The N Word: Who Gets To Say It?

By: Kayla Passacreta

The debate of who can and can't say the N word has been a long going debate for years.This person can say it, that person can’t. Some people are cool with their token white friends saying it, while some will slap any non-black person they hear say it (yes, this includes non-black Spanish people). And, well, when when I hear a non-black person say the N word my face normally looks like this:

photo via

photo via

As someone who is extremely non-confrontational, I often avoid getting into these debates. However, after hearing Bill Maher casually drop the N-bomb on HBO’s Real Time, I realized I was no longer able to avoid the topic. Maher jokingly told his guest, “Senator, I am a house n---.”  The audience applauded (I’m side-eying ALL of y’all), his guest, a Republican senator, didn't even flinch, and Bill Maher insisted it was only a joke – because it’s funny to joke about slavery, right?


pictured is Bill Maher

pictured is Bill Maher

Bill Maher identifies as a liberal and is often attacking President Trump. We have to start realizing that liberalism often does not symbolize that one is truly “woke” or sympathetic to black issues. Yeah, they may have voted for Hillary or even Barack, but that doesn’t stop them from being one of the first to insist that the most recent headline about a black kid being murdered by a cop happened because the kid was a threat. It doesn’t mean they don’t support mandatory minimums that disproportionately affect black youth and hurt black communities. Liberalism does not equal racial tolerance or acceptance.

Being on a rather diverse college campus, I have been a first-hand witness to this. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of times I heard the white guy in the room next to me blasting his favorite rap songs while saying the N-word the loudest. Sure, I never had any bad experiences with him and he was never rude to me.


gif from Episode 5 of Netflix's "Dear White People"

Does saying the N-word make him a racist? Not necessarily. But his boldness and right that he felt to say that word around me told me one thing: he didn’t think I was shit. He didn’t care about how hearing him say that word around me could trigger me, hurt me, or make me feel uncomfortable.

If you’ve watched episode 5 of the Netflix series Dear White People, you’ve seen situations like this illustrated powerfully. When Reggie and his friends were partying at a white friend’s house, Future’s “Trap N***” started blasting, causing the whole room to dance, shake their heads, and mumble the lyrics. If you’re anything like me, and have been in a situation like this, you have anxiety when a song dropping the N-bomb comes on and you’re around white people. “If they say that f***g word….”

If you’re a proponent of white people saying the N-word, you’re probably wondering: “If black people say it, why can’t they?”  Marc Lamont Hill made a passionate response for why, stating, 

I might see Trinidad James on the street call him “my n***er. You know why? Because he is my n***ger. And the difference between Trinidad James and you, is that Trinidad James has to deal with the same oppressive situations, he’s born in a world where anti-black racism prevails, where police might shoot him on the street no matter how much money he has - we share a collective condition known as n***er....White people don’t.”

It is true that black people collectively have in a way re-claimed the N-word. Many of taken the term used to symbolize hate and inferiority into a term of comradery. I’m not here to tell black people whether they should or should not be saying the N-word, or that black rappers need to stop using the N-word in every other line of their songs. But one thing I know for sure: white people should not even want to say the N-word, as it is laced with so much racism, oppression, and marginalization. 

Dear white people: stop saying the n-word. It’s not reverse racism (that doesn’t exist) when your black friend asks you not to use it, and quite frankly, you have ownership of so much already: do you really need this word, too?