Poll: "n-word"

There are various media items that have provoked discussion as to whether a white person in America can say the actual word of “the n-word” in a context such as discussing use or history of the word’s use, or if any utterance of the actual word by a white American (rather than saying “n-word”) is automatically being offensive.

This thread is NOT for another debate regarding that.

It seems to me that most of these threads are filled with the thoughts of those who do not identify as Black Americans.

So self-identifying Black Americans of the Dope - when a white poster here writes the actual word out in a discussion about the word, or some similar situation occurs in real life, are they offending you?

Poll to follow.

Okay, this is supposed to be “opinion”, right?

I’m not black, and it always offends me to hear the actual word, except in a literary discussion about a certain novella written by Joseph Conrad in 1897. In a written context, I find both the original word and the current euphemism to be equally offensive, albeit for different reasons.

The book was re-published in the United States about 2009 as The N-Word of the ‘Narcissus’: A Tale of the Sea, which I find to be ungainly and barely pronounceable, destructive of the original consonance, lacking in literary merit. The first published title in the US was The Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle.

It matters not who is writing or speaking.

It does not bother me in a discussion about the word, in general. But there are a couple of people I know in real life who would evoke negative emotions in me if they said the word no matter the context. I guess you can say I don’t trust their intentions.

Since there’s only been a couple responses so far in 9 hours I will respond: I voted other: I’m European-American and it’s always offensive no matter who says it. It’s sometimes acceptable in art but it is still offensive within the context of the art, and the forms of art that do use it on occasion (for instance, rap and Quentin Tarentino movies) I would appreciate more if the word were used less in them.* I wouldn’t be offended if someone mentioned the term without using it, but would be less uncomfortable if a substitution were used instead. And of course the more often you find an excuse to mention it, the more offensive it becomes.

However, just because it’s always offensive doesn’t mean I’m always offended, however, around half the time I am, because in the handful of times I’ve heard it used in real life that were not simple mentions of the word, around half seemed to imply that I liked to use the word. That includes the one time I’ve heard it used by a white guy (he tried to pull the whole Chris Rock “some black ppl are n----ers amirite?” thing and I was like WTF? I actually didn’t know what he meant by that. I’m still unclear on the subject and don’t really wish to educate myself on what exactly would make a black person a n----er.)

The other half of the usages I’ve heard were simply African-Americans using the word like “brother”, but that doesn’t transform it into an inoffensive word.

*Actually, the least offensive use of it I’ve heard was some amateur lo-fi European rapper dropping the n-bomb all the time, which seemed strangely innocent given his Scandinavian accent. You’d think it would seem like cultural appropriation but it was actually a relief to not have to interpret it in the context of American racial relations.

I don’t ever find the word pleasant to hear or read. But, like monstro, I think a discussion about the usage of the word can be had without offense being taken.

Not sure what ‘insist on playing’ means, exactly, but I picked not black and it’s always offensive. It might be a generational thing. I think when you’ve heard it openly said in casual conversation when it’s meant to be insulting and degrading it’s hard to hear someone say it in any other way.

Not black. Australian / South African. So I recognize that I am far removed from the American context of the word (which is where it seems to cause the most offense).

That said, I cannot abide by the idea that ANY word can be offensive in every instance. Words simply convey ideas – the idea conveyed by this word (as with any) may be harmful/hateful/negative, but it also may be positive or neutral (such as, I think you’d agree, when talking about the way black rappers use it in their lyrics, or the way Obama used it while on a podcast a while ago).

I find it genuinely fascinating that anyone would apply a blanket “offensiveness” to a word, regardless of how it is used. And the rationalization I always hear is “it’s historical context” – but:

  1. This seems to wholly ignore all other historical contexts of the word, like how it was used for many decades in Europe with no negative connotation before America’s slavery even existed.
  2. I wonder why the historical context of the word is considered to overrule the at-the-time context. Yes, the phrase “gas the jews” has an awful historical context, but surely there’s nothing offensive about saying “I strongly denounce that time when Hitler chose to gas the jews”. The present-day context of the speaker is at least as important as the historical context. As such, a sentence like “the word nigger was a common derogatory term for black people in the 1800s” ought not to cause the slightest outrage or offense.

One last thought: It is interesting to me that (at the time of writing) the poll’s results show that 5 out of 9 non-black people find it “always offensive”, whereas 0 out of 2 black people do. Small sample size, though, so I’ll neglect to draw any conclusions.

Well the same thing it means when there is a poll asking for the the opinions of women on certain issues and men insist on giving their thoughts. The desire of the op is not to discuss what those who are not (self-identified) Black Americans (and I also include Black non-Americans here) think but how (self-identified) Black Americans feel about it. Or at least how one small non-scientific non-random sampling of that population feels about it anyway.

And it is interesting to me that this is like those threads asking for the opinions of women on certain issues. So far 18 responses that are not “other” (and I think some answer that if they do not want to answer but want to keep seeing the poll without the extra click) with an 8 to 1 ratio of whites having thoughts they need to share over Black American posters answering the poll.

Well guess what? There are options for all sorts to answer. And as the poll is structured you can see what it is you want to see anyways. :dubious:

I voted not offended. Why? I’ll give a reason. I grew up hearing it in sport and in the music and comedies I listen to. So it’d be silly to be offended.

