Use of the n-word this century and end of last has taken on a new meaning with this generation, particularly urban youths influenced by hip hop culture. Rap music lyricists freely belt out lines in songs that contain the word. Context range from endearing to inflammatory. Outspoken hip hop enthusiasts, including vocal artists and young comedians, defend free use of the word, arguing that making common references in public speaking forums among their peers could weaken the damaging effect of the word as a racial slur.
The n-word invites heated debates in households and elsewhere where there is a generational divide. Meet Nathan, a just-turned 28-year-old college educated African American who admits his use of the n-word was very much influenced by peers and the rap music he has embraced since his preteens. Nate said his white friends don't use the words "out of respect." But, when he was younger his black friends frequently called each other n-word, he explained. In the urban setting it often is used as a put-down to distinguish between young African Americans that are making bad choices, or maybe worse, as a one-up spawn by youths that feel in any way superior to others they come in contact with, Nathan further explained. When I suggested that the self-inflicted usage could be interpreted as self-hate, Nate nodded.
It's complicated and conflicting for the 20-something, as you will hear in the audio interview below. Nate grew up in Louisiana and described how the word for "older generation" black people is painful. Growing up, Nate's grandmother and boomer parents forbade his use of the word in the home and in their presence. While the family's rule set boundaries, it did not deter him from embracing its usage among his friends.
I suggested to Nate that whites and many black folk I talk to have reconciliation issues with this generation's embracing that word. When I met with Nate Aug. 25 he discussed in detail his use of the n-word and how his use of it evolved over his life. He's about to become a first-time Dad, he told me, and shrugged as he sheepishly admitted that his views might be softening a bit because he's a father-to-be. He also says as he has become more mature he's "starting to think more about what my grandmother taught me about how hurtful that word was in slavery and beyond."
Listen here to my recent interview with Nate.