It doesn't matter if you're Chet Haze or Rick Ross – no-one should use the N-word

Hip-hop has led to many black people accepting the slur, when all it does is take us back

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's simple: the N-word, or any other hurtful racial slurs, should never be used. Yet the word seems to be fine when placed on a hip-hop record, rap verse, or used as a form of endearment among black friends. Why is this?

We all seem to be very anxious about its use, and afraid to question why it's continually blighting the black community. Imagine if I greeted one of my relatives by saying “yo what's up my N***a?”. I would be disowned, and feel like a complete fool. Yet for some reason this black-on-black racism has been accepted by the mainstream, and left completely unchallenged.

I get it though. White people feel too anxious to question why it's still used within the black community. Many they feel like they're not in a position to say that it shouldn't be used by anyone, because they've weighed up that a white person telling a black person what to do is probably worse than a black person using the N-word. So they let it go.

If a white person says the N-word, they are branded a racist, and rightly so. Of course, it's different when a black person says it, given our history. But this still doesn't mean it's right for us to use it, just because the context is different. The word should be banned. You don't find other horrific and derogatory terms used by other ethnic groups, at least not in the same way it's used by many black people. So why have my brothers and sisters allowed the N-word to be glorified, and become a term of endearment?

Hip-hop is a large part of the reason why. When artists began using the word it was organic, authentic and meaningful. Groups such as N.W.A and Public Enemy used the term as a way to identify and explore its meaning. It was a thoughtful reappropriation that partly highlighted how wrong it was. Now, modern hip-hop artists such as Rick Ross and Lil Wayne glorify the N-word. It's all part of the brash materialism and rebelliousness of their stage personas. And as such, with the considerable influence hip-hop and rap continues to exert on our society, it's become the ultimate throwaway term which is somehow deemed to be endearing, not derogatory.

The word has become so sanitised within the hip-hop community, that anyone seems to know think they can use it, given they're part of the inner circle. The aspiring hip-hop artist Chet Haze (Tom Hanks' son) recently posted a video endorsing the word's use, along with in depth analysis on why "N*****" should be used, and its cultural significance to hip-hop culture. Chet said he has the right to use the term in his music, saying: "The way I see it, it’s a word that unifies the culture of HIP-HOP across ALL RACES, which is actually kind of a beautiful thing. It’s a word that can be used out of camaraderie and love, not just exclusively for black people." As you might expect, he's faced a huge backlash, even from his fans. But he's not alone – there are plenty of people within the hip-hop community, black and white, who share his view.

This is worrying, as hip-hop is one of the most powerful music genres. It unites all types of people regardless of race, creed or religion. As such, it has a duty to inform and educate young people. Instead, it has allowed them to accept the N-word as a cool and rebellious. Martin Luther King must be spinning in his grave. His fight and cause wasn't for us to greet each other in an unjust and prejudice manner.

I'm in my thirties now, and I know there's probably plenty of young people who disagree with me. They'll say I just don't get it. But I would urge them to think about what the N-word actually means before using it. I'd referring them to the legacy of the civil rights movement, the actions of far-right groups, and the day-to-day racism we still face. I'd ask them to think think about saying it to one of their grandparents, and see how they'd react. I'd point towards the pain that was inflicted on previous generations, who fought for equal rights. The N-word dosen't allow us to move on. So entrenched in our collective distress as it is, it's too far gone.

We can't let history wipe out what has been achieved for so many. This is what using the N-word does. It takes us back to a time where black people were treated as second-class citizens. We should never forget these times, but this doesn't mean we should hold on to the terms of abuse we suffered, and pretend that they're somehow ok.

So what can be done to stop the word being used? First of all, the hip-hop community should come out against its use. And young people need to be educated in a way that doesn't skirt around the issue. But most importantly, black people must unite and make it completely clear – no-one should say the N-word, regardless of who you are.