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It Will Never Be OK For White People to Say The N-Word

June 5th 2017

By:
Shonitria Anthony

On Friday night, Bill Maher said the N-word live on his show, “Real Time.” Actually, he put on his best black accent and said, “I'm a house nigger” and laughed.

This is not OK.

But for those who want to defend him, call it a joke or say that blacks are just too sensitive - Twitter users were quick to break down and call out why Maher or any other white person will never be allowed to say nigger.

Editors note: For the purpose of this story the full word will be used to help all who read this understand the gravity of why saying the word nigger is truly grotesque. Let's confront this for what it is and not hide behind calling it just the N-word. The jig is up. White people say, "nigger," not "N-word." They aren't just saying it behind closed doors or while singing a rap song, either. The Mahers of the world are doing it on live TV and, then, laughing about it.

Now, let's address why it's time to stop.

Black people say, "negro," "nigga," "nigger," "my nig" and the "N-word."

We do it because we've reclaimed a term that was used with hate and lashed onto our backs with a thick tongue and zero apologies by predominantly white people. It was spat in our faces when used to justify why blacks should sit in the back of the bus, attend separate schools, or not put our foot in a public pool. White people have used the word to torment, discredit and abuse black people for decades.

Yet, over the years, the black community took this word that spurned so much hate and transformed it into a term of endearment. The word, when used among black people, is often done so in a way of kinship that can only truly be felt by blacks due to a shared trauma from being the descendants of slaves with little knowledge of where we truly came from.

And black people are still disenfranchised, paid less and shot down in the streets by police like animals. Now, the word is used in rap songs and in popular culture - which is precisely where the confusion comes in from white people both conservatives and liberals, alike. But there's a difference between appreciating a culture, appropriating a culture, free speech and just being racist.

Maher wasn't the first white person to slip of the tongue and say, "nigger."

After 11 years at the Food Network, Paula Deen was fired for using the "N-word" several times in the past. Madonna apologized in January 2014 for writing, "#disnigga" on an Instagram post, saying, "I am sorry if I offended anyone with my use of the N-word on Instagram. It was not meant as a racial slur...I am not a racist." In July 2013, actor Tim Allen rightfully got called out for questioning why white folks can't say nigger. "You want to take the power away from that word so that no one is offended by it," the actor told the Tampa Bay Times. "If I have no intent, if I show no intent, if I clearly am not a racist, then how can 'n-----' be bad coming out of my mouth?"

The politics of who can and cannot say nigger isn't new.

Oprah has famously spoken out in condemnation of the word, saying to Parade magazine in August 2013, "You cannot be my friend and use that word around me."

She went on to add:

"I grew up understanding where I’ve come from. When you fully get that, it’s hard to be loose-lipped with that word. I always think of the millions of people who heard that as their last word as they were hanging from a tree."

Winfrey even confronted Jay Z during an October 2009 interview for O magazine about his use of the word, asking the Brooklyn-born rapper in reference to the usage of it in rap music: "Do you believe that using the N word is necessary?"

He responded by saying, "It's just become part of the way we communicate. My generation hasn't had the same experience with that word that generations of people before us had. We weren't so close to the pain. So in our way, we disarmed the word. We took the fire pin out of the grenade."

Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California and author of a law article titled “Nigga Theory: Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity in the Substantive Criminal Law," told ATTN:'s Danielle DeCourcey why he believes whites just can't resist saying nigger:

"[White people] came to recognize early on that the word has a special power and they wonder why they can't get some of that. When whites are talking about the 'double standard' it's really a concern and frustration about there being any valuable cultural property that they can't appropriate."

Furthermore, it's important to note that having black friends, a black spouse or black employees doesn't make the word any less racist when used by a white person. The history behind the word and the weight it carries will always make it explosive when used by a white person.

So it wasn't too surprising that like all his white predecessors who got caught saying nigger, a "very sorry" Maher issued the following statement on Saturday:

"Last night was a particularly long night as I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry."

HBO also responded to the backlash by telling People Maher's words were "inexcusable and tasteless."

While Maher has apologized, it's important to remember that it's still never appropriate for any white person to think it's all right to use this weighted word. It's an issue that now more than ever no one should shy away from because in this "post-racial" society having these conversations are still very necessary.