Help me explain to my dad why it is not a double standard that white people can't say the "N-word".
February 1, 2012 10:58 PM   Subscribe

Help me explain to my dad why it is not a double standard that white people can't say the "N-word".

My dad thinks it is a double standard that white people can't say the "N-word." He said it in jest recently and I had a "whoa Dad, not okay" reaction, which led to a fight. During which he said it repeatedly. It was awkward.

I was trying to explain to him why it was not okay and not a double standard, but I was fairly ineffective. He basically said "agree to disagree" and marched off. I don't really want to let this go, however much my mom wishes I would. My dad is a good guy, but I think his view is misguided and problematic, and I really want him to have a deeper understanding of this issue.

He thinks that if he was "riffing with a black friend" he should be able to use the N-word as the friend did. He even said it was racist that he couldn't use the word, which was just... ugh.

Anyway, my argument to him was basically that he was ignoring the historical context of the word, and that it does not exist in a vacuum. When black people use it, it speaks to a shared history and identity that he has no part of. Also, coming from a place of privilege as he does, he has no right to get all huffy about not getting to use a certain word. Granted it was probably not so well said at the time, I was pretty busy sputtering "Dad, not okay, not okay!"

This failed to convince him, so I'm looking for someone to really lay out a sound argument as to why this is not a double standard, and why it is in fact pretty racist. Or maybe you think I should let it go. If so, why? I usually don't argue with my dad, but I feel like this is worth pursuing for his edification. And my own as well, as I'm always trying to gain a more well-rounded perspective on racial/cultural relations.

My dad is a pretty liberal guy, and I know he isn't okay with racism. It's just that his views on what is and is not racist are misguided. I feel like if I could make him see why this is racist, I could change his mind.

posted by efsrous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Or maybe you think I should let it go. If so, why?

Are you sure he wasn't just baiting you on? If so, then do you think you can actually change his mind?
posted by Ardiril at 11:05 PM on February 1, 2012

Also, why did you use it as a tag word?
posted by Ardiril at 11:06 PM on February 1, 2012

It's pretty simple, actually. Privilege and history aside, you just need to tell him that if he keeps saying "nigger", he's going to make people think he's the kind of white person who likes to say "nigger".
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:08 PM on February 1, 2012 [25 favorites]

Ask him why it's so important to him to be able to say it. Tell him that even if he believes he is not racist or using it in a hurtful way, anyone who hears him say it will think he's a racist asshole.
posted by lovecrafty at 11:10 PM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: @Ardiril: because I though tag words were to aid in searching? I thought it would be helpful in that context. That may have been inappropriate--I have my own misconceptions and naive views when it comes to this topic, so I apologize if that was offensive. Thanks for the reply though :)
posted by efsrous at 11:11 PM on February 1, 2012

Response by poster: I probably should make it clear that he does not say that word, and I have never heard him use it in my life before tonight. I think he thought it was okay with his family in a joking context, but it just.. wasn't.
posted by efsrous at 11:13 PM on February 1, 2012

Start calling him the most offensive term you can find for whatever your shared heritage is. Do it constantly. When he gets upset, explain that you're just doing to him what he says he has the right to do to black people.
posted by palomar at 11:18 PM on February 1, 2012

I kind of think of it as it's okay to call your sister stupid but if someone else says it you're like, "Hey! Don't talk crap about my sister!" lol
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 11:19 PM on February 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm going to recommend the excellent Yo, Is This Racist?, particularly this entry.
posted by KathrynT at 11:19 PM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I've successfully explained this to white friends who asked the same question, by getting them to understand the concepts of "ingroups" and "outgroups" with family examples. I say something like "your brother can tell you you're being an asshole, and you accept it, while a stranger telling you the same thing would get a very hostile reaction from you." Once they grasp that the speaker's context matters, you get to lay down the fact that he's not part of the ingroup for the n-word.
posted by fatbird at 11:20 PM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Actually, it sounds like it is a double-standard:

That doesn't make it right (nobody should be saying it) but your father is right in claiming that it's a double standard.
posted by jpeacock at 11:20 PM on February 1, 2012 [13 favorites]

Well, unfortunately, he's basically right. As mce said, if you ever get to the place where you say something is okay for one "race" to do but not okay for another, what you have there is racism, by definition, and there really is no getting away from that, no matter how much the fact makes some people squirm with liberal anxiety and start to sling red herrings like "privilige" and "shared context" around.

