the "n" word

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by sevenblu, Nov 8, 2004.

  1. sevenblu feeling blu Registered Senior Member

    In my philosophy class, we were discussing general semantics, particulary perjoratives, such as nigger and spic. With the exception of the black kids, everyone in the class was using the phrase "the n word" instead of coming out and saying the word "nigger."

    When it was my turn to speak I said that using the phrase "the n word" essentially makes the word "nigger" more powerful because by creating a euphamism, you are consciously sidestepping the "real" word and buy result you "give in to its power."

    I also brought up the point that words are only symbols -- and that people become offended by the word, not because of the word itself, but because of what it represents. I also said that blacks have adopted the word nigger [nigga or nigguh] because by using it and adapting it, they steal the power of the word -- this is a good thing, and shows that the meaning of words can be altered if the words are offensive.


    BUT.... Because I used the word "nigger" when I was describing my thoughts, the class turned on me [especially the black kids]. They said that I didn't have the right to use the word and that it fell to "loosely from my lips."

    My rebutal was that I was using the word "nigger" in a philosophical/semantical discussion and I was talking ABOUT the word itself [and what it represents], but not actually calling any particular person or thing a nigger. I said that for the purpose of discussion and communication, it would be impossible for me not to use the word and still remain objective...

    Imagine I would have said this...

    "By using the n-word to sidestep the n-word, you actually make the n-word more powerful, because the n-word is a euphamism and euphamisms are created because people are too afraid, or too passive to use the real word."

    See how wordy that is...

    I was told by my teacher [and severely told by my classmates] that I was wrong. If the word is offensive, I shouldn't use it... PERIOD!

    I don't understand this at all...

    I am not a racist, and I was merely discussing the semantical connotations of a particular word. The word admittedly carries much emotional weight, but how can it be possible to have an objective viewpoint and discussion if we all side-step the word. I did not call anyone a nigger [nor would I], I only SAID it... I only discussed it in semantical contexts.

    Is it wrong to use that word even in this way if there are people who are offended by it. Or [as I tend to think] are these people just naive and unable to seperate the "word" from the "thing it represents?"


    Should a person be able to use the word "nigger" if he is discussing the word "nigger." Or should I, in further discussion, avoid using the word altogether regardless of how wordy and confusing the argument becomes? This seems self-defeating..
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  3. Athelwulf Rest in peace Kurt... Registered Senior Member

    The group of people ya talked to didn't have an open mind, I guess. That's the thing I hate. People shouldn't be so uptight. They shouldn't make a big deal about so much stuff.

    A person should be able to talk about the word "nigger". I don't see what's wrong with just talking about it.

    I never really thought about it, but it makes sense that using euphamisms gives power to the word the euphamism replaces.

    Nice post, sevenblu.
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  5. cato less hate, more science Registered Senior Member

    I think that as long as you are sure what you are saying can’t are taken the wrong way (in a class for example) it is ok. However I would not walk down the street saying "nigger" because if someone only heard a small portion of the conversation it could be taken the wrong way.
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  7. chunkylover58 Make it a ... CHEEEESEburger Registered Senior Member

    While on an intellectual level I have to agree with you, in a practical sense and out of general respect, I'd say it's inappropriate to use that word within earshot of a black person, no matter what the dynamic of the conversation.

    I think one problem we white folks have in this regard is that there is no equivalent term used for us. Nothing as harsh and deeply caustic as "The N Word." You can call me cracker or honkey or whitey all day long, I couldn't give a shit. For blacks, just to hear the word, especially spoken by a white person (some blacks don't even think it's right for their own people to use that word, thinking that "That's OUR word" stuff is bull) is a trigger. It's patently offensive, just like to most women the "C" word is patently offensive. There is no context, whether saying in a joke, quoting some insolent moron who used it, whatever, that would make it "sanitary" for them.
  8. whitewolf asleep under the juniper bush Registered Senior Member

    Let me put it this way:
    They will beat the flying hell out of you if you mention the actual n-word. You should be glad you got away with a mere discussion. However, I think you're right. If Af. Am.'s use "nigger," I see no reason why we can't. Besides, "negro" simply means "black." There's a Niger (sp) river in Africa, and I suspect that also simply means "black."
  9. Dr Lou Natic Unnecessary Surgeon Registered Senior Member

    The word nigger does tend to piss black people off, if you're physically weaker than the black people in ear shot it would be wise to refrain from using it, if they are small or handicapped niggers, I say go nuts.

