The ‘N’ Word, Piers Morgan, and the Myth of Black Respectability

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Recently, Piers Morgan penned an incendiary piece titled “If black Americans want the N-word to die, they will have to kill it themselves.” The former CNN host opined that black people must never use the “N” word, because it reinforces longstanding racial tension. He writes that he understands that when black people use the “N” word, we do so with a certain air of irony, that, when we choose to use the word, we are reclaiming and redefining an element of social violence that once branded us as second-class citizens. But he wades into the “blame hip-hop” argument that mainstream rap popularized the slur and encourages the black youth of today to use the “N” word with very little consideration of its historical underpinnings. He writes, “The reason it is so ingrained in pop culture is that many blacks, especially young blacks reared to the soundtrack of N-word splattered rap music, use it in an ironic way.” He ends his piece imploring us black folk to “teach the youth of today the N-word is so heinous that even to repeat it ironically is to perpetuate its poison” and further urges us to not accept the “N” word as a complicated fixture within our culture and to instead disregard it wholly, in the same way that major sports leagues do.

I held my breath the entire time I read this misguided piece. As a dark-skinned black feminist and avid hip-hop fan, I saw all the markings of a privileged white male telling me and my community how to behave ourselves. Herein lies the difficulty in cultivating cross-racial dialogue, especially with¬†white self-styled allies. Oftentimes, white self-proclaimed allies leave their mark within the black struggle by way of paternalistic edicts on “appropriate” forms of conduct. They tell us what is and isn’t “acceptable,” with no room for debate and no space for us to voice our discomfort with their commandments.

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