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A Six Letter Word and It’s Underestimated Power

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A Six Letter Word and It’s Underestimated Power

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger

Aliya Lewis, Opinion Writer

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As an African American, the “n-word” evokes feelings of oppression, disrespect, and an appearance of an overall racist mentality from the speaker. For countless years, my ancestors were oppressed as slaves, having this word spat in their faces by their oppressors who saw them as objects or lowly animals, undeserving of the title of human. I’ve personally seen people close to my heart disrespected and belittled by the  six letter word. A simple, two-syllable word which holds a universe of power and can shake a person to the core when used against them. Some might say, “Well it’s just a word. It doesn’t do anything,” or, “That person was just exercising their freedom of speech. Why do you let it bother you so much? It’s not like they have control over the way you feel as a person.” However, this ignorance is part of the destructive and oppressive attitude that is still present in relationships formed with African-Americans today.

One of my earliest memories of my father is tainted by the racism of an arrogant, entitled, ignorant man who doesn’t realize the power of his words. Seeing the hurt and embarrassment in my father’s eyes, which quickly turned into a blind rage that caused a frightened and confused six-year-old girl to silently cry in the passenger seat of her father’s beat up pick-up truck as he stood in the street fighting with a complete stranger over a word. At the time, this six-year-old girl was so confused, “Why is Papa so mad over a word? Sure he said name calling is not nice but why is he so mad?” This girl grew and as she got older she came to realize it isn’t just a word. Her father explained to her the origin of this hateful word, not the one that her fifth-grade teacher gave, but one that filled her yet again with confusion. This time the confusion wasn’t as to why her father was angry but as to why someone could be so evil to another person.

As a girl, I was so astonished that this word even existed. I didn’t, and still don’t, truly understand the purpose of such a spiteful and undermining word. Over time, this word has taken on a new role in society. Still holding the same power and origin as before, but now it’s used casually among friends. For so many people, the meaning is purely calling someone “bud” or homie. It’s almost as though people have forgotten the pain and belittlement that this word has brought people.

In the words of Brando Simeo Starkey, an American journalist, “White folk indoctrinated them into accepting their supposed inferiority. These narratives illustrate the success of this campaign of mental terrorism, and no word conveyed the depth of this internalized oppression more than “nigger.” Now, whenever I hear the epithet, a visual and emotional representation of the heinous process by which a people — my people — were induced to think they were less than trespasses into my thoughts. After years of habitual use of “[n*****],” I banished it from my speech to honor the humanity that many never saw in themselves.” He believes that the white man uses words and actions to enforce the belief of inferiority into the black societies mind. That black people have an inferiority complex due to the undermining nature of white people towards them.

In the English language, the word is a racial slur most commonly directed at black people. The word originated as a variation of the Spanish and Portuguese noun “negro.” It was and still is often used derogatorily, particularly in the United States. It’s usage became unambiguously slanderous; a racist insult. The term is considered extremely offensive, it is often replaced with the euphemism “the N-word”.

Now, in today’s society, this word’s history is put aside by many African-Americans who use this word to empower, not only themselves, but each other. I can understand the mindset they they have , turning a word that, for hundreds of years was used to belittle, disrespect, and insult their ancestors, into a twisted form of a sign of respect. They used the n-word as a form of power against the racism they face daily. Instead of letting this word make them feel disrespected and ashamed, they took the word and use it as a way of showing that the word doesn’t hold power over them.

In all honesty, when I was younger I used the word in a joking manner when with friends. I ignored my parents who told me that it was a racial slur, a term that was still new to my thirteen-year-old brain. I didn’t see how horrible it was to say. I didn’t understand my dad’s unsettling attitude toward the word, completely blocking out the troublesome memories of the little girl crying in the passenger seat of her father’s truck. I so desperately wanted to fit in with my friends.

I soon came to realize the gravity of the word in a very shell-shocking way. My friends and I  went into one of the boutiques in a shopping plaza by our apartment complex. While trying on clothes and pretending to be a model with my best friends, I accidentally bumped into a middle-aged woman who turned to me with a look of disgust. I quickly apologized reached for the shirt she dropped as my mother taught me was the polite response to my clumsy tendencies. The woman quickly snatched her shirt from my grasp and proceeded to scowl at me. I remember clear as day the woman’s exact words. “You stupid n****r. You should really watch where you’re going you disrespectful little brat.” She walked away mumbling insults under her breath as I stood there, completely dumbfounded. Never in my short thirteen years of life had I ever been in a situation like that.

I went home and cried to my older brother who told me that some people just don’t understand the power of their words. At that moment I understood, that feeling that ached in my chest and shook me to my core. I would never wish that feeling on my worst enemy. That night I promised myself I would never say that word ever again in my life. That night I realized it wasn’t just a word, those six letters and two syllables can cause so much pain and I never wanted to bring that pain to another person.

Some say it’s just a word. Some use the word to empower a belittled and discriminated race. Some banish the word from their vocabulary completely. Unfortunately, some use the word to undermine and belittle people due to their small-minded and bigoted way of living. In today’s current social climate, the n-word is incredibly controversial. Many people believe freedom of speech pardons them from the title of racist because “it’s a constitutional right” to speak as they please, and it might be, but at what point are you able to stop using “freedom of speech” to blanket what you say to avoid conflict or persecution in our ever evolving society?   

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Aliya Lewis, Opinion Writer

Aliya Lewis is a fifteen-year-old sophomore and a member of the graduating class of 2020. She is originally from California. This is Aliya’s second year...

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A Six Letter Word and It’s Underestimated Power