However, there is the question of whether it is a good idea for a white person to use the word simply because black people do. If he wants to do so to make a point about double standards in racism, fine, but he does need to understand the feelings and reactions doing so will cause and decide whether he thinks it's worth it. That's the line I'd take with him.
posted by Decani at 11:27 PM on February 1, 2012

It is a double standard: people who have been targetted by negative labels get to use those labels in non-negative way, but the meaning doesn't automagically change for everyone else.
posted by devnull at 11:39 PM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

If he's really stubborn he can argue with the "my brother's an asshole" examples on the grounds that black people don't usually mean it as an insult when they say it to each other, and neither does he. And good luck finding a historical insult that's going to cut a white guy to the bone. Maybe you should actually go the other direction. How's your dad on gay rights? Maybe he feels like, you know, black people don't have it so bad now, Obama and all, the black guys he's friends with know he's not a racist, if he's not a racist, how can anything he says be offensive? So maybe try this: he can't argue that when most straight people call somebody a "fag," it's one of the ugliest, most hateful slurs they can use. Sometimes it's a sign that there's going to be some violence. And yet there are gay men who use it themselves in order to sort of take it over, claim ownership of it. Would he be comfortable using that word in a friendly way too, without being invited to do so, and explaining why it's OK to actual gay men and lesbians? (I know he might just say "yes" and get huffy here too.)

I wonder whether he really would use it "riffing with a black friend." I suspect that what you may have here is one of the more unpleasant cases of A Dad Who Has Gone Too Far and Can't Admit It, and hopefully he has secretly learned his lesson and will never risk pissing anybody off outside the house this way.
posted by Adventurer at 11:46 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not everyone has the same context in performing actions or speech. It's cheeky and fun when you brother calls you "dumbass" while he's beating you in ping pong; it's rude and hostile when a random stranger calls you "dumbass" in a bar; it's spectacularly unprofessional when your employee calls you "dumbass" in her performance review.

I suppose one could call that a double standard, but what is to be gained by rules-lawyering life? In your dad's context, using that word makes him sound like he doesn't give a fuck about its history of being used by white people to insult and degrade black people. If that's not the impression he wants to give, he might rethink his word choice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:53 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, ask your dad if he would he use the c-word to riff on any female friend or family member.

And yes, it is a double standard for certain ppl not to be able to use certain words, but I don't think its racist.
posted by FJT at 11:54 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not a double standard. When black people say the n-word to each other it's pretty damn clear it means "fellow black person". That is the way that black people have redefined it for themselves over the past many years.

When your dad says it to a black person it's basically synonymous with a white guy saying "hey black person, what's up." If your dad is uncomfortable saying the latter, he shouldn't say the former.
posted by windbox at 12:06 AM on February 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would have probably said something like, "Dad, it's not a double standard, because when you call something a double standard you mean that there's no good reason for people to feel differently about you using the n-word than if a black person does. But there's a really good reason for people to feel differently about it because there's all that history and there are still a lot of racist white people. White people who use the n-word tend to be really ugly inside and I don't want people to think of you that way.

Lots of people don't think anyone should use the n-word, though. You can't say that they have a double standard. Maybe you should consider their viewpoint."

