At times, a white person might have more of a justification for using the n-word than I do. OK, let me be more specific: I believe two white people in particular had more of a justification than I do.
Earlier this year, two different CNN reporters said the n-word on live TV while reporting stories about hate crimes. One reporter, talking about a case in Mississippi, quoted the suspect as saying he had run over “that f**king ni**er.” The reporter edited himself on the use of the f-word but didn’t edit himself on the use of the n-word. That garnered CNN and the reporter a bit of criticism because it seemed the reporter was not comfortable saying a profanity on the air, but he’s OK saying arguably the most offensive word in the English language, the n-word.
Weeks later, while reporting on the shooting spree in Tulsa that allegedly targeted African-Americans, another CNN reporter actually said, “f**king ni**er,” when quoting a Facebook post by one of the suspects. She didn’t edit herself on either word.
Debates about how journalists report stories with offensive language are nothing new. Some say it’s OK when it’s in context and even necessary to report the story. Others say journalists should use restraint and be able to get the point across without explicitly using such offensive words. For the sake of this conversation, let’s give the two CNN reporters the benefit of the doubt. (I happen to know both reporters and worked with them for years, and they are good, decent people and solid journalists.) Let’s assume they were doing honest reporting and had the best of intentions to put the stories in graphic context. That’s reasonable. And, that’s their justification for using the n-word. So, what’s mine? I’m black, so I can? That’s pretty weak.
Honestly, anytime I hear the n-word come out of any white person’s mouth (Gwyneth Paltrow’s included), I cringe. Whether I hear it from a white character in a movie or a white reporter telling a story, it makes me uneasy. I can’t help it. But, if asked to explain why they used the n-word in their reporting, the two CNNers could make their case, agree with it or not. Ask me to explain why I used the n-word 20 times in a conversation with my best friend at dinner last night, I don’t have much of a case to make.
In fact, I don’t have any case to make. Yes folks, I too use the n-word, and I assure you I’m not using it in order to put anything in context. I use it casually and sometimes constantly. I have no real logic behind using the word, but for whatever reason, I’m given somewhat of a pass by society because I’m black.