The contributions of the N-word to Modern Racism

Some of you may have heard about, or even watched, the ESPN special on “The N-Word” that was shown on Outside the Lines.  The hour long special invited influential African American athletes to discuss the word and its meaning, as well as younger student athletes.  Bob Ley stated that the purpose of the special was to:

“have an honest conversation about this word, which is on the third rail of American society.” He added: “We’re going to try and bring this to American living rooms, and American dorm rooms and American bar rooms and American dinner tables in a way where maybe it hasn’t [been].”

It was very interesting to hear the difference in what this word meant to them between older athletes, like Brianna Scurry, Warren Moon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and what the word meant to teenage student athletes.  The older athletes shared some offensive stories stemming from the word, and discussed what that word meant to them and still does.  The high school students interviewed say that the word is now no more than a “personal greeting” and that it is used so freely that it “has no meaning to it anymore”, somewhat contradicting Ley’s third rail statement.

This belief that the word no longer has a meaning and that it is in daily vocabulary of both white and black people is somewhat concerning in my opinion.  Modern racism, as discussed in the Nelson article, argues that people in today’s world believe that discrimination no longer exists. Discrimination is clearly still present in our society, and I believe that making the word mainstream and meaningless may be contributing to this false belief and therefore making modern racism more widespread.  How do you believe that the evolution of the N-word has effected racism in today’s world?

2 thoughts on “The contributions of the N-word to Modern Racism”

  1. The topic of reclamation is such a difficult one for me to figure out where to stand on. On the one hand, I totally agree that white use of the n-word perpetuates the idea that racism is a thing of the past. I’m less sure about the use of the n-word by Black Americans, however. I think there’s a certain kind of power in taking a word that has been historically used for oppression and changing it into a word that is used to show community and solidarity.

    I’m also interested in the common complaint of White Americans that they can’t use the n-word. “Black Americans say the n-word, so why can’t we?” It makes me wonder, why do so many White Americans feel the desire or even the need to use that word? I think it has to do with modern racism, as you suggested, as well as aversive racism. Both of these kinds of racism require a denial of discrimination in contemporary America. Perhaps some White Americans feel the need to use the n-word because its use would again reinforce the idea that there is no racism anymore. Not allowing oneself to use the n-word, as a White American, would not only imply that prejudice exists but that white privilege also exists. In essence, I think many White Americans want to use the n-word so they can avoid the recognition of white privilege and the ensuing guilt.

  2. I briefly saw the ESPN special on “The N-Word” as well and I could not agree with you more. I think it is extremely appalling and concerning that the word is becoming a greeting and socially acceptable among the high school students. In my opinion, no matter your race or ethnicity no one should be using that word as it is extremely offensive. It would be extremely interesting in hearing what the older athletes think about the younger kids using this word so nonchalantly. I think that the evolution of the N-word has made it seem as if racism and prejudices no longer exist, which is completely false, as you also mentioned. I hope that they kids who are using these derogatory terms come to understand what they truly mean.

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