    Ofcourse they're irrational assholes for attacking people who say nigger, but if it were possible to explain why to them, the word wouldn't piss them off in the first place.
    There's no point spending too much time trying to explain why the word wouldn't offend a rational human being. You can't rationalise with the irrational about how they are irrational, they are irrational, and thus inherently incapable of understanding your rational argument.
    Like I said, time your niggers wisely, thats all, it's not hard. I usually still manage to reach my quota of 186 niggers per day.
  10. teguy Registered Senior Member


    I can personally relate to the predicament situation above. I now live in Philadelphia, PA USA and there are proportionately more blacks than any other cities in the States. Accordingly, I get to encountre/interact with blacks quite occasionally.

    For instance, I was purchasing a pair of trousers in a department store in Philadelphia and they both happened to be in black colour. And while I was deciding which of the two I was to get, a black clark kindly asked me if I had any question. So I asked the black clark what's the difference between the two pants and he replied that there is no difference except the subtle difference in colour (they both are black colour but I detected some 'subtle' difference), so I carefully look at the sublte difference and told the black clark "I don't like this (refering to one of two pairs) ugly black so I'll pick the other one." It was totally a natural conversation had it been between two white people. But the black clark, somehow, took it personally and started complaining about my useage of ther phrase "ugly black". Ever since that experience, I have a reservation using the word 'black' when black people are arround.

    Also, when I was gardening outdoors and when my hands got soiled by black dirt, I accidentaly said "look at my dirty black hands" when some blacks were also around me: they all looked at me with very difficult facial expressions

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    I beleive people can separate a word from a thing it represents. The difficulty here is that people cannot distingish between a word and a person who says the word. Thus the question doesn't reside within the word you are discussing, but bewteen the dialectical relationship between the speaker and his words. In this way, had you been a black person, I highly doubt, anyone would criticise you for saying the 'n' word. In fact, Philadelphia's blacks call themselves 'niggers' while they become furious when white folks say the very same word.

    Hence this becomes irrelevant:

    In general, however, if you'd use the 'n' word in any established social institutions such as college, the primary concern using the term would be a monetary loss. If, as Cato mentioned, someone heards you saying the 'n' word without grasping an entire context, and accuses you within a property of your college, not only you, but the college you are attending to might get sued. So, the teachers inevitably ought to avoid the potential financial loss at all cost. That's the primary goal as to why we ought to be 'politically correct': It is all but about money indeed. Quite pathetic isn't it...

    When I was in undergrad, I took a world religions 101 (or something to that effect), and faced the same dillema when we studied about Judaism: We couldn't call them "Jews", instead we had to say "Jewish people", or "people with Jewish faith" etc etc.

    Basically, the more limited your social status becomes, the more abundant linguistic mobility you get; if you are an Anglo-Saxon-White-Male, you are more likely to get sued in the realm of racial/religious discrimination; thus your linguistic mobility (among the politically incorrect terms) becomes limited.

    If you really want to discuss about politically sensitive terms, I suggest that you leave the States, and go to a homogenious country like Denmark, (Denmark is a country with the strictest immigration laws, so you won't see many racial minorities there). And people in Demark are far more beautiful indeed.
    best wishes,
  11. chunkylover58 Make it a ... CHEEEESEburger Registered Senior Member

    I remember hearing of protetst at Harvard when a new recycling program was put into place. There were bins around campus for recyclable paper marked "White" and "Colored." There was an uproar. I suppose people were recalling the days when PEOPLE were designated in such a way and there were "White" and "Colored" bathrooms, movie theater seats, diner booths, etc ... They were forced to change it to something like "Bleached" and "Unbleached" or something.