Of course, it wouldn't go this ideally, and I wouldn't expect to change his mind. But I had a similar conversation with a family member of my own, and after I stated my position, I started to just say "not cool, please don't do that around me" whenever he said something racially offensive. He's stopped now - at least in my presence, and I suspect he's toned it down in general.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:08 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

OK, how about this: black people only account for 13 percent of the population, but they count for half of the prison population. Either there is something fundamentally wrong with black people, which you are welcome to say as long as you acknowledge that you are racist, or there is something about those hundreds of years of enslavement and the fact that they were not given anything to start with upon release from slavery and the fact that making sure they were actually able to exercise their legal right to vote required an act of Congress in 1965 and all the societal attitudes and economic realities implicated in these facts that has resulted in it being much, much harder for the average black person in American than for the average white person. Maybe you could point out to your dad that it makes it sound like he doesn't know that. Like he's one of those "color blind" guys Stephen Colbert talks about, if he ever watches Stephen Colbert. And oxfordcomma, once that prison population percentage evens out, maybe that would be a more tasteful time to take your globalization argument to the people who use it with each other.
posted by Adventurer at 12:09 AM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

I kind of think of it as it's okay to call your sister stupid but if someone else says it you're like, "Hey! Don't talk crap about my sister!" lol

This is a really good point, actually. If he's the type to affectionately refer to family members as dork or idiot or whatever, but would be offended if someone else did, then I think it's the same dynamic.

Every group from Trekkies to Gamers to - whatever - use self-deprecating humor amongst themselves, or use what is widely regarded as a slur in casual context (if I had a nickel for every time I heard a gay friend use the word "faggot..."

That's where the difference lies in person-in-group saying pejorative for group vs. person outside of the group.
posted by mreleganza at 12:09 AM on February 2, 2012

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. Please answer the question rather than just airing your views on racism or the word in question.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:15 AM on February 2, 2012

Best answer: I love how you have some people telling you that your dad was right, and him not being able to use the word is racist. Oh AskMeFi, you're good for a lot of things, but not the best on race relations.

Here's a very relevant Tim Wise video that you might want to show him.
"History has been a double standard, so get the hell over it."
posted by cajalswoon at 12:18 AM on February 2, 2012 [15 favorites]

I would explain that he is not at all understanding the meaning of the term "double standard." A double standard in this case would be to say that it's not okay for white people to use the "N-word" but it is okay for Black people to use racist terms against white people.

Single standard: neither group should use racist language against the other group. Double standard: It's okay for one group to use racist language against the other, but not vice versa.

The way he's arguing, if every person isn't allowed to do the exact same thing as every other person no matter what, it's a double standard – and that's silly. It's okay for your dad to kiss his wife. Does that mean that every guy gets to do it, or else it's a double standard? No. Of course not. If your mom calls you "honeypie," is it therefore perfectly fine for your boss to call you "honeypie," or else it's a double standard? Nope.
posted by taz at 12:49 AM on February 2, 2012 [45 favorites]

The most important consideration in choosing what words we use is how those words will be interpreted. No individual gets to make this choice, really - the way words are interpreted is largely determined by how they've been used in the past, and by whom. If you are an older white man, and you use the N-word, it is entirely reasonable for that word to be interpreted as being a racial insult. If your father chooses to ignore that very basic fact and uses the word anyway, you should ask him why he would do that. "Because I can" or "there's a double standard" are not acceptable answers, because they don't address the question.

But it is important to point out that there is no double standard (as taz said above). Your father just doesn't understand what the standard is. The standard is not "White people can't use it, black people can." The standard is, "don't use it in situations where it has a chance of being interpreted as a racial insult." This standard applies to everyone. I suspect your father doesn't often find himself hanging out with groups of African American men who are also his very close friends and allow him to use that word knowing he's not using it in a racist way, so he's sort of stuck not using it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:12 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

As usual, Hitchens' has something insightful to say
posted by gijsvs at 1:48 AM on February 2, 2012

Its really, really hurtful for black people to hear the n word. Even if he were right (which he isn't), he's choosing to do something which is painful to another human being.
posted by seanyboy at 2:00 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Again, this is a topic people feel passionately about, but comments simply affirming that using the word is bad and racism is wrong aren't that helpful answering this question. The OP is already convinced, and the question is: I'm looking for someone to really lay out a sound argument as to why this is not a double standard, and why it is in fact pretty racist.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:21 AM on February 2, 2012

I suppose you could point out that what he (apparently) calls "double standard" is in fact tied to the difference between inside perspective and outside perspective.
So this isn't something about status, as in quod licet iovi non licet bovi, but rather about not using a term that is seen as hurtful when used in what the historical and momentary context typically identify as cross-groups.

