Versus: Differing Opinions On The N-Word’s Role In Sports And Black Culture


I didn’t know what to expect from ESPN’s N-Word Outside The Lines special. It began as an awkward attempt to educate ignorant young African-Americans on the N-word’s history. For an hour, millennials were lectured on the appropriateness of the N-word’s reallocation into a term of endearment. However, it didn’t suddenly begin with this generation of 20-somethings. We’re just the nearest available punching bag. Niggas With Attitude released Straight Outta Compton, a year before I was even born. 

I read a stat that claimed as men get older, they lean more conservative politically. It makes sense. Times change and it's harder to teach an older dog new tricks. Likewise, as generations get older, there’s clearly a revisionist history that takes place.

From my perspective, language evolves over time and so have people’s viewpoints. The N-word has become a subtle and snarky and metaphorical middle finger to bigots who used the word to disparage African-Americans. Nigga is an exhibition of oppositional defiance.

Jason Whitlock’s implications that white racists were laughing at black usage of the N-word, rests on the idea that African-Americans should be concerned about how white racists feel about us.

We give words too much power these days instead of focusing on actual issues. I felt like A.I. talking about practice during ESPN’s special? What were we doin’? Ee talked about a word? Not a hate crime, not black on black crime! We talked’ about a word!

The correlation between the N-word and black on black crime as it was described during the special is like trying to connect the alphabet to periodic table symbols. Those are two completely unrelated topics.

It was implied that there is a slither of self-hate in the N-word’s analogy, but it’s more comparable to a sticks and stones anecdote. Muhammad Ali, N.W.A. and according to Andrew Young, even Martin Luther King Jr. used the N-word. I’d say they turned to be well-adjusted individuals.

The N-word is more prevalent than ever, but that’s only because media has made all aspects of culture more available to the masses.

Personally, I care about context more than i do about the strict definition of words. It’s an informal term of endearment, so if cats aren’t cool with being addressed by that term, then don’t do it. It’s really that simple. We need to stop being the thought police and attempting to officiate govern language.

The N-word is a colloquial homonym. White people don’t use it for the same reason I don’t call them crackers. If they want to refer to themselves by a derogatory slur I’m not going to butt my head in and lecture them about the dangers of denigrating themselves.

The N-word never make anyone less than equal. Chains, servitude, Jim Crow laws, created that inequality.

On the scale of issues that are significant today,  the N-word is near the bottom of that list when it comes to affecting actual human lives, just above hip-hop at halftime of the Super Bowl.

Or at least that’s how he worries other races see it. Here’s the thing. We are the most self-conscious race in America.

I recently read a story about black UCLA law students struggling as a result of the school’s lack of diversity. That’s an issue unto itself. For some, the excessive pressure wasn’t even tangible.

One student said this: “It’s a constant burden of pressure, I’m constantly policing myself, just being aware of what I say and how it can be interpreted because I essentially am the representation of the black community.”

It goes back to Whitlock’s alarm about white perception of black culture’s use of the N-word.  Instead of fear of being lynched, there’s a fear instilled about being perceived incorrectly or as a stereotype or not fitting in. We won't be free until we unencumber ourselves and let these pressures go. Don’t let Dave Chappelle make you anxious about eating soul food in public.

Every culture’s youth embraces unusual eccentricities that seem odd to the other.

As I get older, I’ll probably  the N-word less often, but it won’t be because I’m ashamed.


Michael Tillery

No one of another race should ever say the word nigger. Anyone who disagrees must ask themselves one question and that’s why do you need to use the word? Why would you want to use a word said to demean Black people in the most heinous of ways? Why would you want to use a word said just before Black people were killed?  Why does the word make white people uncomfortable when the face that utters it is not of theirs? That we’re having a discussion about the word nigger is totally distracting from the actual racism that hides behind every ignorant shadow locked in the most sickest of hatred.

One night in 2001, I heard noises in my backyard as my wife (now ex) and I celebrated her birthday. The kids were at the babysitter and after a hard work week, all we wanted to do was chill and share a bottle of our choicest red. We had a rabbit cage and three rabbits for our kids and it wasn’t uncommon for raccoons to try to get at the rabbits during the night. Thinking the noise was nothing more than that, I went out back in nothing but Michigan shorts (Go Blue) to scare them away.

The noise was behind me and it was the sound of spray paint. I was hot because I then thought it was some kids vandalizing my home. I was wrong, because I looked over and saw two grown ass men spray painting my house.  As I approached them in the dark around midnight, I tripped over a bench that probably saved my life. It was a bench my wife told me to move for years. While falling all over myself, one of the two men well over 6 foot swung a 2X4 and my clumsiness most likely why I’m alive today to write this because the wood did not catch me flush on the forehead. Instinctively, I threw a vengeful uppercut at the one who tried to hit me and trust me, I didn’t miss.

