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Why do we use slurs?

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Most of the time, when many of us speak, we don’t think one way or another about the words we use. We don’t think much about the terminology, or the semantics, or the linguistics. But there are certain words that we need to think long and hard about before we consider using them in our daily lives.

As of late, several students have taken notice of their peers using variations of the ‘n word’ on campus, and in many cases, these students are non-black students of color. A lot of these students believe that, since they are non-white, they are allowed to use this word. However, this could not be further from the truth.

The thing about the ‘n word,’ is that it comes from a time when people were forced from their homes and their families, abused, and considered something other than human because of the color of their skin. It comes from a time when people were slaves, left to the whims of their owners, who would put them through physical, mental, and emotional harm. It comes from a time of segregation, no longer slaves, but still not equal.

What others don’t understand is that, while this period of time has come and gone, many of the sentiments that arose from it have not. All across America and all over the world, black people continue to be discriminated against simply because of the color of their skin.

Obviously, many people can’t quite relate to this struggle. While various other groups have been subject to their own forms of oppression, they have not experienced it in this specific way. It is for this reason that people who aren’t black cannot use the ‘n word’.

The ‘n word,’ in any form, is offensive. According to Luvell Anderson, a guest writer on the African American English online journal, some black people use this word as a term of endearment of sorts among one-another. This, in a sense, is acceptable for this group of people because the distinction between the two different connotations of the word and its variations are made clear without the need for further explanation. However, when any non-black person uses the word, it is unclear which connotation was intended. Even if it was meant to be a friendly greeting, its connotations can still be misconstrued.

Think of it this way: people within a group of close friends may call each other names or make fun of each other jokingly or endearingly, and for the most part, it is understood that those names are being used in said manner. However, if someone separate from the group were to use one of these names or make fun of someone in the group, the members of that group might end up upset, or at the very least unsure, about the usage of the name by the outsider.

So, how can we stop this?

First of all, it must be acknowledged that using this word – and words like it – is not okay. We need to take accountability for our own actions and hold our peers accountable as well. If we hear someone use these words, we need to inform them of the history, and explain to them why it’s not okay for them to use such words. When these words are intended to be used in a friendly manner, we could easily replace them with nonracial alternatives, such as bro, brother, home slice, homie, bud, ace, dude, comrade, and many others.

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