July 18th, 2008
08:30 AM ET

Etiquette of the N-word

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/11/art.jessejackson2.jpg]
Susan Chun
AC360 Producer

Debate over the N-word has intensified in the past couple years.

Remember when Michael Richards from “Seinfeld” was caught on tape two years ago using the n-word in a comedy routine? People were outraged and Richards had to apologize.

The NAACP last year held a symbolic funeral to bury the N-word. And the Rev. Jesse Jackson has called on rappers and entertainers to stop using it in their performances.

But Fox News says Jackson himself used the word in what he thought was an off camera moment. He was criticizing Senator Obama for “talking down” to blacks. The full quote from Jackson, according to Fox, is “Barack..he’s talking down to black people… telling 'n-word' how to behave.”

Jason Whitlock, columnist for the Kansas City Star, told us he thinks Jackson, like many other African Americans, is “addicted” to the N-word and struggles with giving it up.

Ebony Magazine editor Bryan Monroe disagrees, saying African Americans are using the word less because they are finally understanding how hurtful and damaging it is.

Some New Yorkers on the street told us they think Jackson is a hypocrite for using the N-word, though one young African American woman said she doesn’t view it as a derogatory term when used by black people. She said it’s simply a way to say “hi friend.”

We caught up with Jackson, who’s in Madrid for a conference. He has apoligized to Obama and to the American people, and a healing process has begun. But he didn’t comment specifically on his use of the N-word. That alone has sparked a fresh debate over this word so loaded with painful history.

Filed under: AC360° Staff • Race in America • Susan Chun
soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. James Dylan

    As long as black people use the word freely so will every other group. That ideology of "do what I say not what I do" doesn't work, especially in a free country. We must all have the same rights and view the profane to actually be profane or not. If I called myself an idiot, allowed a select few to call me an idiot, then pretty soon everyone would call me an idiot; it would be out of my control. I would be viewed by all as an idiot.
    By telling some that they are not able to call me a name would only promote a certain type of inequality. Similar to be called a nickname by some friends then not allowing a new friend to call me the same name. The new friend would never fit in. A continual separation. Truly this way of thinking promotes racist feelings. I've found many unable to grasp this. The bottom line, if you don't want anyone to call you a name then don't call yourself or let anyone else call you the name.
    Often I've heard the notion that by using the word it somehow removes the power, or better said, negative overtone. It is painfully obvious this way of thinking has failed. As with all language, the words chosen to use say more about the user then the one whom it is spoken to. So when ever I here that word spoken I can't help but think the person whose mouth it came from is a fool; regardless of their race.

    July 21, 2008 at 3:40 am |
  2. Mohammed Ali

    Here what everyone askes, So how do you like Your Boy! Obama.
    than starts to ask, Oh did you hear about the Rev. Jackson, and the 'N' word is now back again with the same people again. Mostely used to make a statement that someone is totally good bad the word "N" made him the BAD man. That bad word here is a '"BAD" word. only ones who are used for making a custome of an image the personallity here is the ""N"'. So they ask in the way of It still exsicites we are here again still making that same statetment.

    That was wrong, there is always the wrong time. It is not so causual to be talking about a person and describe him as a "N" which is wrong where it happened. Again man tries to use his own state of mind freeley but then it makes him go back. Man never stand for the right side of a good image, that word made some happy and many people mad even eager in a lot of ways. But it goes back in time and if you look that word is Over. Some still think NOt so possible. Okay
    Obama is the reason, lets speak about the main reason.

    He brings the right mind the right words the right background, also the right wrong reasons why the main media coverage and words said over this conflict. but it is always said in tv and places where it is divided. And we are United.


    thank you

    July 21, 2008 at 2:54 am |
  3. Emma in Houston TX.

    Let's face it....there are certian words used and ways of acting when people of the same race are together. This goes for ALL races..not just African Americans. However, NO ! It is not all right for people of another race to do the same. We all need to admit and respect this.!! Jesse Jackson was wrong in getting caught.

    July 20, 2008 at 8:39 pm |
  4. Paula from Georgia

    Rev. Jackson was expessing what he acyually thinking out loud–Not a whisper. If you get right to what people do really think. You can pretty well tell by sitting in the breakroom at lunch. From blacks to blacks. Whites to Blacks. I've seen Blacks say certain things to one another- depending on what kind of day they were having like the rest of us. their reaction could be good or bad. Don't say things out loud. The old adage No longer applies. It's best to be silent. We can no longer tell who people are, what they really think? From Hate to love, it's a toss of dice. Hopefully, they are who they appear to be.

