The weight of the n-word

I have a confession to make: I grew up privileged. I grew up in a suburb of Indianapolis, IN called Fishers, which has been voted one of the countries safest cities multiple times.

I went to a public high school that’s one of the best in the state where for the first I was surrounded by white people. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me back track. While I’ve always lived in Fishers, I attended a private school in Indianapolis that housed grades K-8 before trekking out to the suburbs for high school.

My first month there was truly a culture shock. After being in racially diverse classes for the first 14 or so years of my life, I was one of maybe two or three black students taking AP and honors courses and I hated it. I wanted to be in classes where I fit in, where teachers didn’t talk to me like I was stupid.

For my entire freshmen year and honestly all throughout my high school career I felt like I had to choose between being an “Oreo” and being black. I chose to be an “Oreo,” but at the time I felt like I had no choice. I couldn’t help that I was smart, or would have rather written yearbook copy than played sports. I was still trying to figure out my blackness and where it fit in at a school as large as Fishers High School.

I never found it. At least not in high school.

In those four years I let a lot of stuff slide, but the thing I regret the most, letting people who did not identify as black use the n-word.

The word is rooted in hate. It has sense been reclaimed by the people it was once used against and to me there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with anyone using it, as long as they understand the repercussions of it. But so many don’t (or choose to ignore them) and that’s what I have a problem with.

A little less than 24 hours ago nine blacks were killed in Charleston, South Carolina for being black. How unbelievable. Equally unbelievable is the radio silence from my white peers. The same people that used the n-word consistently in my presence (and still on social media–yes I do still follow you) have nothing to say about the consistent slaughtering of Black lives that has always been happening, but especially since the murder of Mike Brown last August.

I have a problem with that. You see, when you choose to say the n-word you’re choosing to except all the baggage and history that comes with that word. You’re saying that you understand that blacks are systematically oppressed and the problem isn’t black on black crime, or a lack of education, but that this country was quite literally built by us, but not for us. You’re saying that you understand racism is institutionalized and goes so much deeper than a white kid not wanting to play with a black kid during recess. It is not a word that is exchangeable with “homie” or “friend” it is deeper than that.

My problem with this word and all who use it freely is that they don’t get what it means. You see you can’t use the n-word and then say Black lives don’t matter, you can’t use the n-word and then not stand up for your black friends when you see something unjust happening to them, you cannot use the n-word openly on Twitter and then have nothing to say when 12 year old Tamir Rice, 18 year old Mike Brown and too many others to name are getting killed every week in the country just for being black.

James Baldwin once said “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Well, here I am, 5 years removed from high school and furious. I am furious that I never spoke up and let that hate speech slide. I’m furious that I worry about my boyfriend walking home alone at night, I’m furious that every day it seems like another black life is lost to police brutality and racism. I’m upset, I’m pissed off and I am tired. Because all I’ve ever done is live; and somehow in America, living while Black is punishable by death.


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