On White People Using the N Word: Really a Thing?

Written by Ted Rall

Has the N word finally passed out of angry, white man vocabulary? Ted Rall commentary, exclusive to aNewDomain.

aNewDomain commentary — Social justice warriors” are Internet activists (to the extent the phrase isn’t an oxymoron) who police digital spaces against racism, misogyny and discrimination against historically disadvantaged populations.

I have a question — an earnest, 100 percent serious query borne of genuine wonder and befuddlement — for social justice warriors.

Where is this America where white people insult black people by calling them ni … you know?

To read essays like XO Jane managing editor Rebecca Carroll’s “Can black people really stop white people from using the n-word?” and Jamie Utt’s “4 Reasons White People Can’t Use the N-Word (No Matter What Black Folks Are Doing)” you’d think this was going on all the time. Judging by such essays, whites calling black people the N-word, one assumes, is still A Thing. As in, something that happens often. Like it’s 1890 or some shit.

Carroll writes:

It doesn’t matter who you think your friends are, where you grew up or how many times you’ve heard it in a rap song: If you are white, you are not allowed to use it.”

Fine. (Although I make exceptions for titles of important non-racist works, like the classic book of 1960s education criticism by Jerry Farber “The Student as Nigger” and “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” by Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Not to mention the Avengers’ punk ditty “White Nigger.”)

But is anyone seriously spitting the N-epithet at black people?

I’ve lived where you’d expect to see explosions of racist resentment on the streets, in mixed neighborhoods, typically people of color dealing with gentrification. I’ve lived in New York for decades, ridden the subway, seen whites and blacks get into fights … no N-words. Lots of other ones, though.

I get around. I hung in Alabama — and never heard it. And San Francisco, one of the most racially-segregated cities in the nation? Not there either.

I’m perfectly willing to concede, from my position of while male privilege as, social justice warriors would say, that there may be a huge white-people-yelling-N-words-at-blacks phenomenon.

I’m not black so I don’t know. If you are, and you’ve seen and heard this, seriously, please tell me cuz I want to know.

Thus my question: Clue us in. Show us some examples. Tell us some stories. Until we know this is actually happening — as opposed to being mostly made up (like those tall tales about dirty hippies supposedly spitting on vets arriving at the airport from Vietnam) — these “hey whites, please stop using the N-word unironically” screeds read so far removed from reality as to make one lose faith in journalistic media.

When you read closely, the objections are really to white people who call their black friends by the N-word. As a term of affection.

I get why some black people take offense. (I say “some” because some black people don’t.)

I don’t do it myself. Cuz: it would be rude and cheesy and rude and cheesy.

But let’s get real: there is no comparison between the classic 1890 “Birth of a Nation” KKK usage of the N-word as insult, and the clumsy use of said term as an attempt at affection for a black friend. There just isn’t.

N-word policing by social justice warriors is in serious danger of crossing from silly to absurd. For example, Carroll directs some of her venom at CNN news reader guy Piers Morgan because Morgan wants black people to stop calling each other by That Word because he thinks it encourages white people to use it too. Poor Piers! Hating the N-word isn’t enough. He’s supposed to follow Carroll’s exact script for the right way to hate it.

She does manage dredge up verbally-challenged 1%er actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who in 2012 tweeted the title of a Jay-Z song, “Niggas in Paris,” minus quotation marks and caps as tweeters are wont to do, to caption her selfie with Jay-Z and Kanye West (so, whatever else, a Klanslady she almost certainly ain’t). I’ll say it again: white people using the N-word to try to sound cool is not even a little close to the implication that these articles make, namely that nothing has changed in America since the 19th century.

Racism is very, very real. And it really, really matters. We ought to be going after the racist cops and racist CEOs and racist politicians who make black people’s lives miserable, not poor punctuation-challenged Gwyneth.

For aNewDomain, I’m Ted Rall.

Cover art: “Rage face” by SmurfyOwn work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

ted-rall-the-n-word-a-new-domainBased in New York, Ted Rall is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, an author, internationally syndicated political cartoonist, essayist and senior commentator here at aNewDomain and our sister site, BreakingModern. The above column is exclusive to aNewDomain. Follow Ted’s commentary and updates at @tedrall.


  • I’d have no problem with this piece if you’d kept it in the first person singular. When you switched to “show us,” I felt like you were including me in your ignorance or myopia or sheltered existence, and I didn’t appreciate that.

  • All I know is I don’t like the word. Don’t want to be called that by anyone. Even another black man because you know how supposedly we as black men use that word as a term of endearment. Bullshit. Don’t call me that.

    Also, what’s up with the use of “cuz” in this piece?

    -RAP, II

    My thoughts extended here: http://antpruitt.com/blog/ill-never-say-it-epi-18