Let’s Take Back the N-Word

The history behind the N-word. (Artwork by Alayna Rover)

The history behind the N-word. (Artwork by Alayna Rover)

After an incident at Homecoming, the debate over the n-word resurfaced at Wilde Lake as to who, if anyone, can say the n-word. The conflict resulted in an announcement from Ms. Leonard stating that hate speech, which includes the n-word, should not be used at school.

It began at Homecoming when songs with the n-word played. Black students heard non-Black students singing the word unashamedly. This was later reported to staff members. The following school day, Ms. Leonard disapproved of hate speech entirely, declaring that it should never be used. Her statement resulted in many mixed emotions from Black student leaders of Wilde Lake, some of whom used the word regularly among one another.

It’s clear why some schools and companies choose to ban it. The history behind it is terrifying. The n-word dates back to slavery. It is derived from the Latin word “niger,” the color black. Through many years of oppression, it was turned into a hate speech, and has been used against Black people for centuries. 

The n-word to Black people will always be indirectly linked to the shackles our ancestors were bound to during 400 years of injustice and inhumanity. The n-word, to some, can be a subtle reminder of the fear and harm caused by this inhumane time period, but to me, it is an opportunity for new beginnings.

The NFL, the City of New York Council, universities, and public schools have proposed penalizing the use of or banning the n-word from their vocabulary. These institutions have threatened to punish the use of the word, but burying a word that is used so freely by Black people ignores the history behind it. 

So I agree with Ms. Leonard. I don’t believe non-Black people should say the word. Why?

Because the word has been used against Black people for generations. Because it makes some of us uncomfortable. Because we are no longer a chess piece that you can play anymore. Because singing it doesn’t make it any less ignorant.

You can’t take the n-word away from Black people. We have taken this word and reformed it. We have used it to uplift each Black person to show they are not alone.

In spite of Ms. Leonard’s disapproval, the word is still alive through the halls of Wilde Lake. Every corner you turn, every classroom you enter, every bathroom you walk into, you will hear it. The word is too evolved to just suddenly be tossed aside. 

Now, this word cannot be shared by all Americans as one, unifying experience, because it simply isn’t. The word, once used to oppress us, now belongs to us. It represents how far we’ve come in society, and that’s not something we should bury. 

Although We can’t change the past, we shouldn’t let it define us. The n-word, while once used to tear us down, now ties us together.