Alva James-Johnson

Alva James-Johnson: The N-word is harmful, period

We live in a free society where people can use whatever words they choose.

But words have meaning and can either elevate or degrade us.

The N-word, I believe, is one word that does more harm than good. However, that point of view is quickly vanishing as the word becomes more ubiquitous.

The Washington Post recently did a project on the racial slur, researching its evolution and prevalence in American culture. As noted in one of the articles, the word in its form that replaces "-er" with "-a" is now used 500,000 times a day on Twitter.

The statistic is alarming, considering the N-word's ugly racial history, steeped in white supremacy and the dehumanization of dark-skinned people.

It's interesting that those fueling the word's popularity are black youths far removed from the history of slavery and the Jim Crow South, where the word became associated with racial hatred and violence. Unlike previous generations of black Americans, they just don't see the harm in using it.

Some in the black community argue that adopting the racial slur as a term of endearment -- as in "My (N-word) this" and "My (N-word) that" -- has enabled black America to commandeer the word and make it less powerful. Some have even come out against the National Football League's attempt to ban the use of the word within its ranks, arguing that it's racial discrimination against black athletes who use the term incessantly. At the same time, they believe white people should be banned from using it.

Celebrity chef Paula Deen, Miami Dolphins lineman Richie Incognito and others have all paid the price for using the racial slur, as they should have. But isn't that a double standard?

Well, I know I won't be popular in some circles for saying this, but such a contradiction just won't cut it. The more blacks flaunt the word, the more we give other people license to use it. Why use a word that you find offensive to describe yourself? Isn't that self-degrading?

The bottom line is this: If we are free to use the N-word, so is everyone else. We can't pick and choose who gets a pass. It's just that simple.

I personally think the word is demeaning no matter who utters it, and it doesn't matter in what form. I place it in the same category as the pervasive use of the B-word in rap music. Just because a woman doesn't mind you calling her that doesn't make it appropriate.

There are more than 1 million words in the English dictionary. Surely, we can find more decent ones to embrace.

Previous generations fought long and hard for us to have freedom. Let's not squander it with a vile word that caused them so much pain.

Maybe it's time we show a little respect.

Just saying.

Alva James-Johnson, ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.com

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