The N-word made its way into headlines in November after a man was killed for hurling the racist slur along with a punch at a FedEx driver in Oregon. While the FedEx driver was right to defend himself from an attack, this has brought back the question of whether or not it is okay to punch a racist. The answer is no.
There is a reason that racists use such vile speech. This speech is an expression of their hate but it is also meant to illicit a reaction — particularly a hateful one. Hearing any type of slur stirs up wicked thoughts, especially when directed at a specific person. But if it is deemed okay to violently respond to racists, then the hate speech they are spewing is doing its job and perpetuating hate, which is invoked in those that it is cast against.
It’s a trap. Bigots hurl slurs in hope of receiving a violent response. They jump at any excuse to defend themselves and their freedom of speech. With as many guns as there are in America, it is simply not worth taking the chance of punching a racist when many of them could be carrying. Reacting violently to racist remarks also fuels a racist’s narrative of victimhood. White nationalists, for example, use every violent act perpetuated toward them as a recruiting tool and use the media to falsely identify as a “vilified minority” who can’t express their freedom of speech without being attacked. While it might seem worth it at the time, this cycle only adds fuel to the fire instead of putting it out.
The slur originated from a hateful attitude toward black people, but has been reclaimed and evolved into a form of black camaraderie. Hip-hop’s reign as the most popular music genre, according to Business Insider, appears to be the biggest perpetrator of the N-word appearing in American vernacular and culture.
Famous rap stars have made the N-word so “cool” that debates over who should be able to say the word have come back into the fray. “Bitch” is the only word that comes closest to being as polarizing depending on who says it. There are few scenarios in which a man can get away with calling a woman a bitch without offense but women can call each other bitches in an endearing fashion.
In a similar vein, the use of the N-word should remain strictly with those it was meant to oppress. Anyone who is not black and uses the word is not reclaiming and renovating the word.
Others who use it are historically and racially insensitive at best by parroting pop culture and at worst are letting a flag of hatred fly under the disguise of being fashionable.
The world would be a better place without the word, but it is here and it will likely stay for the time being. The N-word’s pervasiveness makes the idea of a ban both silly and inconceivable as it clearly would involve mass censorship. It would also infringe on people’s choice to include it in their vocabulary. Besides defending its evolved form and freedom of speech, there is a case for why hate speech cannot be outlawed.
Racists have to be allowed to fly their flags of hate for the simple fact that it allows them to be identified. Most racists don’t wear bright red armbands to signal their hate but gather online and spew it through slurs. The problem with Twitter’s recent purge of hate speech promoters is that it sends these bigots underground, where no one can keep an eye on what they’re doing. It also removes the court of public opinion.
The opportunity to shun, expose and embarrass bigots needs to be there as it appears to be the only way to chip away at the wall of hate without getting violent.
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