One non-loaded but otherwise similar example: if I'd use the local car-repair-dude lingo to communicate with my car repair dude here in rural Sweden, it would be pretty ridiculous. It's a matter of know-your-spot, nothing to do with double standards. So I don't do that. I would even less consider using language that's not my own if I knew that my adaptation could be seen as hurtful.

Other than that (and with the caveat that I don't know you guys) there will unlikely be a way to convince your dad about anything, when he is on a "I may do this because I think it is appropriate no matter what you think, dear kid" - trip. Dads typically don't do that discussion well.
posted by Namlit at 4:16 AM on February 2, 2012

Blah. "contexts"
posted by Namlit at 4:17 AM on February 2, 2012

Because he's not an insider, and he's not an insider because he's white. If he's a redneck, and all his friends are rednecks, and they all call each other rednecks, it's not funny when Hillary Clinton comes into town shakes his hand and goes, "How's it going, redneck?" She is not an insider.

When people act like they're on 'the inside' with people with whom they are not on the inside, they look at best tone-deaf and at worst, assholes, or in this case, racist.

Ignoring how language can be used to underscore social groupings is willfully ignorant and because of the 'willful' part, comes across as aggressively insensitive. And that, in part, is how it gets to 'racist'.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:59 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Linguists have spent some time reflecting on this question. Here's how I would answer the question.

First: Context of enunciation always makes a difference when we speak. (This goes back to in-group and out-group, but also to various other things). Language is always situated. Words are not neutral. If I say 'I went there' for instance, you need to know what was said before in order to understand who 'I" is and where 'there' is. We do this all the time in language.

Second: who the speaker is makes a difference. If a judge says: "I hereby sentence you to community service", we all recognize and understand that what s.he just said is legally legitimate. If I say "I hereby sentence you to community service", you'll either understand from context that I'm joking, delusional or perhaps making a demonstration (such as here). Basically, speakers negotiate their social positions in different ways in conversation. A white person using the n-word doesn't have the same meaning because social positions are historically situated. Being able to use the n-word or not is linked to the speaker's social position, to the context of enounciation and, perhaps to his or her intentions (and how the intentions will be received by the public).

Another example is the use of Ma'am and Mister. I might accept that a younger person use it with me, but I'd find it odd if someone older called me Ma'am. The speaker's identity makes a difference here too.
posted by Milau at 4:59 AM on February 2, 2012

You are likely not going to convince him. My compromise with people like this is to not accept this use of language in my presence. If you respect me, you will refrain from speaking like this, because it makes me upset. You don't have to agree or accept the reason why, but it's not that hard to avoid a word, is it?
posted by Gor-ella at 5:02 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Was just thinking - the Ma'am Mister example works another way. It matters who says it - and who the identity of the addressee is. I'm a woman and would be extremely surprised/offended if someone randomly called me Mister. Does that make the use of Mister a double-standard? No, it just means questions of identity (the speaker and the interlocutor) are embedded in language. Not anyone is free to say anything whenever they feel like it.
posted by Milau at 5:11 AM on February 2, 2012

I take "double standard" to mean "one rule for one set of people, another rule for another set of people". But it's perfectly possible to conceive of a single rule that is being followed when a white person refrains from using this word and when a black person does not refrain. For example, that rule could be phrased as "don't use words that people of your demographic category have historically used and/or presently use as a tool in the oppression and humiliation of people of another demographic category", or something. That's not very elegantly phrased but you get the idea. It's a consistent single standard.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:24 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The reason it's not a double standard is because it's not okay for black people to call each other "nigger" either. Just because certain segments of the African-American population has decided it's okay to say (but only among themselves) doesn't actually make it okay. Because, of course, certain segments of the white American population historically decided it was okay to use this word (and some still do think it's okay). But in point of fact, it's a hateful word of racism and it's not really okay for anyone to use. Ergo, no double standard.
posted by slkinsey at 5:29 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I call my friends (white guys) "peckerwood" when they're being a little to "stuff white people like". If a black guy called your pop a peckerwood, he'd punch 'im.
posted by notsnot at 5:36 AM on February 2, 2012