    I thought the reaction was pretty lame, but apparently people can't disassociate the words from the meaning that was once applied to themselves. So, I guess the point is that if some people can't even get over the word "colored" when it has a legitimate, non-racial meaning, it would have to be one hundred fold more difficult to get over the N word when it is that much more grotesque to them, because there is no equivocation as to the meaning and intent of that word.
  12. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    Thats a nigger every 9.7 minutes of your waking day! Well done.
  13. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    Many blacks have no problem telling derogative jokes about Jews, even when they know they are talking to a jew, so, especially in a classroom setting, I think they have to be less goddamn sensitive.
  14. android nothing human inside Registered Senior Member

    Is this the first time you all have encountered this double standard? "Offense" isn't about rational behavior, it's about personal drama
  15. Closet Philosopher Off to Laurentian University Registered Senior Member

    It is a personal thing. I was once in a Creative Writing class with 20 other open-minded people (it's basically philosophy and philosophical discussion relating to literature and personal writing). I live in an area dominated by white poeple. There was one minority in the class- a black woman who later bacame a great friend. This woman was somewhat of a dramoid, the kind with a great sense of humor. Of course, in a philosophy class, the topics of racism is not only debated but it is beaten to a pulp and washed away with the anger that arises in the room and in the end, no headway is made in the subject. Everyone seems to become even more judgemental, arrogant and closed-minded.

    Anyway, back to my story. We were discussing the power of words, particularily the power of 'taboo' words. (any bad word you can imagine or any expression that can make one flinch, we discussed it) It seemed as though our discussion was moving along smoothly. It was also, although it is odd for me to admit this, an enjoyable discussion full of surprises. I happened to have had my laptop with me at the time, I played the 'fuck' cartoon when someone recalled seeing it once (
    We also learned a lot about the literal power of worlds and how powerful carefully chosen words can be.
    Then we came to the word *drum roll* nigger. No one would say the word because there was one black student in the class. Ahe was actually the one that said the word for us to discuss. It was one of the most insightful days in my life. She told us that black people call each other 'nigga' because white people have taken everything away from the black culture. (she was mostly referring to 'wiggers' which appears to be a sub-culture that is exponentially increasing) She said that the word has immense power in the social setting because the word has become so in the anti-racism movement. A century ago (even less), one could refer to others a niggers and it was considered to be normal. This word became taboo during equalisiation periods when everyone was considered equal. She said that if there was another black person in the room that she wouldn't be able to say what she was oing to say because black people are supposed to stick up for eachother. She told us that the word is no big deal at all but it's one of the last powers that black people have over white people. She also said that racism can't be abolished until these childish taboo words are lessened in power. It's part of the culture of fear that the media has created for us.

    I don't know if you agree with what she told us or not, but I think it has merit. If it is a room of only white people or only black people, these kind of things can be easily discussed. The "n" word is a powerful word. It can instantly segregate a room.
  16. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member


    Let's talk about the word "honkey" and see how you like it. Stop your ways for your sounding more like a bigot even if you don't think you are.
  17. sevenblu feeling blu Registered Senior Member

    There really is no word we could discuss that would offend me. That be one of the powers of the word "nigger." There is no racial equivalent when talking about a white man -- most "crackers" just don't care.

    What an interesting way to look at the world -- almost paranoid. There is a cultural bond there that I will never know [being white]. I can see how this holds some truth, but I think it must be deeper than that. Because, if the word was "really no big deal" then people wouldn't die over it. I'm sure there has been a white man [somewhere]that called a black man a nigger and paid for the word with his life. Although I can see how this might be possible, in a tighly wound instance, I can't imagine this is the case in point. In fact, it reads a bit like "white-is-right" propaganda such as it is a direct attack on the black community.

    "They have power over us... because they forbid our using the "n-word!!!"

    It doesn't seem plausible that the world works in this way. But perhaps I am wrong, because I have little experience with black culture. Yet it does make me think about the "power" of the word in another light: Who really weilds the "power of the n-word?" ...the people who use it to offend, or the people who are offended.

