During an event in Evanston Township High School in Illinois, Ta-Nehisis Coates brilliantly schooled white people on why they can’t use the N-word.
Coates explained that it was normal for some people to be able to use certain words that others couldn’t, such as his wife calling him “honey” —a word that wouldn’t be appropriate for other women to call him.
The concept, he says, was true across different groups.
“My wife, with her girl friend, will use the word ‘b**ch,’” Coates said. “I do not join in. You know what I’m saying? I don’t do that. I don’t do that. And perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a desire to do it.”
Coates then said, “The question one must ask is why so many white people have difficulty extending things that are basic laws of how human beings interact to black people.”
“When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. … You’re conditioned this way. It’s not because your hair is a texture or your skin is light. It’s the fact that the laws and the culture tell you this. You have a right to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be however — and people just got to accommodate themselves to you,” he continued.
“So here comes this word that you feel like you invented,” Coates said. “And now somebody will tell you how to use the word that you invented. ‘Why can’t I use it? Everyone else gets to use it. You know what? That’s racism that I don’t get to use it. You know, that’s racist against me. You know, I have to inconvenience myself and hear this song and I can’t sing along. How come I can’t sing along?’”
But rather than getting upset, Coates suggested that white people learn from the experience.
“The experience of being a hip-hop fan and not being able to use the word ‘ni**er’ is actually very, very insightful. It will give you just a little peek into the world of what it means to be black. Because to be black is to walk through the world and watch people doing things that you cannot do, that you can’t join in and do. So I think there’s actually a lot to be learned from refraining.”