By Jess Brown
Before I start I just want to clarify that I’m half Indian, half English. So although I don’t have the same experience as a black person I have similar experiences with racism and social divides. I also have a few black friends who I’ve experienced racism alongside and have spoken to them a lot about this subject. I also want to say this isn’t an attack on white people at all. It’s just a truth of society that is still relevant and involves the strange divides we have between “races”. At the end of the day we are all human and should be treated equal. Colour doesn’t matter. But that doesn’t change what has happened in the past and what is happening today, and the construct of race that very much does still exist.
I was on the bus yesterday and I heard a couple of white school students saying the n-word as they walked past me to get off. The n-word. White kids saying the n-word casually. It was just to one another, not to a black person, as one would call a friend, friend. It’s sort of semi-normalized in parts of society now, not obviously by actual black people but by white people who probably don’t have any black friends. Those kids probably have no idea why it’s wrong to say that word. They probably don’t know the meaning behind the word or the pain it has caused. They don’t understand its weight or its significance in history. Might have even just been repeating it from a song. In my life (mostly in school) I’ve heard a lot of white people argue that they have a right to use it because “they themselves weren’t responsible for slavery” or “black people use it so why shouldn’t we?”
I’ll deconstruct both of these here. We as a country were involved heavily in slavery. We traded people for over 300 years. That’s multiple generations and that’s also just us. America were way worse. The horrors that slaves suffered were beyond a sane person’s imagination and so it’s our responsibility as an evolving species and a culture to make sure that never happens again. Especially if people we are descended from were responsible for that suffering... We can help do that by remaining culturally sensitive to actual historical fact and societal change. This word wasn’t just used in slave times it was used during the civil rights movement and still gets used as a racist slur to this day. To oppress. My point is it still holds weight.
The reclaiming of the word was significant in giving black people a sense of their power back. White people in this generation may not have been directly responsible for slavery but there’s a strong chance their ancestors were. That includes me since I’m half English. Its an insult to use it and not take in the consequences of our ancestors’ actions. You may not be responsible for what happened but you are responsible for what happens now. Today. You have to be sensitive and aware about the power that word has and the power that we have as people to stop terrible acts like that happening again. To remove racial barriers too. Also it’s not about banning free speech for white people. Bearing in mind for hundreds of years white people have used it to oppress. If your people were to blame for that suffering why would you use it? It’s also just cringe and ignorant hearing mostly privileged white people use a word that represents monumental struggle and fight for survival for an ethnic group in society, when they know nothing of that struggle and fight for survival.
You don’t have to be black to take offence at that word being used by people who aren’t black. Just as you don’t have to be brown to take offence to me being called a “paki” randomly on the street (which still happens). That’s a word I’ve never understood because I would be proud to be Pakistani just as I am proud to be Indian. But racism isn’t about making sense is it. Hatred doesn’t make sense it’s just quick and ugly and stupid.
I’ve found a lot with my personal experience and that of my ethnic friends that a thing people of any ethnicity do is often to make jokes about their race or enable white friends to say certain slurs. We often do this as a defence tactic so white people don’t get there first because 9 times out of 10 that’s what’s happened before. We’ve gone up to meet someone new and we’ve just had race hate thrown at us. Or eventually close friends have just got to those jokes and slurs on their own. It’s good to keep this in mind if you have friends of different ethnicities too. They’re most of the time making a lot of race jokes about themselves to stop others from doing it first.
One last thing I want to talk about is my experience in school of being forced to spend time with people who I knew were racist. More often than not, I knew that because they had been racist to me in the past. I’d have to spend time with them because my white friends asked me to and said they were really nice people. Even if I explained they had been racist they said it was probably a joke or a misunderstanding and peer pressure would cave me. I knew though. You learn to spot hatred when you get it thrown at you a few times. It sits behind the eyes. I knew whilst I was talking to them, pretending to be comfortable that they were most likely judging me or looking down on me. I have never felt anything more stomach churning than that. I’ve asked my other ethnic friends on this and they’ve agreed with me. It’s the privilege of white people to ask their ethnic friends to shake the hands of other white people who they know hold racist views. I think it's something we don't talk about enough and it's good to keep in mind.