I can’t say the N word (and that’s more than okay with me)


It has come to my attention that pale-phenotyope Americans may not use the N word, while dark-phenotype Americans may use the N word as frequently as they wish. It has also come to my attention that many pale-phenotype Americans resent this. It’s so arbitrary, they think, either none of us should be able to say that word, or all of us should be able to say that word.

Certain pale-phenotype Americans give themselves hypertension over the fact that control of this word no longer lies with them. I will allow that the rules governing the use of the N word can be quite complicated and have proved great fodder for comedians like Chris Rock and Louis C.K., but the fact of the matter is that these rules are less arbitrary than most of what’s in America’s unwritten codes of etiquette. Ask an American why some people can use the N word and others can’t, and you’ll get an explanation. It may not be the best explanation in the world, but it will prove that someone along the line put actual thought into the rules governing the use of the N word. The same is not true of other, seemingly more simple social rules, such as “Stare at people’s eyeballs when you’re talking to them” and “Don’t eat peas off your knife.” Why do we rub our germy hands together when we first meet, rather than bowing in the more rational Eastern manner? Nobody can explain this to me. My eleventh grade teacher couldn’t explain it to me, and she was trained in explaining social rules to people with autism spectrum disorders.

As a pale-phenotype American, I have to pick my battles. I don’t see any reason to fight for my right to use a racial slur. If I’m going to get angry about anything race-related, it’s the fact that dark-phenotype people in my neighborhood are discriminated against in employment, put in secretly segregated schools, unfairly targeted by traffic cops, and looked down on in society because of their phenotype. Sometimes political correctness is a synonym for common decency.

Final note: I don’t think schools should ban The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn for this reason. Huck Finn is a brilliant, fun, influential novel, and any halfway decent English teacher can use it as an opportunity to host a constructive conversation about the use of racial slurs.


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