by G. Brown
Author/journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates can have my proxy vote to speak on my behalf anytime. His views on everything from politics to social issues are usually not only profound, but often taps directly into the pulse of the Black community and truth.
Recently, Coates gave a succinct and shrewd response when questioned about why Whites should refrain in use of the N-Word. The thought that anyone can use the word sees to keep popping up more frequently in the last few months. Like last month when five White teen girls thought it was hilarious as they screamed “f**king n-word” into a camera and posted the video on IG, apparently just for laughs.
The high school the girls attend issued the obligatory “We are shocked…” statement, but some of us of aren’t so shocked. In this current politically and racially charged climate, the apprehension that once gave people pause about use of the word has disappeared along with other moral compasses like telling the truth.
Coates offers one of the best explanations as to why everyone can’t and shouldn’t expect to use this word. Coates was speaking at an Illinois High School last month when the topic of ‘why can’t Whites use the N-word came up.
Coates elegantly makes an argument that is so simple yet often overlooked. Strangers don’t want up to you and call you Mom, Dad or auntie, uncle. Everyone understands that those words are reserved for certain people and use by strangers towards you would be inappropriate.
Coates delves more into the psychology of why some White people feel they should and can use the N-word. He told online news site Vox, “When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. … 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 have a right to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be however — and people just got to accommodate themselves to you.” So far, he’s not wrong.
Coates continues saying, “So here comes this word that you feel like you invented, And now somebody will tell you how to use the 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. You know, that’s racist against me. You know, I have to inconvenience myself and hear this song and I can’t sing along. How come I can’t sing along?”
Soooooo….White people don’t think its fair that they can’t use a word that Blacks use. That sounds totally ridiculous, but a logical explanation at the same time. It’s a bit like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden—the one thing God said don’t do and that’s the very thing they wanted to do.
Coates explanation doesn’t apply to those who still want to use the word as a weapon in some racist exchange. Coates says Whites who refrain using the word, even though they feel as though they should be able to use it is a valuable lesson. He says the lesson is this–“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.”