Bargaining with the N – Word

Misha Khan

Photo by Grace Singer

Since the first time it was used in the United States, the “n-word” has been one of the most controversial words in the English language. However, over the past several years the word seems to have lost its originality. The once-derogatory term is now a day-to- day term that very rarely sets off a spark. The women of Gamma Eta gathered together Tuesday night at the Davis Student Commons for the “N-word Forum” to deal with the issue.

“We base ourselves spreading awareness on multi-cultural issues and racism issues basically uniting a campus as one,” said Jess Rizzo, the chapter president of Gamma Eta. “We even do educational summers to spread knowledge.”

The forum was led by Sociology professor Dr. Heather Downs who began the discussion by talking about inequality. According to Downs, inequality rises among differences between races. She went on to explain the etymology of the infamous term that originated from the Latin word “niger” which meant the color black. Eventually, by the 1800s it was no longer associated with just a color but also with a racial group. The word came out of the American South as a slur for the word “negro” and is now considered a language term that is part of prejudice.

During the entire discussion, Dr. Downs presented situations and asked for the students’ opinions. She mentioned the books “How to Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” noting how for decades parents have tried to ban some of the greatest works of American literature in the name of protecting their children. The students clearly seemed to disagree mentioning how no one can erase certain things from our history. The parents should use those pieces of literature to teach racial differences to the younger generation.

Students spoke about how each of them felt calling someone the “n-word” and that it all basically depended on the context it is used in. Most people nowadays do not think about how the word was used in the past and what it actually stood for. The “n-word” has evolved from a color to a derogatory term and finally to a word that to some express power.

The power the word now holds is thanks to the vibrant hip-hop culture that continues to grow everyday in the American society. The word began to be used so commonly that people forgot its history and began to look at it as a powerful term that showed confidence or in some cases endearment towards others.

Most students claim they would still never use the word out of respect towards others. Yet with people around them using it every day, it adds to the confusion of who is actually allowed to say it. Is it simply anyone who uses it in the right context or should it not be used all together?

Even though the forum was not well attended, Dr. Downs seemed to enjoy her time very much.

“This is my ideal college discussion and I love it,” she said. “Thank you all for coming.”