I thought that issue was resolved at least half a century ago. Yet when Bill Maher let the term fly on his show a few weeks ago, it prompted the need for the nation to go over the rules again.
To me, the fact that white people should never say that slur has been a given long before I watched the miniseries Roots as a kid. I have been blown away to come across others who have a far different feeling.
One time, I found myself on the defensive for never having used the word. The people I was with did not even believe me. It was not only normal for them to have said it, they were almost proud of it. Mind you, these were not members of a white supremacists group (that I know of). Their names weren’t David Duke. These were just people from Connecticut and New Jersey.
The leader of this pack was the most incredulous: “You’ve never said it? Even when you’ve, like, banged your finger with a hammer and it just comes out.” What?! Why is the n-word so at the top of your mind that it springs out of your mouth while doing household chores? My head nearly did a 180. Was I in some bizarro-land where people just casually spill that term every day and shame the people who don’t? Or is that land just called America? I explained to this guy that when I bang my finger, I typically go with “ouch!”
You feel hopeless when you run into these types. Any argument based on showing sensitivity and respect toward minority groups, or understanding the racism that is entrenched in our country, is written off as “political correctness.” It’s disturbing. It should be obvious why white people cannot use the slur. That it is cruel and deeply painful for other people to hear from us should be reason enough.
But if, astonishingly, it is not, why not approach it this way: Think of the hundreds of words you never use, yet manage to go on. Remember all those SATs words you never studied and weren’t the least bit interested in? Or the ones even spellcheck does not recognize? Put the n-word on that kind of list. Examples:
Etc., etc., etc.
So, if you are not “labile” or willing to change your attitude about using that heinous term, put it in the same category as a word like “labile.” If you can survive never uttering a thousand different English words in your lifetime, one more should be no big deal.