I would like to have a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates about the words he says white people can’t say and his reasons. There are questions and comments I would like for him to address. Please take a a minute or two to watch this excerpt from his presentation at Northwest University before reading on.
I am jumping right into the hot seat; Let’s talk about the “N Word”. Coates sounds serious when he exclaims that white people, that includes me, claim it is racist because we can’t use the “N Word”. Mr. Coates, I can’t speak for all white people any more than you speak for all people of color but I for one do not want to use the “N-word”. I don’t want to hear it either regardless of who is saying it, yelling it or rapping it. In my humble opinion, the only time the word should be used is in a historical book or a movie when the word is needed to make the story more accurate to the time and setting. Even then, I cringe, as we all should when we hear/witness fellow humans being disrespected.
You referenced your wife calling you Honey and said that she could say that as your wife but that it would be inappropriate for a strange women to address you by a term of endearment. You have a valid point. But you should note that in the south, people, particularly those in the service industry, sometimes call strangers names like Honey, Sweetheart or even Darling. Except in rare cases, the person is not being flirtatious. The term of endearment is used to express kindness and a welcoming feeling to someone that has yet to be formerly introduced. In the south your wife would look foolish if she made a big deal out of a waitress, hotel clerk or even a new acquaintance that referred to you as honey. It is part of the southern culture (community if you will) not really any different from a black person using the “N word”.
I am old school too, but women calling each other bitches is in poor taste. I put that in the same category as the “N-word”. I don’t want to hear it and I don’t say it, not even in reference to my female dog. She deserve better (Just FYI, I sometimes call her Baby or Sweetie Pie, as she is a southerner)
It probably isn’t surprising that I am not a fan of hip-hop music either. You say, “Being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word niggers is actually very, very insightful. It will give you (white people) just a little peek into the world of what it means to be black”. You’re right, as a white female I do not know what it means to be black. Likewise, Mr. Coates, you do not know what it means to be white. You stated that, “When you are white in this country you are taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything.”
I didn’t grow up thinking I had a right to everything. As a matter a fact, my father reminded me almost daily that everything that was “mine” was really his because the money he had earned had paid for it. I am a first generation college graduate that put herself through school. My first job came at age 14. I have held down as many as three jobs at the same time for a considerable amount of my adult life. My parents grew up during the Great Depression. My father was no stranger to hunger as a child. I was taught to appreciate what I had and that the world owed me nothing with a capital N!
Your statement attempts to put every white American into a neat little box where we all get categorized as being the same. Yes, some people are raised entitled, but not everyone, and I dare say there are people of color that take on an attitude of entitlement. Being entitled isn’t limited to one race.
The language shifts over time, as it should, but learning takes time. It is no longer appropriate to say a person is disabled. It is better to acknowledge the person first. We should say a person with a disability, not a disabled person. He isn’t a person in a wheelchair, but a man that uses a wheelchair.
I don’t want to leave out LGBTQ. I admit I had to Google this one and when I did I learned it is now considered offensive to refer to a person as being a homosexual. I predict the acronym won’t last long because an individual isn’t all of the identities included.
I don’t mind admitting that learning is a life long process and what is correct today may not be tomorrow. Chances are I will make mistakes, but it won’t be intentional. It makes conversations a little more tense, but I almost always know when someone is intentionally insulting me. That is when I get offended. Other times, I write it off to the person not being up to date on the latest vocabulary. I can also, in the kindest way I can, hint-hint, disagree.
People can be rude and crude and they can also be waiting to pounce on the first person that doesn’t use the appropriate word. People can also choose to be inclusive and try to have a better understanding of others. Can we all agree that if we all give one another respect and treat others with dignity it will go long way.
Finally, Ta-Nahisi Coates, I will be shocked if you reach out to me and we get to have a friendly conversation, but please, consider this an invitation. I think you and I could learn from each other.
Have a blessed week my friends, thanks for reading.
Kudos to the following that allowed the use of their photographs: Doug Kelley, Hans Peter Gaust and Ben Wiens QC.