Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Can a White Person Use The N-Word and Not be Racist? Yes

When can a white person use the n-word and not be considered a racist?
Some would say never. But that's wrong. There are exceptions.

The use of the n-word by whites in team-sports locker-rooms is a hot-button issue right now with that Miami Dolphins' scandal raging in the media. Miami lineman Richie Incognito has been demonized for bullying teammate Jonathan Martin. One of the charges is that Incognito, who is white, called Martin, who is black, the n-word. Incognito, though, vehemently denies he's a racist, claiming he has a pass from black players to use that word..

According to sources close to some Dolphins' black players, Incognito is right..In his dealings with Martin he may be treading in bully territory, but him using the n-word in dialogues with Martin shouldn't, insist the sources, brand him racist. Sources report that Incognito is like an "honorary brother" who can say things other white players can't.

In the outside world, Incognito, for using the n-word in that context, is bound to be dubbed racist. But in the specialized pro-football locker room, which has its own rules, he does rate a pass, considering his relationship with black players, allowing him to escape the racist tag..

I've witnessed this kind of special situation. I remember a time, back in the day, in the Cal football locker room after a practice when a white player towel-snapped a black player, saying "Hey, nigger." The black replied, "Go to hell, white boy." Both were laughing at the time. It was locker-room horseplay, sprinkled with racial terms, that wasn't racist. Those guys had a special relationship. But there were other whites in that locker room who couldn't have had that same exchange with that black player without ugly consequences. On the other hand that white player couldn't have fooled around like that with other blacks. There's a tightrope in those situations.Walking on it isn't easy..

But how about outside the locker room? When can whites use the n-word and not be branded racist? If you have a relationship with a black that allows casual use of the n-word, you're OK. Of course, it's fair game to use the n-word in conversations about racial slurs. After all, it's hard to talk about saying "nigger" without saying it. But some whites are so uncomfortable with the word they wouldn't even use it in serious discussions.

But there's another side to whites using the n-word. It's generational. Whites in their teens and twenties use the n-word in a special way.. They've been influenced by years of listening to hip-hop music where rappers use the n-word in non-racist ways. To them, the n-word is merely part of pop-culture slang, like dawg and dude. I've heard white kids great each other with; "What's up, nigga."  That's a white-washed version of the n-word, innocent and totally without venom.

Explains a white, 17-year-old from Beverly Hills: "I use nigga all the time. I call my white buddies my niggas. It means you're my special friend. Only certain guys can be niggas. Only cool guys, only guys who have a lot going for them. To be a nigga, you've got to be cool. But I can't use the word around my parents or other older people. They don't get it. It's racist to them, but not to me. It's just a word. There's nothing mean about it."

Some white kids start young using the n-word. Last year, in a gym locker room in Marina del Rey, two boys, about nine years old and white, were romping around and playing, waiting for their Dad, who was in the shower. At one point one little kid said to the other: "Let's go, nigger." Then both ran off to another room. Other guys who heard it, all at least middle-aged by the way, looked at each other, startled. Clearly, these kids were close buddies  To them the n-word had no negativity or racial charge.

With older people, though, those who lived through the black revolution, the n-word will probably always carry racism with it.

When whites use the n-word, they're tiptoeing through a mine-field, opening themselves up to accusations of racism. In many cases, probably most of the time, the accusation is on the money. At times, though, it isn't..

Things are changing. The world isn't what it used to be. It's in a rapid state of flux. It wouldn't surprise me if, in ten years, the racially-charged n-word, caught up in all the change, was mostly neutralized.

That would be a good thing.