I ask those saying “always offended” (only non-Blacks have answered this way so far) about the specific examples I mentioned in another thread:
Should Huckleberry Finn be banned from schools?
Should Dylan’s song “Hurricane” be deemed unplayable?

Both were intentionally offensive. Offensive doesn’t mean “must never be said.” Just that you’d better have a good reason.

The former was spoken by my high school English teacher. I found it jarring at the time but I am glad my teacher wasn’t fired for reading a book. The latter is played fairly regularly at my workplace currently. I am a “not always offended” answer, though. That’s the answer I must choose if the question includes in ANY context.

I voted Other. I don’t like the word, or any similar word used to denigrate any person or group.

My grandfather could have been the role model for Archie Bunker, and he threw around racial and ethnic epithets with casual abandon. Even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t right, but one doesn’t correct one’s elders, right?

I have no patience with those who choose to be offended when no offense is meant, nor do I absolve those who try to un-offend by adding “just kidding” or a similar disclaimer. It’s all about intent and context, as others have said. So while it may not always be offensive, surely there’s never a situation where it’s the only word one could use.

I’m aware that there is a certain percentage of the population that feels as though anybody who does not self identify as black has no right to have this conversation at all. Fortunately here at the Straight Dope we’re allowed to have this kind of conversation.

I cannot imagine the context where the use of that word would be appropriate.

That said, I ride the New York City Subways on a nearly daily basis and during the school year at 2:30 in the afternoon this is very much the typical conversation I will here amongst the group of 14 year old boys of any racial make-up:

" N-word be trying out like he’s alla that but damn N-word, you gotta be one fucked-up N-word to think you gonna make it.
N-words go and join up with fuckin’ cheerleaders. "

If you’re reading this and thinking it is an outrageous and racist exaggeration, you’re clearly not riding public transit in any place in the United States in the one hour time span after school has gotten out.

I am as offended by the use of it by African-Americans who claim the use of the word as their own private property as I am by anyone else using it. It is a vicious descriptor of entitlement and harkens back to the worst part of America’s history.

A history of that unfortunately gets a new chapter written into it every single time someone uses it as a hurtful epithet…

There was that day in the late 1990s when I was working on a job for MTV on Star Island in the bay in Miami. The rapper Ja Rule literally walked up to me and threw his arm around my shoulder and said " hey what’s up N-word!?? "

I didn’t feel cool or hip or on the inside. I was mortified.

I totally agree with Smudge777. I have never in my life used the word as an epithet nor ever will. But there’s nothing offensive about QUOTING the word, or discussing the word itself. For example, this article about Huckleberry Finn in The New York Times says “‘Huckleberry Finn’ actually stands as a powerful indictment of slavery (with Nigger Jim its most noble character).” That should be considered offensive? Or this article in the Washington Post about David Howard’s resignation after using the word “niggardly”, which says “Soon after the remark was uttered, the rumor mill started churning that Howard had used the word ‘nigger.’”

I also don’t see that using the “n-word” euphemism automatically removes any offensiveness. Everyone who reads “n-word” knows what’s being referred to and says “nigger” in their mind when they read it. “N-word” is just another way of spelling “nigger”.

People don’t like to be told what to do or not to do. That’s true in general, but especially true on this MB.

I voted “not always offensive”.

Other: This poll offends me.

I voted “Other,” because I find it always offensive when it comes up in a conversation I am part of, but I can imagine, if I try, contexts where it isn’t offensive. I don’t think that the PG Wodehouse book where Bertie Wooster talks about wanting to hear a group of American “n***** minstrels” who are playing in England some place, because he is interested in playing the banjolele, and they play one, should be rewritten, and I don’t think Huckleberry Finn should be rewritten. I don’t think African Americans who use the word among themselves should censor their speech when I am nearby, just because I am not part of the conversation. I am capable of understanding why they can use it, and I can’t.

I know that there is a movie where a British military officer had a dog (who played a key role) named "N*****, because the dog was black, and it wasn’t considered offensive in that time and place, and I personally think the name of the dog shouldn’t be changed for the movie, but I do understand that some African Americans might find it so distracting, that a director might choose to change the name for the movie. Things like that do happen in movies.

I also understand that for realism, sometimes the word gets used in movies where either socially or historically, no other word will do. That is not really a conversation, but it might mean that it is later necessary for a reviewer to use the word (saying “the n-word” might not be clear), and that I would not argue with either.

See, I could come up with special examples all day. But in ordinary, non-special examples, I don’t think there is ever any reason to use the word. The only reason anyone would use it is to offend. We are beyond the time, I think, when there are people left who grew up when it was the generally accepted word. There might be elderly people in whose youth “colored people” was normal, and they may still use that on occasion, but I think the n-word has been offensive for so long, everywhere in the US, and other words have been available, that no one can use the excuse “It was acceptable when I grew up.” I heard and believed that excuse back in the 1980s when I was in high school, but that was 35 years ago. I think that time is done.

So I picked “Other.” I am Jewish, and my family came to this country after a very long time in Europe, so anyone looking at me would call me white (except for a few neo-Nazis, perhaps); the word always offends me in normal conversation.

No word is offensive in and of itself. A context is always required.

I often feel like Harry Potter being shushed for saying “Voldemort” out loud. And yes, I do know how that worked out for him in the long run, but that doesn’t change my gut reaction.

For those that voted “always offend,” my use of the word in, a scholarly article covering the use and history of the word among different ethnic groups would be offensive?