When the two ran out the back of my yard after yelling “let’s get the expletive out of here”, I went in to call the police. I couldn’t believe what just happened. It was actually funny because they obviously picked the wrong dude that night to mess with. When the police arrived and shined a light on my house, the amount of slurs spray painted was astounding. Also, on the fence around my deck, were words “die nigger die” that were at least the size of car in scope.

The cops were just as baffled as I because the neighborhood was more diverse than most. The police took the spray paint can one of the two dropped and after the police dogs lost the scent of the men a quarter mile from my house, the police left.

At the time, I was co-owner of a clothing line designed to help raise awareness racially. We had a myriad of slogans and one in particular was very popular. We called it the racism shirt. On the front was the word racism in a semi-circle that was a different color than the shirt itself so to stand out. On the back was “racism” was at the top of the tee and underneath every racial slur we could find were spelled out – beginning with the word nigger.

Finally at the bottom where the words “You’ve heard them, you say them, you’ve been called them. Racism: man made, damn man for making it.” This shirt sold like crazy and a discussion in the area we lived in was developing among all races and ages. We were happy not because of the money, but because of the discussion. The men spray painted expletive pointefive (clothing line name), so we knew the intent right then and there. We sold the shirts in hip hop wear stores to hit what we thought at the time was our target demographic – kids.

After my business partner and his girlfriend left, my wife and I went to bed around 5 in the morning. At 7 am, conservative radio stations began calling my house and accusing me of either doing this myself or trying to capitalize on racism. One called and asked me if I was trying to become the next Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson.  I cussed these punkasses out and hung up the phone. Later, news vans came and there I was on the local news explaining what happened the night before.

Nothing came of the case and could you blame me for becoming almost paranoid trying to find out who did this. I never found out.

This was all because of the word nigger. We tried to strip the word of its hateful power by lumping it in with every other word used to demean others of every other race. The company unfortunately dissolved later than year because of in-house issues, but I have no regrets because in that time, I learned a lot about people as well as myself.

When I was younger and someone called us nigger, if we came in the house and did nothing to the culprits or got beat up, my Dad did the same to us. There was pride associated with the skin we were in and we didn’t go around calling each other nigga. In the 70’s most Black families watched the mini-series Roots and during the telecast conversations about race, racism and Black pride were had because the atrocities of slavery gave my parents a reason to have a discussion my brother, sister and I needed to hear. It’s why I write the way I do. I love every one of every color, but don’t test me when it comes to race, because I’ll sniff out some bullshit and throw it back in your racist face.

I also feel that if more record companies were owned by Blacks embedded with pride, the culture at large would not accept nigga being used in any way. Many other races call themselves derogatory words, but that doesn’t give me the right to say them – nor do I want to say them.

The NFL is expected to penalize its athletes using the word on the field. I think that’s a bunch of BS because what actually does such a rule seek to accomplish when a certain team in DC remains a racial slur itself? I’m not a proponent of using the word nigger, but attempting to make the word disappear from arenas, books or anything else is utterly ridiculous when many patronizing sports leagues say the word every day in public or behind the safety of their own homes.

Did you see Mean Joe Green's face? Did you feel the pain he feels about this word? Do you uinderstand the death relative to the word and it's origin?

Also, saying n-word as a euphemism is like Black journalists writing people of color instead of just saying Black people. Cut that BS out. If you’re scared, just say you’re scared. It’s ridiculous that because Blacks aren’t seeking ownership positions, we’ve become shook as hell to stand up for ourselves for fear of termination. How is that any way to live and what does that teach our kids?

Incredible, and just like every other race, Black people should seek ownership too. Do obstacles exist prohibiting or making such a goal difficult? Of course, but until Blacks seek ownership at the highest level in earnest, Black culture will continue to be bastardized by those who couldn’t care less about how we are viewed and subsequently, these meaningless discussions of the word nigger will unfortunately continue. That ain’t blaming Hip Hop; that’s blaming the powers to be for capitalizing off the word .

Don’t use the word nigger, but anyone outside of Blacks has no basis telling Blacks not to use the word. It’s none of their business and because this country is embroiled in all kinds of racial turmoil rarely discussed, why in the hell are we talking about something that has absolutely nothing to do with solving our racial problems? Too many died horribly in the 200 plus years of slave ships traveling to and fro and too many have died once Africans were brought to this soil and continue to die today because of the color of their skin, and until this country grows some balls and fixes what will eventually become our undoing, a discussion of any word is nothing more than fueling a fire that eventually will burn us all down.

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