People Are Outraged Over this White College Student’s Use of The "N" Word

March 31st 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Russell Schiller is a white man who likes Black women.

I mean, he likes them a lot. He devoted an entire photo project to their beauty with the hashtag #BlackWomenAreGorgeous and received national attention, including from ebony.com, the website for Black women’s lifestyle magazine Ebony.

He also likes to use the N-word. Or at least he used to.

In a tale that brings more discussion about cultural appropriation, Schiller, a white student at the historically Black Howard University in Washington, D.C., was outed by Twitter users for using the N-word in old tweets.

The term cultural appropriation is used to describe the phenomenon of white artists like Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea, who are accused of imitating and exploiting Black culture through their art for personal gain.

Cultural appropriation is "defined broadly as the use of a culture’s symbols and artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture," according to an academic article by Richard A. Rogers from Northern Arizona University. In this case, Schiller is being accused of appropriating Black culture through his casual, colloquial use of the N-word.

As of Wednesday, the Tweets are still up, but Schiller did tweet a letter of apology explaining his background and his reasons for the photo project. After a brief back-and-forth on multiple communication platforms, ATTN: could not reach Schiller for comment by the time of this article's publication.

In his apology letter, Schiller wrote that the photo campaign was created to honor Black women. "The campaign was created to help bring more attention to an already growing movement of recognizing and appreciating the strength and independence Black women exude," he said.

He went on to explain that he grew up in a mostly Black community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in most social situations and team sports he was the only white person. He also said that he feels uncomfortable around large groups of white people, which is why he attended an HBCU.

From the tweets available on his feed, Schiller was seemingly using the N-word conversationally — borrowing the way that many young Black people do — and not as a slur meant to direct hate at someone.

But does it matter what he meant or where he grew up? Should white people ever use the N-word?

Many people say that’s a big "No."

College student Malcolm-Aime Musoni wrote a passionate opinion piece for The Huffington Post called “Stop Saying N***a If You’re Not Black.” Musoni said that just because the popularity of rap music has brought the N-word into the mainstream, does not mean white people should use it.

"Rap music holds an even bigger impact on our vernacular, whether it be Pimp C with 'Trill'(1987), Lil Wayne with 'Bling Bling' (1998), Kanye with 'Cray' (2011), Chief Keef with 'Thot/Thotties' (2013) or Drake with 'Woes' (2015); when people hear these words they add it to their everyday vernacular. The people hearing these words aren’t just black people anymore. Rap has evolved as a genre and the listeners are just as diverse as the rappers themselves. It’s not just a black 17-year-old listening in Harlem anymore, there’s the white boy from small town Iowa listening and not just adding 'woes' to his vernacular but 'nigga' as well with a sense of unabashed entitlement. If you ask him why he uses it he’ll just tell you it’s just a word and everyone should be able to say it because it’s just a word. The blame falls at the feet of people like him who find it so hard and simply refuse to erase a word from their vocabulary out of the respect and comfort of black people and not at the feet of the rappers who use the word in their songs."

But an internet query by this ATTN: writer on Twitter and Facebook turned up some interesting and varied answers.

Every person who responded to the question identifies as white except for two people. Most names were withheld by request.

"I believe if something is considered extremely offensive, it should not come out of the mouth of anyone. Obviously that's not realistic at all I know, but just like the word 'retarded' it shouldn't be used casually just as it shouldn't be used in a harmful manner.

"With that said if one group gets a pass on using it, then all groups should get a pass on using it." — Anonymous Facebook user

"I don't think anyone should use that word, no matter who you are." — Anonymous Facebook user

"It doesn't mean what it used to mean. I choose not to use it. It's like saying f*g. Sensitive people will cry and turn it into a big deal when it's not used in a hurtful way. I don't think it should be common practice with kids from East bumfuck running around acting like they're at Lil Wayne's house. So I guess no, but if someone's singing a song on the [bus] I don't think they should be berated. Fuck it nobody should use it. I don't understand why girls call each other bitch. That really grinds my gears." — Anonymous Facebook user

"White people should not use the N-word. Doing so ignores a history of oppression that most white people have not had to face."— Anonymous Facebook user

"If blacks can call white people N-word in conversation or to sound hip, and their white friends use the word for other whites and blacks alike to sound hip, it's a free-for-all and they can only blame themselves for starting that trend. They have no right to be offended unless it is purposely used as a disrespectful remark. Blacks opened up Pandora's box when they started using the term as a method of directing attention to someone they respect or referring to people in rap songs that they are friendly with. As it stands right now, it is the discretion of the person being called n-word to decide if they are offended by it at that particular instance or not. Double standard. For the record, I do not use the term ever because I think it is disrespectful and derogatory in any circumstance." — Anonymous Facebook user

"For your research: No. It's disrespectful and insensitive. (But it makes it really hard to rap along with good hip-hop songs.)" — Anonymous Twitter user

"My personal opinion is that it would depend on the context. If a person grew up using that word as a means of addressing his friends, Black or white, and they addressed him the same way (whether he was African-American or not), than the negative connotation wouldn't be part of the context. But personally, I don't think ANY person should ever use that word; to me, it's just too vulgar, dismissive, and disgusting, even when the ugliness is softened by its use as a term of addressing friends." — Anonymous Twitter user

The two Black social media respondents weren't having it at all.

This is a controversial topic that prompts a lot of debate, but as the U.S. becomes more diverse, these conversations will only continue.

RELATED: Obama Uses N-Word in Extremely Candid Discussion on Race