In Defense of the Word \”Nigger\”

Three weeks ago the Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who is white, was reported to have addressed his fellow Dolphin as a “half-nigger.” About a week later, after being ejected from a game, the Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes, who is black, tweeted that he was “done standing up for these niggas” after being ejected for defending his teammate. This came after the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, who is white, angrily called a black security guard a “nigger” in July.

What followed was a fairly regular ritual debate over who gets to say “nigger” and who does not. On his popular show “Pardon the Interruption,” Tony Kornheiser called on the commissioners of the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball to ban their players from publicly using the word. The ESPN host Skip Bayless went further, calling “nigger” “the most despicable word in the English language — verbal evil” and wishing that it could “die the death it deserves.”

Mr. Bayless and Mr. Kornheiser are white, but many African-Americans have reached the same conclusion. On Thursday, the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, a group promoting diversity in coaching and in the front offices of the N.F.L., called on players to stop using “the worst and most derogatory word ever spoken in our country” in the locker rooms. In 2007 the N.A.A.C.P. organized a “funeral” in Detroit for the word “nigger.” “Good riddance. Die, n-word,” said Kwame Kilpatrick, then the mayor. “We don’t want to see you around here no more.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates

2 thoughts on “In Defense of the Word \”Nigger\””

  1. I think Chris Rock had the definitive statement on this issue.

    I forget the occasion or venue. I know the subject of the conversation was race relations. There was a panel that included Chris Rock and there was a Q&A session with the audience.

    An older white woman stood up and wanted to know why it was OK for “blacks” to use the word “nigger” but it wasn’t OK for white people to use that word.

    Chris Rock’s question back to her was “Why do you want to?”

    I’ve never heard an answer to that question that made any sense.

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