Drop the N-Word

Margari Hill

 

49_11

 

 

 

And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. Qur’an 49:11

 

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In late 2013, a group of activists, scholars, and concerned netizens coalesced around the issue of anti-Blackness perpetrated by Muslim youth on social media. Some of these actions included anti-Black slurs in Arabic, Urdu, Somali, and Yoruba, as well as the appropriation of the N-word by non-Black Muslims. Out that group,  Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative formed to organize social media campaigns to drop the A-Word and address #UmmahAntiBlackness,  as well to give voice to Black Muslims and celebrate their contributions in hashtag conversations that included #BeingBlackAndMuslim.  Responding to the call to educate Muslim communities about racism, MuslimARC- Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative,  was launched as a human rights education organization.  

Black American Muslim scholars, activists, leaders, parents, teachers, and conscious members are exhausted by having to explain why it is not okay for non-Black Muslims to use N-word.  The use of the N-word is controversial, even amongst African Americans. However, when a Black person uses the term, it does not spark the same outrage as non-Black people using it. This is because in many ways it is reclaiming the pejorative. Although the Black usage of the word may raise some hairs and spark vociferous debate within the Black community, it is not racist. Oppressed people cannot be racist, they may be prejudiced.

‘But They Use It’ Is Not an Excuse

When White people and NonBlack People of Color use the N-word, regardless of intent,  they are committing a racist act. When they use it as a pejorative, they are being actively racist asserting a hierarchy that dehumanizes Black people.  A non-Black person using the N-word to refer to themselves or others as a term of endearment is an act of cultural  appropriation, which is a form of passive racism. Cultural appropriation is copying elements of a culture in a colonizing manner and using them outside of their context. Cultural appropriators use those elements without having to suffer the same consequences that members of that culture. The N-word developed to highlight the othering, dehumanization, and exploitation of sub-Saharan Africans who were racialized as Black.  On occasion, upwardly mobile Black folks ascribing to respectability politics will distance themselves from other Black Americans and will use the term as a pejorative against poor Black people they don’t approve of. This may be internalized racism, but it still does not equate to the usage of non-Black folks.

It doesn’t matter if you are well meaning, and if your Black friends give you a pass– No individual Black person can give a non-Black person the weight of our historical experience and oppression. Cultural appropriation is harmful for the members of the oppressed group, especially when you are using a term that is so painful for many Black people.  When someone who is not Black uses the term it is often emotionally triggering.  When non-Black people argue with Black people who are offended by their appropriation  of the n-word, it further inflicts emotional violence. It does not matter if you hear the word a thousand times by Black comedians and hip-hop artists. The commodification of Black culture does not give anybody a right to appropriate the term. Period.

This is an Internal Community Discussion

Finally, White people and Non-Black People of Color who have no linkages with the brutal 400 years history of the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans in the Americas and Jim Crow, as well as the 18th century colonization of Africa which included forced slave labor, population movements, and mass deaths and depopulation, who continue  to face systemic racism and violence at the hands of the state and the police, your moral judgment on how Black people reclaim the term is not relevant to the discussion of why it is never okay for Non-Black People to use the term. This is an internal community discussion. The discourse around the N-word is sensitive topic for many Black Americans. The discourse is a source of many microaggressions that make workplaces, campuses, and friendships hostile environments for Black people. Non-Black people who police Black people on the moral repercussions of the term often misuse their non-Black privilege in forcing the issue.  Rather than policing Black people, they should focus on uprooting racism within themselves and their community.

Books:

The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why …

Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word …

 

Articles and Websites

 

Stop Saying N***a If You’re Not Black – Huffington Post

Straight Talk about the N-Word | Teaching Tolerance

4 Reasons White People Can’t Use the N-Word (No Matter …

Don’t Use The N-Word If You’re Not Black. The End. But If …

The n-word: An interactive project exploring a singular word …

 

 

15 / View Comments

15 responses to “Drop the N-Word”

  1. BlackandBeautiful says:

    Don’t say it at all. Whether your white OR black.

  2. Jason Hammer says:

    Not only should non-black folks not use the word (even when rhyming lyrics) but we should refrain from giving our opinion on whether or not black people should use the term (unless asked for our input or when dealing with our own ethnic/cultural groups).

    I always loved hip-hop but never used the n-word even when we rhymed really profane lyrics from some rap artists but we understood this was off-limits. Young Muslims need to understand this.

  3. Taqi al-Din says:

    There is one major contradiction in your article and which discredits it in its entirety. You begin by quoting verse 11 of Surah al- Hujarat where Allah warns against calling each other by offensive names. You acknowledge that it is a controversial term amongst black people some of whom oppose usage of the term by anyone including fellow black people. You end by preaching that white and non-black people of colour should not get involved in the issue of black people calling themselves by the N word because it is an “internal community discussion”.