So he's said the n-word once in his life, jokingly, to his family? Why not just explain that it made you uncomfortable? If you want to convince him that he's a racist, that's not going to happen. If you want to convince him that it's not a double standard, that's also not going to happen (and it is a double standard, I think--it's just, tough shit, that doesn't mean he should say it). If you want him to admit that he did an awful thing, again, not going to happen.

But if all you want is to have him not say it again? For all we know he's already there, considering how strongly you reacted, and he just isn't willing to lose face by admitting wrongdoing. If I really wanted to try to ensure he wouldn't and make a big deal out of this, I would explain (1) it really bothered me and I don't enjoy or feel comfortable hearing it, and (2) any third party who overheard him would likely think he was the type of person who used the n-word and was a racist.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:56 AM on February 2, 2012

I'm looking for someone to really lay out a sound argument as to why this is not a double standard, and why it is in fact pretty racist.

I'd focus more on the second part than the first, and make it personal:

I hate that word. Regardless of how black people choose to use it nowadays, hearing a white person use it reminds me of the awful history of white people using that word to convey hate and to reject, oppress, and belittle black people--often while also commiting acts of violence against them, or while upholding systems and laws that were horribly racist and unjust. We are nowhere near far enough removed from that time, those events, and their lasting damage to consider those wounds healed. Even though it's no longer socially acceptable to openly use the n-word in a hateful way, and even though it's used within the black community in non-hateful ways, the history is still there.

When a white person says it now, it makes me think that either that person doesn't care about the word's history, or, worse, thinks that history is ok. Even if I don't think that the person is actually racist in the sense of hating or feeling superior to black people, when you use that word, you sound racist. So I expect my white friends, whether or not it's "fair," whether or not there's a "double standard," not to use that word, ideally out of personal conviction but, if not, at least as a courtesy to me.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:30 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jay Smooth video explains white privilege vs. the N-Word.
posted by stuph at 6:52 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, I am black (I also hate the term African American, since I hold no allegiance nor do I have any tether to Africa whatsoever) and I not only use the term 'nigga' all the time, but I also encourage other people to use it. People of any race, really.

I do this because I think it is absolutely ridiculous that we, as black people, are so offended by a simple word. That attachment to the word and to the history of the word does nothing to advance us as a people, whereas putting it aside and moving forward from the word and from its history would be a sign of progress and moving away from the trappings of the slavery past.

I also do this because I think it is absolutely ridiculous that we, as human beings, fear a word and in doing so, lend that word more power than it would normally have. Nigger has power because we ascribe power to it, by the way we react, by the way we condone or not condone its use within certain groups, by the way people avoid it. Saying the n-word is just as bad as saying it outright. The fear only gives it strength and prevents anyone from moving on from it.

I'm reminded of Donald Glover's recent stand-up, where he speaks about how Charlie Sheen said to his wife something along the lines of, "You stupid nigger" or something like that. I find that an interesting and, honestly, heartening development – Glover did too – because it's an example of a white person saying it to another white person in an insulting way, which doesn't happen often, which is a good step towards making it a valueless race-neutral word.

Ideally, people just wouldn't use it at all because, why does one feel the need to? But words exist no matter what we do; the most we can do is rob them of the power and negativity that we allow certain ones to carry.
posted by Modica at 7:01 AM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

My argument would be that people have a right to self-identification that doesn't extend to others. I might call myself stupid in a moment of frustration, but that doesn't mean it's okay for other people to do it.
posted by orange swan at 7:06 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

He knows it's an offensive word to many people, right? Is he DEEPLY INVESTED in saying the word? Is he unable to express his thought in any other way? No? So take the high road. It's kinda hard to argue against the greater good in taking the high road.