    July 20, 2008 at 2:04 pm |
  5. zius

    it seems that there are many racist here trying to take advantage of this
    I AM WHITE.. if AA don't want me to use the word because its offensive and reminds them of their days of slavery theni will respect their whish and won't use it.. if their using it among eachouther I DONT CARE i will not use that word and be sensitive to their feelings

    July 20, 2008 at 7:41 am |
  6. Selena , Canada

    I thought that Whoopie Goldberg was completely out of order and who does she think she is , to tell people what they can and cannot say.
    The " N " word has never been in my vocabulary and I certainly never had any wish to use it.
    Black people have to stop playing the victims , life is tough and a challenge to all of us , regardless of colour.
    One can't change history and one can't make this generation pay for the sins of our fathers.
    I watched Obama and his campaign pull the racecard on Bill Clinton and it was disgusting. This is a President who did so much for Blacks and Hispanics and never had a racist bone in his body.
    Sorry , but that is when I realised that Blacks will exploit their race and play victims for whatever reason.
    We live in a free world and life is short , therefore enjoy what you have and give thanks and show some respect to the brave people who have fought so hard to give us freedom of speech and expression.

    July 20, 2008 at 3:06 am |
  7. Matthew

    It is the implications behind the word. The word can be used without even stating. There is a cause for saying it and why it is used to identify or relate in a given state or situation. For a non black person to use the word, it has much meaning and backing to their real impression for speaking it. For a black person to use it, it only credits and approves the creator or signifier of the term or meaning. Blacks use it only because it has been called to them more than once in their life by someone aggressively. The most I was called the word as a black man was in elementary school, so where would a five year old child learn the word. So the use is by what dictates and follows the meaning. In actuality it will never go away as long as there is hate and discrimination based on the color of skin.

    July 19, 2008 at 9:42 pm |
  8. Lamont austin

    Mike in nyc, just your attempt to bring up those statistics tell me you know no one black, some of americas greatest achievements have been from black people, not to mention the only race that has tried to the highest degree to achieve equality are black people, just goes to show you, if "your" not effected by a problem you dont really care about what happens. I also hate that non black people try to comment about the black race when you know nothing at all about black people (except your stereotypes) but of course all i've seen in america is pro white things, advertisements, shows we know all about you, you only know about 1/3 if that about black people..

    July 19, 2008 at 8:53 pm |
  9. Lamont austin

    Its our word and now only we can say it. from what we went through we deserve it. have people forgotten what a race of people went through. now your trying to say no one can say it.

    July 19, 2008 at 6:34 pm |
  10. Joe Gakenheimer

    My feeling is that everyone should be treated the same, that is my philosophy in life. Race should not matter when speaking to someone. I can't remember the last time I heard an Asian person call another Asian person an "Oriental." I have heard quite frequently the 'N' word used by black Americans talking to other black Americans and it makes others, especially children, think that it is not such a bad word. Thus, when I hear that from a black person, I only think down on that one individualm about not being civil not being educated; though that is just one person, I don't judge others of any race based on one person. I feel this is the only way to view it.

    Columbus, Ohio

    July 19, 2008 at 11:18 am |

    ANYONE who uses a word that has a different meaning from one race to another should NOT use that word. This is no different than people taking e-bonics. We live in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and are supposed to be civilized but we know that by reading some of the above comments there are a lot of uncivilized in this country.

    it is obvious that this country is full of people who hate their self and in turn want to me everyone around them as miserable as they are.

    I used to be opmistic about the future of this country but it's clear that this country is more racist now that anytime in history. While this county is dividing itself on racial lines, foreigners are slowly taking over this country.

    July 19, 2008 at 2:43 am |
  12. Craig

    It seems that every other black comedian on HBO or Showtime is "allowed" to use that word but no one else. Same goes for rap "music". If that word is so offensive than maybe people should not say it at all. I don't. It's a simple matter of self control.

    July 19, 2008 at 1:45 am |
  13. shanda bennett

    Mike your numbers forget to mention that police have discretion on what actions they take regaurding arrests. If you believe for one mintue that the majority of Blacks are criminals just because of what numbers say you clearly are not logical. Here is a prime example, since meth has hit the streets it has majorily affected the white rural and urban communities so much so that they have had to lock up over the counter and household products and in some cases keep tabs on who buys them. Yet and still the white prison population has not risen an ounce but the black prison population keeps rising. Hummm wonder why that is? Also we can even take it to a small level such as speeding tickets more blacks get written speeding tickets than whites do but for some reason more whites get pulled over hummm. Check the stats on that one my friend. You don't understand because you live in a world of white privaledge without even realizing it. You take for granted what many have fought and died for and i am speaking for all other races now. It's is not a matter of crime but a matter of economics. Proverty created crime, people are not born criminals their environment creates the behavior. Why, do you think crime in poor countries is high it's not their race it's their economic condition.

    July 19, 2008 at 1:19 am |
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