    Allah prohibits the use of offensive terms to call each other with. The fact is that some black people consider the N word offensive irrespective of the colour of the person using it. I am a Muslim. Who are you to tell me that I should refrain from saying that people including black people should not use a word widely regarded as offensive? Speaking out against something that is clearly addressed in the Quran is not dependent on the colour of my skin or any other characteristics. There are many non-black Muslims who fully support the work engaged in by scholars, activists and organisations like yours. You cannot on the one hand require their solidarity but on the other hand want to dictate to them what they can and cannot say and especially when it comes to following Allah’s words. You cannot at the top of your article state a verse from the Quran but then tell me not to apply it because I should not become involved in an “internal community discussion”. That is the height of arrogance and we know what Allah and His Prophet, peace be upon him, say about arrogance.

    • Margari Hill says:

      Taqi al-Din, your comment is a case in point. Wow, “height of arrogance” is pretty strong words. You don’t understand how solidarity works with the oppressed or marginalized. If someone considers themselves my ally, they will respect the boundaries, no matter how powerful they are. Otherwise, the relationship is paternalistic. I acknowledge that it is wrong for everyone to use it. That is why I used the ayat. In my opinion my article wasn’t contradictory. Rather, I tried to tease out nuance and give context to the storied term. I argued that, while wrong from an Islamic sense, Black people using the term wasn’t passively or actively racist. I also argued that if you haven’t done the work to check your own people, then focusing on Black people who are still wrestling with the term is misplaced energy and microagressive. Telling non-Black Muslims to focus their energy on uprooting racism in their community is not about arrogance or thinking that I’m better. It is to ward off the tendency of non-Black Muslims to be hurtful in these conversations and derail important conversations about their own patterns of bigotry. Whenever I have tried to address the use of N-word or being called a racial slur, non-Black Muslims have pointed to how some other Black person who uses the term. Often they do this to justify the anti-blackness that plagues their community. They are not bringing this up to educate or uplift those who may degrade themselves or others by using the term. If I were to guess, I doubt that you have done much work in enlightening folks on racism or internalized racism, let alone checking the average brother on the street who may drop the N-word. But since you are so invested in this, please do make it your mission. Tell me how it goes. Allah knows best.

      • Zaheer says:

        You claim “height of arrogance” is pretty strong, but then your response contains nothing but.
        From your response: ” If I were to guess,I doubt that you have done much work in enlightening folks on racism or internalized racism, let alone checking the average brother on the street who may drop the N-word. But since you are so invested in this, please do make it your mission. Tell me how it goes. Allah knows best.” That’s not arrogant or condescending at all.

        Further, you assume all sorts of things about people. Again, from your response: “Whenever I have tried to address the use of N-word or being called a racial slur, non-Black Muslims have pointed to how some other Black person who uses the term. Often they do this to justify the anti-blackness that plagues their community. They are not bringing this up to educate or uplift those who may degrade themselves or others by using the term. ”

        How do you know that they’re doing this to justify their anti-blackness? Perhaps they’re genuinely concerned about why some black people want to refer to themselves by a name given to them (or at least, used pejoratively) by their former oppressors? Perhaps they’re concerned about why so many black people have victim mentality, and worse, some seem to hold on to it as if it’s the only way to identify themselves in today’s society? You can have these concerns and not be a “passive” racist at the same time, just by the way.

        Your article, and all your comments is a typical example of wanting to force the narrative to wherever you want it to go. You make the rules about what’s racist, what’s “passively” racist, who’s racist and who’s not racist, and everyone who disagrees is basically a racist.

      • Muslim4life says:

        Assalamu Alaykum,
        I agree with you completely in regards to never using the N-word, but I think you need to apply it to all ppl. The N-Word is a word that was used by White Slave masters to degrade Black people in this country, Black people nor any people should ever use such terms because in doing so they are either racist, or self degrading. I know that you have said that you oppose it from anywhere in the comments section but that wasn’t clear from your article. I felt as many others did that somehow such a degrading term was okay for Black people to use and that’s not right at all when I read your article. I agree with you that I’m sick and tired of how people treat Black brothers and sisters in our community. I want to emphasize as well, that at the end of the day we are Muslim. Once when Imam Jamil Al Amin was asked to refer to ‘Black Muslims’, he refused and said NO, we are just Muslim. I want for all of us to remember that our bond is thru Islam, and to be careful to overuse labels like Black or Non black, even though they may be used but to remember that our relationship is based on Allah not race.

  4. M. Mahmud says:

    Reading some of the Morroccan articles just shocked me. It is clear we are following the footsteps of those before us. I don’t think it is difficult for Allah to hand over the deeds of a racist group of Muslims to those they were arrogant to.

