Words have a lot of power. They can make us tear up, crack a smile or bring us into complete shock. Sometimes, it is not about the actual word, but rather whose mouth it is coming out of. I have realized that white people (myself included) feel uneasy about describing someone as “black,” in fear of sounding racist. We choose to use the word African American. On the other hand Blacks have no problem describing each other as black without the worry of sounding chauvinistic. Skin color is such a thick identity that people in the same race share a connection in words they should and should not use.

The “N word” is a very touchy subject, especially because of how casual it is becoming. A white man would risk getting physically beaten when using this word, while a black man can use it to describe his best friend. Black rappers are “allowed” to use the N word in their lyrics despite the horrific meaning that is attached to it. Rappers like T.I, Kanye West and Jay Z have used this word many times.  Oprah Winfrey explained that she does not listen to rap music because of the monogamous lyrics, especially because the use of the N word. Oprah, along with many other associate the word with hatred, discrimination and lynching. She does not think it is acceptable for people to use such a strong word in such a light manner. People use the word today as modern slang meaning, “buddies” or “brothers.”   During an interview with Oprah, Jay Z (foud on youtube)  explained that he did not like how much power this word had.


 “People give words power. For our generation, what we did was, we took the word and we took the power out of that word. We turned a word that was very ugly and hurtful into a term of endearment…. If we just start removing words from the dictionary we will just make another word the next day. We won’t address the problem. The problem is racism.”


Jay Z’s words were very inspiring. He explained that the only way to move forward from the time of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement is to address the problems, such as the N word. Being that society constructs the meaning of each word, we have the power to change it.  We cannot let a simple word carry around so much hatred and animosity from the past. We have to learn how to let go, not to the word, but its association.



About merlekassab

I am a junior at Hunter College, majoring in sociology.

One response

  1. nasrinahmed says:

    I always thought it was interesting how dramatically the “N word” has changed. It used to have such a derogatory meaning coming from anyone’s mouth, but as time passed, blacks have taken that initiative to change the harsh and offensive history of the word and own it and make it into something good. As you said, many often use the word as a term of affection now. I also see the other side of the use of the word, where white people won’t use it for fear of offending. However, I think that if this word truly has been transformed by people, then anyone should be able to use it without offending anyone, because the word now means something different. Though the original history of the word will always be there, it has taken on a new meaning for our generation.
    I agree with Jay-Z when he says people give power to words. I think it’s absolutely amazing and wonderful that the definition of this word was turned around to mean the complete opposite of what it used to. It is understandable that Oprah won’t listen to the music because of its attitude towards women, but as Jay-Z pointed out, the meaning of the “N-word” has changed and so it isn’t used pejoratively anymore.
    (This is discounting all the unfortunate and small-minded people out there who will now and forever use the “N-word” to mean something offensive.)