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


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The thing that puzzles me is the word in question is often used in music for commercial purpose. As it has moved from everyday racism to forbidden then to pop culture product, is it any wonder that the out group questions if it is ok to use in a pop context?


IME, if you say someone is very articulate, and they happen to be black, hordes of virtue-signalling Americans will descend on you and seek mighty vengeance for the ‘…for a black guy’ finishing your sentence in their heads.


Well I finally got a chance to sit down and watch/listen. This subject I find interesting because the word can be probably the worst word in the English language, and one that can signify extreme closeness and affection, as well as varying degrees of love and hate in between the two.

His first sentence was “Words don’t have meaning with out context.” and I totally agree. I will say his explanation I found particularly enlightening. My rational brain wasn’t sure it could justify its use/non use, but my “gut” feeling was always “no”. Even when ex-gf used it around me, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable using it.

But, putting my emotions aside, and agreeing that words don’t have meaning with out context, I was struggling to come up with a rational reason why one wouldn’t say it along with a song. In that context, they aren’t using it as a slur (usually). Their meaning isn’t to cause harm per se. But his explanation and examples of other uses where their use is ONLY ok because of familiarity makes a lot of sense. I think it spelled out what I was feeling, but couldn’t put into actual words. So thanks for posting.


I’m a white guy. Most of the people close to me are of color. In my younger days I ran with all black guys. At some point I started using the n-word to mean normal people including myself, which were black people to me because that’s mostly who I was around. I’d use ‘white’ or ‘cracker’ when talking about someone white because those were the unusual people. I don’t recall it being a conscious decision. That’s how we talked.

I felt one in the same with these folks. Modified the familiar saying to be ‘White by nature, black by choice’. As I grew older I started to notice that when we were together and got into mischief or was accused of doing so, I was treated better than the others by whichever authority figure was trying to sort things out. I was certainly no more innocent than any of my friends but was treated as though I were.

When we started driving, I noticed my friends were always getting pulled over for no apparent reason. Again, I didn’t drive any better or commit fewer violations than the others.

As time went on the number of times when I’d be in the car when my friends got pulled over for no apparent reason started to add up. I noticed that, while I didn’t behave better or show more respect to the cops than my friends, I was almost always treated better.

When I joined the work force and started to be around mostly white people during the working day, every so often a white person, believing I look so white we must think alike, would express blatant racism.

Sometime in my twenties I ended on the decision to not use the word again. My thinking shifted from “This is my culture I can use these words. I’m in the proper context” to “I love these people and cultures. I’ll not presume to think I can continue to use these words I know have caused and still cause so much harm.”

For what it’s worth, I now feel the same about the b-word, the c-word, and the new f-word.

In summary, it seems like a small thing for me to eliminate a handful of words from my vocabulary, I should be fine.

While I’m here, I think I’ll also give a shot of eliminating other derogatory words and feelings from my day.


Personally, I find “subtle” worse. There’s a “b” in it. Why the heck is that silent?


Personally, I find Ice Cube’s discussion of white people and the n-word in music and elsewhere a lot more insightful than Coates’. Cube discusses this in the context of him going in on Bill Maher for using the n-word last Summer:


Oh, poor you; having to abide by the code of conduct, just like everyone else.

Oh, the horror.

There’s a world of difference between banning a word and actively choosing not to say it because it has bad history and using it can reflect badly upon that person.

Say whatever you like, just be willing to deal with the negative consequences and repercussions of saying it without complaint.



I have a white friend who lives and breathes hip-hop, he had a huge collection of tapes of the Stretch & Bobbito show from the 90’s that he played until they fell apart, and he said to me once “I hate that word, I wish nobody said it, I wish it didn’t appear in verses so much!” But I still heard him say it once in a while if he was rapping along to his favorite songs, and called him out on it. He just shook his head, he didn’t have a good answer, “I know, what can I say, it’s there, I said it, I can’t stop it sometimes, it’s just part of the flow.”

I would say any white person who wants to say it is an asshole. If at all possible you should avoid it, and shouldn’t feel good if you do occasionally say it in that situation. Like someone else here mentioned, I usually try to substitute another word like “brother” in it’s place, assuming it fits the context of the line.

“Big Jus the outsider, rain on your dream fields, with styles so freakin wet brothers need maxi-panty shields.”

( I would typically use “y’all” there instead, but you get it.)


Watch the clip and listen to what Mr. Coates says.