    In your scenario, it is the black man...

    From a white man's perspective, it can be just the opposite.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2004
  18. jps Valued Senior Member

    Assuming the class and professor had no prior reason to view you as a racist, you were absolutely right, and the response is outragous.
    In a philosophy class that had taken up the topic of "the n-word" you were scolded by the professor for saying it? In philosophy, perhaps more than in any other discipline words have to be chosen very carefully as one misplaced word can change the entire meaning of whats being said. That being so, if you censor those words that could offend people you might as well forget the whole thing.
    It brings to mind an ucomfortable sex-ed teacher in high school.
    "today's topic occurs when the know is put in its know.." Well..if you know then you don't need to be in the class.
    Emotional responses like that don't have a place in philosophy courses. If its too offensive to them to hear the word used even in that context, they're too fragile to take(or teach) such a course.
  19. KOE Registered Senior Member

    No you were not wrong. But its a very hard word to master. I am a white man. I could say nigger in front of my black friends, i've done it in the past. But if it was another white man/or a African American I wasn't close with, its a very different thing.

    The hard question is what allows its use? I can't really give a answer to that. The friends from my example have been very close for several years. They understand what im trying to say, so its never taken as a insult. (to them) Im not sure if its because they know I'm not racist, or because they know its not being used as a insult.
  20. Mushin Registered Member

    First off your arguement wasn't confusing or wordy. Second your arguement certainly has a place in philosophy class. Nice post, nice arguement, I wish your class could have understood the significance of your arguement. Maybe if you had been talking about a less controversial word they would have been more open to the idea of discussing words as symbols that merely represent or point towards meaning and that the words themselves have no power. We give words power and your class's response only reenforced the power of the word nigger.
  21. duendy Registered Senior Member

    "niggers' ghot a lot of baggage. lot of pain. whaen someone spits 'NIGGER'in your face, beHIND that hate is lynchings, slavery, whippins, rape, child molestation, poverty, total alienation, ther's that

    Of course some black people use the word now to de-potentiate it, or take it from white-'ownership', but even when done that way it still seriously hurts other black people sometimes

    but i don't like 'the 'n' word' neither as though one cannoy say it

    we rather i reckon must all be aware of the power of words dhwen directed in matter what the word it is always ugly when used to hurt another
  22. chunkylover58 Make it a ... CHEEEESEburger Registered Senior Member

    Here's a good example of the power of words over the power of ideas:

    Creative writing class in college ... We were reading a book called "Steelwork" written by Gilbert Sorrentino. Basically sort of a mish-mash anthology of various stories. One of which concerned a priest who gets drunk and staggers into a park late at night and ends up getting a handjob from a drunken bum. We discussed in class the notion of "appropriateness." Is this the kind of thing that should be written and published in a book, and read by college students? Of course the overwhelming answer was "Of course ... free speech, etc .... No reason to censor it. It's the reader's choice to read it or not." Right. Agree. Fine....

    Later on we were reading each others' short stories. One young lady had a story about children's fears of the "Evil Gypsies" coming into their window at night and stealing them away. The professor told her she shouldn't use the word "Gypsy" to define her evil characters because "that's an ethnic term and applying it to an evil being MIGHT OFFEND SOMEONE." A drunken priest getting jerked off in a park by a vagrant (completely offensive to a wide range of people from Catholics to people of a general conservative sensibility) is fine, but she can't say "Gypsy" because it might be found offensive.

    Right ....
  23. nicholas1M7 Banned Banned

    This is one of the most hippocritical messages I've ever read. What you're basically saying is that its ok for you and other members of the KKK to disrespect black people but its not alright for them to disrespect you by calling you a racist term. How would you like it if they called you a racist term? I'm sure you wouldn't. Yet, its ok for you to be racist to them?

    "Ofcourse they're all a bunch of irrational assholes for attacking people who call them Niggers. Its totally a good thing to call black people Niggers or whatever racist word you want." is what your 80 word message boils down to.

    hmmm... this kind of racism can and should get you banned from the sciforums.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2004

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