Obligatory N-Word Column

Andre Iguodala did it.

He committed a heinous act on Friday, when he used the “N-Word” not once but three times in response to a rather mundane media question. Talk about overkill, right? And, with that heinous act comes severe repercussions.

This column.

The monstrous problem isn’t actually saying the “N-Word.” It’s starting the “N-Word” debate machine all over again. Nothing could be further from necessary. But, it’s my job to respond, when someone — you know — utters the “N-Word.” How could I be a self-respecting Black journalist if I didn’t — you know — respond?

Even though my thoughts aren’t required, and my opinion of little consequence and the ensuing paragraphs won’t change your mind in any substantive way,  the “N-Word” has revealed itself on the public stage, which means I’m obligated to continue.

Every few years, some athlete says the “N-Word” and we all collectively decide empty-calorie dialouge to satisfy our feel good in the ol’ race department is needed. The sort of racial discussion ripe with making us feel better about our society. Our delicate sensibilities remain intact, because we all agree the “N-Word” is off limits. Meanwhile, the children in Flint still can’t drink their water.

Oh what fun.

But, let’s have the “N-Word” discussion.

Let’s continue to give a word more power than it actual contains.

Right now you’re thinking, “If the word is so powerless, why aren’t you using it?” Good question. We might as well answer some good questions while we have this vapid discussion.

Right now in this context, one would prefer to remain professional. I would no sooner write the “N-Word” in this column than the “S-Word,” the “C-Word,” the “B-Word” or the “A -Word.”

And, now you’re a bit confused at what words I’m talking about, because you have no context and you’re not exactly sure if I’m avoiding cursing or not at this point.

Words are words. And curse words, especially the “N-Word,” are some of the few in which context is thrown to the wind. We police these few words as if their alternatives aren’t just as dirty in context.

I can call someone shitty or I can call them awful. Either way, they’ve been insulted. I can call someone my friend or I can call them my nigga (unprofessional achievement unlocked). Either way, they’ve just been complimented.

Now, the actual “N-Word” in which I would never type, the word Iguodala did not say, the word equipped with an -ER ending does come with some emotional baggage. That history can’t be minimized.

Blacks were called that word, while the whip crackled against their skin in the 1800’s. Blacks were called that word, as their bodies hung like terrifying ornaments from trees. Blacks are still being called that word, as they fight for the right to not be shot at minor traffic stops.

Sidenote: No, I didn’t just accuse policeman of being racist. I accused random Twitter troll A of using racial slurs.

That history, the lineage deserves respect and deference. So, when someone politely asks me not to use that word, I oblige. When someone tells me why the roots of that word sting, I empathize.

The same courtesy, that should be extended for nearly anything. When someone tells you something hurts them, in general, you should stop doing it. It doesn’t change the context for you but the context for them matters.
And, context is generally missing from the whole “N-Word” debate. It’s the only word in the book that has people begging for a universal rule. Don’t. Use. The. N. Word.

So while I wouldn’t name my professional football team the “N-Word,” I also don’t feel the need to shame Iguodala for his benign albeit unusual use of it either.

Iguodala’s real insensitivity here is using the word in a professional setting. Even more insensitive, he caused this debate to resume once more.

A debate that even if a consensus is found bears no real fruit, no real change. If my friends and I stop using the “N-Word” tomorrow in private, the prison system will still be broken in public. Just like if my friends stop joking about my weight today, I won’t lose any pounds, tomorrow.

And yes, the context of their jokes and how I receive them still matter, despite no adverse personal effect.
So be vigilant about the words you use and when you use them. That goes for any word not just the dreaded “N-Word.”

Words matter. Context matters more. But, this debate never has and never will. And as it relates to Iguodala, I’m less concerned that he said the word at all and more concerned that I haven’t been able to decipher his point, even days later.

So there’s your obligatory “N-Word” column. See you in two or three years.

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