Sorry, what I meant was “Up to this point I never quite understood …”


Well, is there a version that doesn’t require letting twitter run scripts on my machine?

Twitter’s a hate machine. I don’t take their cookies, I don’t let their javascript run on my systems, I don’t go there if I can avoid it.


I roll my eyes at your weird rule, and your first post in this thread is pretty detestable, but nevertheless, here:


I doubt that’s really a problem, but I’m sure that if Americans disagree, they’ll find a way thru it.


Here’s the text of Mr. Coates’ comments.

Words don’t have meaning without context. My wife refers to me as, “Honey.” That’s accepted and okay between us. If we were walking down the street together, and a strange woman referred to me as “Honey,” that wouldn’t be acceptable. The understanding is I have some sort of relationship with my wife; hopefully I have no relationship with this strange woman.

When I was young and I used to go see my family in Philadelphia, where my dad was from, they would all call him Billy. His name is William Paul Coates–no one in Baltimore called him Billy, and had I referred to my father as Billy, that probably would have been a problem. That’s because the relationship between myself and my dad is not the same as the relationship between my dad, and his mother, and his sisters who he grew up with. We understand that.

It’s the same thing with words within the African-American community, or within any community. My wife with her girlfriends will use the word, “bitch.” I do not join in. I’m not saying, “Hey I want to–” I don’t do that. And I perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a desire to do it. You understand?

A while ago, Dan Savage was gonna have this show that he was going to call, Hey Faggot. I’m not gonna yell “faggot” at Dan Savage. That’s not my relationship with the LGBT community, and I understand that, and I’m okay with that. I don’t have a desire to yell out the word, “faggot.” I just don’t have that.

The question one must ask–if that’s accepted and normal for groups of people, we understand it’s normal, actually, for groups to use words that are derogatory in an ironic fashion–why is there so much handwringing when black people do it?

Black people are basically, however you feel about it, they’re not outside the normal rules and laws for humanity. I had a good friend, and we used to have this cabin in upstate New York, which he referred to as, “the white trash cabin.” He was white. I would never refer to that cabin, I would never tell him, “I’m coming to your white trash cabin.” I just wouldn’t do that, and I think you understand why I wouldn’t do it. The question one must ask is: Why do so many white people have difficulty extending things that are basic laws of how human beings interact to black people? I think I know why.

When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. You have a right to go where you–you’re conditioned this way! It’s not because your hair is a texture or your skin is light, it’s the fact that the laws and the culture tell you this. You’ve got a right to go where you want to go, to do what you want to do, be however, and people just have to accommodate themselves to you.

So here comes this word, that you feel like you invented. And now someone’s going to tell you how to use a word that you invented–Why can’t I use it? Everyone else gets to use it, you know what, that’s racism, that I don’t get to use it! That’s racist against me! I have to inconvenience myself and hear this song and I can’t sing along? How come I can’t sing along?

And I think for white people, the experience of being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word ****** is actually very, very insightful. It will give you just a little peek into the world of what it means to be black. Because to be black is to walk through the world, and watch people doing things that you cannot do. That you can’t join in and do. And so I think there’s actually a lot to be learned from refraining.


Thank you, that was kind of you. I’m sorry you detested my earlier post, but honestly I’m probably going to continue to mock kindergarten euphemisms.

Mr. Coates’s opinion resonates with my own, I really don’t feel any desire to use in-group jargon inappropriately.

Edit: The part where he claims to know how white people were taught, and what white people believe, seems to be denying independent agency and freedom of thought to white people - I’m not endorsing that bit, that’s not what I’m agreeing with.


Your statement is logically coherent. It doesn’t map to reality though, the problem is that “should”. We know people shouldn’t steal, yet between the two of us we could think of a couple of situations where maybe stealing isn’t wrong, and so it is with words as well.

Even I know not all black people think it’s OK for other black people to use it.


I could argue that this is exactly what’s happened, the context for the word has changed so much that where it was once appropriate for anybody to use it, it is no longer the case. At this point, if anybody wants to re contextualize it further it’s not going to happen by arguing that when they use the word, they don’t actually mean anything bad by it.
In the long run, I suspect that once people give up and accept that it’s wrong to use it if not black themselves, that will be the day that it will lose it’s power as a slur and people can begin to start using it again, though they probably won’t want to for a while.


Thanks. @Medievalist wasn’t the only one who didn’t wish to deal with the original link.