No one can grant anyone else permission to use the n-word, Gene Demby argues at the NPR blog Code Switch. There isn't a consensus on whether or not black people should use it, and although white people aren't encouraged to use it, there's wiggle room there, too, depending on the person and context.

There's this fiction that there are arbiters who can grant permission to say nigger and set the rules around how they say it.

But there are no rules. There are only contexts and consequences.

When Asian folks or Latinos or white folks ask why they can't say it but black people can, the question misses the point. Anyone can say it — that doesn't mean there won't be fallout for doing s o…

Last year, when Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted from a Jay Z/Kanye West concert in France, it ignited a tiny tempest. Russell Simmons, Paltrow's friend, rushed to her defense, saying that the actress "didn't mean any harm." That didn't go over too well, because it's not within Simmons' (or anyone else's) power to grant permission. Paltrow's music industry buddies may have had a more forgiving take, but in the much larger world of Twitter people were far less willing to extend her the benefit of the doubt.

But it would be just as futile for the folks on Twitter to issue some mandate on whether Paltrow can use it among her famous hip-hop friends; Kanye, Jay, et al. greeted it with a shrug. She's cool and didn't mean anything by it. Now let's all cop some expensive stuff, y'all!

There are circles of friends that contain no black people, and everyone in that circle lobs the word back and forth with little pushback. If one of those people tried to do the same thing in a different setting, though, it might be greeted like a live grenade.


Read Gene Demby's entire piece at Code Switch. 

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.


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