Why White People Can’t Say The N-Word, As Told By Ta-Nehisi Coates


Author, comic book head and all around prolific thinker Ta-Nehisi Coates is adored for his ability to dismantle cemented concepts that are no longer needed in the world. The task fell in is lap yet again while promoting his new book, We Were Eight Years In Power with the topic being one we all know too well; wypipo and the n-word.

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Speaking to Evanston Township High School last Tuesday (Nov. 7), Coates was asked by a white student about the n-word. Coates broke it down a few different ways, by explaining that it’s normal for some groups to use words others cannot. He also ignored the weirdly suggested reparations comment.

“Words don’t have meaning without context,” he said. “My wife refers to me as ‘honey,’ that’s excepted and okay between us. If we were walking down the street and another woman referred to me as ‘honey’ that wouldn’t’ be acceptable.”

He also dropped examples related to his father’s given name and the name for LGBT activist Dan Savage’s proposed show where “fa**ot” is used in the title.

“The question one must ask is that why do so many white people have difficulty extending basic things that are basic laws with how human beings interact with black people?” he continued. “When you’re white in this country, you’re taught everything belongs to you. You’re conditioned this way. The laws tell you this and that people have to accommodate themselves to you. Now here comes this word you feel you’ve invented and you think, how is someone going to tell you not to say a word that you invented. You say, ‘Why can’t I use it, everyone gets to use it? That’s racism that I don’t get to use it. I have to inconvenience  myself and hear this song and I can’t sing along?'”

He also questioned how some white people are overzealous about black culture.

In all, he explains how holding back the urge to chant the n-word during a Kendrick Lamar or Lil Uzi Vert tune is a teachable moment of privilege.

“I think for white people the experience of being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word “ni**a” is actually very insightful. It gives you a peek into the world of what its like to be black. There’s a lot to be learned from refraining.”

The video, which was uploaded to YouTube and later picked up on Facebook went viral in a matter of days with over 4 million views. Reactions have been positive, with some people of color wanting the word out of everyone’s mouths.

Others had clever suggestions on how they approach rap music with the n-word in it.

That works.

You can purchase We Were Eight Years In Power here.

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