    I feel like we need to make sure our oppressed Muslim brethren overseas, whatever race(but usually black or dark skinned) get some sort of relief at our hands by Allah’s permission.

    The existence of this nonsense in north African countries and elsewhere is nothing short of shameful. How can we complain to Allah of injustice when we turn and are arrogant and look down upon our Muslim brethren for the color of their skin?

    Ina lillahi wa ina ilayhi raji ‘oon.

  5. helalbeauty says:

    I am living in Germany and I am sometimes simply shocked by the amount of racism
    within the Ummah here. There are Turkish people abandoning restaurants for hiring
    black waiters or Persians claiming that they hate Arabs – kind of wired if you are muslim,
    actually.

    So great article, thank you.

  6. Michael Scott says:

    I totally disagree with anyone using the N-word because it’s an outright evil word, and it’s even worse for Black people to use that word because they’re carrying on a legacy of hatred and prejudice that the N-word has as in its origin and original use since it came into being. I don’t believe that every time a Black person uses the N-word that they’re using it for derogatory purposes against other Blacks or other people who aren’t Black, but some are using it in a derogatory way to put down other Blacks or other people in general who aren’t Black. I don’t agree with this statement: When White people and NonBlack People of Color use the N-word, regardless of intent, they are committing a racist act. When they use it as a pejorative, they are being actively racist asserting a hierarchy that dehumanizes Black people. It’s wrong to use the N-word as a term of endearment for anyone who does that, but that doesn’t make their doing so an act of racism in my opinion. I know white people who use the N-word when they talk to one another, and also when they talk to their Black friends, and not every Black person has a problem with that. I don’t agree with that, but it’s wrong for all people (not just non-Blacks) to use that word in that way. It also not right for someone to think that it’s ok for a Black person to call their non-Black friends N-word as a term of endearment, and then get offended when their non-Black friend calls them by them N-word in the same way. I wish everyone would just stop using the N-word period, but in a world of sin that’s never going to happen. I pray as many people as possible will wake up and stop using the N-word, and will give their live to GOD before it’s too late.

  7. Milk Shake says:

    Bad words should not be said. The Prophet pbuh told us to guard what is between our jaws and our legs to gain salvation.

    That being said, there is a problem with identifying specific bad words and applying effort to censor them. This is because censorship of specific words does not do anything to address whatever caused them to become popular in the first place. No amount of explanations of the harsh history of that word, or who it insults, or what kind of impact it has, does anything to address the root causes of the animosity that led to those bad words.

    And so we see today, as race relations have gotten worse, all the effort dedicated to censoring specific slurs has lead to the advent of new slurs to take their place on twitter and youtube.

  8. Margari says:

    I’m looking at Zaheer’s comments to my response. I can’t respond directly to it for some reason. How is forcing my narrative even such a thing from a marginalized person? I wrote an article and made a case for why using the N-word by nonBlack Muslims is wrong and why they should focus on uprooting anti-blackness in their community, starting with their children who use the N-word on social media, at MIST, at Islamic schools, and summer camps. You’re tone policing and gas lighting with hypotheticals. Just to clarify, I don’t allow any Black students or children to use the N-word. When I have tried to discipline Arab students for using the phrase, they have pointed to Black students using it to say that it was okay.

    One thing that I was taught in challenging Arab and South Asians on twitter who used anti-Black racial slurs was that it was better when someone from their own community did it. I dealt with hours of counter arguments and saw a similar pattern of gas lighting. My challenge was not out of arrogance, but rather if you feel so strongly about it, do it. Then let me know. I’m curious as to the outcome. It is a challenge to be about this work, don’t just talk about it. I’m going to work getting all Muslims to drop the N-word. I’m not going to apologize because you agree with the case I made. This is my stance. But I really do hope the energy spent arguing about this article is put in addressing racism in our ummah.

    • Zaheer says:

      Hello Margari,

      I’m not sure where exactly in my earlier comment I ‘gas-lighted’ or policed the tone of the conversation. I quoted directly from your article and comments, and explained that it came across as presumptive and condescending. I never asked you to apologize for anything, either. I simply disagreed with what I believed was the assumptions and implications your article was making. That’s all.

      I, as well as Muslim4life in response to my comment, also pointed out that while in the comments of the article you clarified, your article itself seemed to imply that the N-word was essentially the property of blacks, for their exclusive use. You’ve since clarified that you consider it a word that shouldn’t be used at all, by anybody, so that point of debate is done with.

      Lastly, I agree with your point on active work in the community being of greater importance than debate on the internet about the issues. It is important, though. It’s pointless disagreeing over an issue and then people going off to change behavior/attitudes, and ending up working against each other because they couldn’t agree over the basics. Anyway, I don’t think that’s the case here, so I say good luck in your endeavours, and may Allah bring success to it, Insha-Allah.

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