My dad thinks it is a double standard that white people can't say the "N-word."
To put a finer point on the wording here, which is something commonly heard in these arguments: No-one is telling him that he can't use the word. He's not being oppressed. The thought-police aren't going to arrest him. He can use whatever words he likes. But as a consequence, he will seem racist. If he doesn't want to seem racist, he can choose to not use the word.

As for why...Is his ethnic background such that he has a closer-to-home example of understanding how epithets can be reclaimed?
posted by desuetude at 7:09 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is not a double standard, because it is a loaded word, and there is a difference between reclaiming it versus aiming it.

A black person choosing to identify as a "n-word” allows for reclamation and denies the term the power it has to be hurtful. A white person using it cannot know or control the hurt it inflicts.
posted by peagood at 7:16 AM on February 2, 2012

I think Modica has it exactly right.
And I was about to post comment about that Donald Glover stand-up too, especially where he talks about assigning the word to everything/anything - saying to a seatbelt that won't connect "Come on, nigga, click together!".
Devalue the word and the word becomes meaningless. That is an easy thing to say, yet I realize that the vast majority of people have a hard time devaluing it.
And coolguymichael, that is a great point you make about denying its power.
posted by annekenstein at 7:41 AM on February 2, 2012

The South Park episode "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson" tackles this topic really well.

I dropped an n-bomb in front of a black friend, and he patiently explained why it was Not Okay, then we watched this episode together.
posted by frecklefaerie at 7:46 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

This may be one of those cases where you can't persuade what is essentially an emotional position (based on unfocused resentment or indignation) with logical argument. All you can really say is: if he's a middle-aged white guy who uses the n-word, the large majority of people will assume he is a racist, or an idiot for not understanding the implications. If that's not okay with him, then he should not use it.

It might also be worth noting that, some comments up-thread notwithstanding, many blacks I've been friends with were in fact not all right with use of the word, even by other blacks. The example others have given of white ethics groups calling each other "mick" or "goombah" or whatever while out drinking with others of their ethnic group, but who would rip the head off an outsider who called them the same thing, are good illustrations.

Also, if he's insisting on using the n-word despite reasonable arguments against it, he might not be as "liberal" as you think he is. I mean, if my dad did this, I'd tell him he was being a racist, period, and refuse to concede the point, because to my mind that would be the case (despite otherwise pleasant people not liking to be called a term as ugly as racist just because they are acting like one).

I did tell one of my sisters she was being racist when she used the n-word word about a decade ago at a family picnic, and while it made a tense scene for about a half-hour, she either stopped using the word, or is just very careful never to say it again in my presence. (She's not a terribly careful person in general so I think she must have stopped using it altogether.)
posted by aught at 8:02 AM on February 2, 2012

...denies the term the power it has to be hurtful - the last part of the complete sentence is important, which is why it was thre. It is never not powerful. This came from a discussion with a friend about reclaiming the "f" word, and how the personal choice of the person reclaiming the word is also paramount, if that example can be considered even somewhat comparable.
posted by peagood at 8:05 AM on February 2, 2012

Mod note: Please answer the question the OP is asking. Please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:17 AM on February 2, 2012

There are so many ways to break this down. One that I like, already mentioned, is that it's one thing when members of a group use a pejorative in-group; it's another when it's directed outside the group. So by that logic, no double standard

Another is that whether it is a double standard or not, there's a difference between the speaker's intent and the listener's perception, and the speaker does not get to dictate the listener's perception. Even if (somehow) he's not using the n-word with derogatory intent, there's no way he can play innocent and pretend it won't be perceived negatively.

I would recommend that if he really is convinced of his point, he should use the n-word in the presence of black acquaintances and see how it works out.

