect,” period.

That word, like all other slurs and words with inherent negative connotations, will never be readily accepted or uniformly rebuked by the entirety of the Black community, because we are all unique individuals with varied perspectives, and not a monolithic entity.

Personally, I just want people to understand and accept the consequences of whatever they choose to say, regardless of the situation; and when someone gets called out for making others uncomfortable with their choices, that they acknowledge the viewpoints of the people they’ve offended.

A good example of how such a situation can go horribly awry, all stemming from a little 'harmless disrespect":


I’m going to go the controversial direction and say there are words that if a word is offensive, no one should be comfortable using it. The race, class, gender of the speaker shouldn’t matter. Saying it’s ok for one group to use doesn’t appear to take away it’s power to offend. It seems to enshrine the power for it to offend. Enforcing a division of who can use a word entrenches the division between people.

Does it have a practical effect? Heck yeah. People are afraid to mix socially outside their narrow group for fear of offending. Regardless of our race, creed, gender, etc, we’re taught “They (those not like you) resent you.” A self perpetuating cluster-f***.


there are only two contexts in which i would say that particular word aloud–

if i were reading a literary work aloud which used that word


if i were making a statement involving a verbatim account of what someone else said and they had used the word.

otherwise i have no use for the word…


You posted that while I was was typing out my previous response, but kudos;

That scene is another excellent example from pop culture of how some Black folks may not care who uses the word, while others may care a whole helluva lot.


Interestingly, there was similar reasoning behind NYC’s ban on the N-word 10 years ago. That resolution, while symbolic, passed unanimously, but was largely mocked and/or ignored.


I think the problem I have is the notion of out-groups at all. I realise this is hugely problematic for me to say because I’m white male, but I genuinely do wish for a world in which the colour of a person’s skin (or gender, or sexual orientation or whatever) is not the basis for defining an in- or out-group.

Coates doesn’t really deal with this bigger issue in his response. His other examples are all based on very tight social circles, so it seems a stretch to extend it to skin colour as the basis on which an acceptable usage exists.


Yeah, I know. But my view is that we are working towards an ideal, and Coates’ answer to the problem is really only one rung of the ladder. It’s a good answer for now, but I can still look forward to a day when a better solution is possible.


So you reject Coates’ premise that words derive power and meaning through context, which is why your spouse calling you “honey” might be fine while a stranger or professional colleague calling you “honey” might be completely inappropriate?