A Word about Our Friend … the “N” Word

Lafe Tolliver

By Lafe Tolliver, Esq
Guest Column

Yeah, yeah. I played the Twitter excerpt of the Oakland A’s baseball color announcer using the “N” word when he was gushing about going to the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Kansas.

Truth be told, the announcer was quite smooth and suave when that “N” word rolled off his tongue as honey touching a hot spoon. No delay. No premeditation. No pursed lips…just, “N”!

And what makes this clip even more tragic is that his co-anchor kept bopping to the sound of the “N” word and did not so much as miss an eye blink when his best bud said it.

It was as if everyone were entirely at ease with swinging the “N” word about as a batter would be with an inside fast ball. Americana as blueberry pie. As easy as saying, “We are going to “Disneyland!”

No effort to conceal. No attempt to say, “Negro.” Just an unabashed joy of uttering the “N” word with full, unbridled freedom of speech to say what is in your heart of hearts.

Of course, the now embarrassed sports announcer made a belated public apology and was almost willing to wear a hair shirt and thorns in his pants if that what it took to convey his shame and sorrow of uttering the “N” word.

I am thinking that the now mortified sportscaster was so flummoxed in describing his visit to the museum that he got tongue tied in describing the trip that he unintentionally (?) allowed the “N” word to substitute for the word, Negro.

Lest we forget, America was steeped and boiled and drenched and marinated in using derogatory words describing Black people going back hundreds of years; and so to ask someone to deny their native upbringing and to eschew the twisted and denigrated history of Black people specifically formulated and approved by White society, is a big ask.

We still get regular media stories of White people caught using the “N” word because they grew up with it like eating Cream of Wheat or Aunt Jemima pancakes or Uncle Ben’s Rice.

Some things are just soooo good that it is hard to leave them alone!

The “N” word is a diehard word for White America. It invokes pleasant memories of Mammies tending spoiled White kids. It tells stories of brave White men lynching Black people because they simply imagined that they were up to no good.

The “N” word is an astute and stern historian. It gathers stories, real or imagined about the manner and means by which White people, with total freedom, could with a single word assign death or life to Black people…and to top it off, you said “N!” when you wanted to place an exclamation point on the alleged depravity of Black people.

Need a shorthand word for a Black man accused of being a thief or being lazy or being dirty or being a criminal? Simple. Just say “N!” loud and hard, and all is understood. No need for long explanations of what happened or why it happened.

Just say, the “N” did it and all will be right with the world. You have vanquished that dark dangerous foe and you have exalted yourself and have restored equilibrium to society.

The “N” word is nigh encyclopedic in that you can find almost anything you want when you use it. Just by using it with a certain tone, swagger, sneer or a hostile eye glance, the “N” word will not fail you.

Even if you are a bumbler of using the King’s English and cannot articulate what is what, when all is lost, simply say, “N!” and what is missing in your explanation will be quickly filled in by the listener and you have just made a linkage with the past and the present.

What a powerful word! Just one word, simple in pronunciation, has defined an entire population of people whose only “sin” is that they were longingly kissed by the sun.

But. Let’s be real for a moment.

When Black people toss around the “N” word as if it is a Frisbee or casually say it in public to another Black person and in earshot of White people, don’t think for a minute that such an exchange is not being recorded in their minds as: “Hey, if they don’t mind it, why should I be held to account for using it?”

The “N” word has no uncles, nieces, sisters, or brothers. It is a family pariah who steals from Grandma’s secret cookie jar of money as well as punches and brutalize a man or a woman for no more than just, “being.”

Don’t lapse into some fakery that somehow the “N” word tripping off the lips of a Black person makes it antiseptic, cool, or hip.

The “N” word is just as biting, cutting, harmful, belittling and degenerate coming from the tongue of a Black person or a White person.

For those who extol rappers, thugs, or miscreants who use the “N” word as a means of

conversation in song, verse, or rap as if it is a heroic word, they are wrong. They are “N***a” wrong! They are not cultural warriors or astute poets or bards telling a meaningful story.

When people say, “That’s my N***a” or “N***a” be cool or “N” this or “N” that, they are not your friend. They are either woefully ignorant of the history of the word or they have a very low opinion of you and of themselves.

No. You cannot rehabilitate the word, “N.” It is beyond redemption both in this life and the life to come. Nothing good or productive can come from its usage except division, irritation or anger.

How do you restore salt that has lost it saltiness? How do you unprick a balloon? How do you call back a speeding bullet?

You don’t. You can’t.

People who are unrepentant when using the “N” word, need to know their transgression and if they continue, you need to leave the premises. Your character is more important than being around people who diss you when they use the “N” word or worse yet, call you a “N!”

Don’t let your spirit be polluted with such vileness.


Contact Lafe Tolliver at tolliver@juno.com