Just out of curiosity: is your father one of those people who think that Stephen Colbert's schtick is in ernest? I can't help but think of Colbert coming on TV after Obama was elected and proclaiming that because we have elected a black president, racism is officially over.
posted by adamrice at 8:38 AM on February 2, 2012

It's not a double standard because, as taz said pretty clearly, this isn't a case of an actual double standard.

I'm black, I rarely use the term, and when I/my family have used it, we were perjoratively referring to a lifestyle which is more class-based than anything else. However, once an older white male yelled it at me as he drove his truck into a deep muddy puddle and splashed me. Pretty sure that was intended to be racist. But, possibly because I so rarely hear it, it doesn't mean much to me, but I'd definitely do a double-take if someone dropped it in conversation because even if it doesn't mean much to me, it means a lot of things to a lot of other people. [And I can easily extrapolate that to other things people feel strongly about, like religion or free-range chickens.]

Does your father actually have any black friends? I'm not suggesting that he is a racist if he doesn't, but just that it's easy to say you would do something when there's little chance of it happening. It sounds to me like he does know it's something you generally shouldn't say, else he would feel like he could say that to just any black person - not just a friend who presumably knows he isn't a racist.
posted by sm1tten at 8:43 AM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the question you should ask your dad is why does he really feel the need to use the word. I am black and you will never catch me using that word at all neither do my very close friends. I don't believe in the idea that you can devalue the words because its meaning comes from the intent and the heart of the person using the word. I've been called a nigger before on two occasions by white men in DC and I can tell you that the word did not feel devalued to me one bit.
posted by RedShrek at 9:07 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Brother Ali, a white albino rapper, on the "N Word" in an interview with Jay Smooth might be helpful.

The work of Jay Smooth in general will also likely help: Metafilter post, more recent metafilter post, most recent Metafilter post on his TED talk
posted by Blasdelb at 11:02 AM on February 2, 2012

Mod note: Folks, OP is not anonymous, please feel free to MeMail your non-answers to the question to them directly and let this AskMe question be about the question that they asked. Please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:36 PM on February 2, 2012 god, these answers.

Allow me to state that I am a Black person.

Regardless of whether other Black people have given you (non-Black person) their personal permission to use the word "nigger," "nigga," "nucca," or any of its other variants, it is reaffirming of privilege and 200-odd years of systematic racial oppression when it is said by someone who possesses it. Meaning all white people are included in this, and pretty much everyone who is NOT Black. Why? Because non-Black people have the power of using it and it doesn't stick to them; are not associated with the negative stereotypes surrounding Black people; and do NOT have to live with the invisible burden of that word sociologically. Because even though it's not "okay" or "PC" to say the word "nigger" in public anymore, there are some 20 different ways of saying it without ever putting those six letters together.

TL;DR it's wrong for your dad to use it because he nor any of his forebears have ever had to deal with the social consequences of being on the receiving end of that word.
posted by Ashen at 3:31 PM on February 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

My answer is usually this: "Because 50 years ago, you could take a shit in any bathroom you wanted to and they couldn't. Now shut the hell up." might not be entirely logical but it makes me feel better to say it.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:08 PM on February 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses. For anyone interested, I talked to my dad, countering his claim that it is a double standard with the in-group/out-group, not okay to call someone's sister stupid argument. He changed his opinion to thinking that no one at all should say it, but conceded that as a white person, it doesn't really matter what he has to say about the subject, and he should keep it to himself. So, more or less successful I would say. Any kind of concession from my dad in an argument is nothing to sneeze at. Thanks again!
posted by efsrous at 7:05 PM on February 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

hey folks, this is an old question (glad the conversation went as well as it could have, efsrous). i'm replying with an even older link to a blog's tough to articulate a response to this sort of thing. so when there's a response so beautifully and thoughtfully crafted, it's tough to resist sharing. it runs in parallel, but the sentiment is exactly the same. someone asks a sex-worker if it's okay to call her a "whore," the way she sometimes calls herself a whore. this is her reply.
posted by red_rabbit at 7:03 PM on March 25, 2012

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