When White Men Want to Say the N Word

'16KKKwCross-burning' photo (c) 2008, Image Editor - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Long time readers are well aware that from time to time I get so fed up with people, that I occasionally will post someone’s bigoted comment or email.  What comes into my inbox on a daily basis is an absolute horror to the senses.  Today I would like to share with you a recent comment, on a post I wrote in 2009 entitled Go Ahead and Say Nigger:

Wisconsin Whitey:

The double standard of niggers (niggas) calling each other niggas (niggers) while denying permission to white people is a reflection of their deep-seated anger at white people in general. Heck, a white person in central Harlem doesn’t even have to say anything racist to get his ass whooped. It is like a pre-emptive strike, that the white was “probably thinking about saying ‘nigger’,” and so should get punished. It is true that white people use “nigger” in anger. But white people have reasons to be angry at black people, just like black people have reasons to be angry at white people. Flaunting use of the term “nigger” while supposedly denying whites the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings just fuels more racial tension.

Yes, this poor poor White man is oppressed because Blacks will not tolerate his usage of the word nigger.  Is it any wonder that I decided not to publish his comment? To be honest, I see stuff like this everyday and I was more than happy to delete his commentary; however, my failure to publish his comment, inspired this man to send me a long involved racist screed.

[redacted for his own ignorant good]@yahoo.com

Hello womanistmusings,

Earlier today I read your “musing” about white people saying that one “forbidden” word, a “musing” from 2009, if I recall correctly. I (a white male) disagreed with the premise of white people not being “permitted” use of this word when black people can. I made a comment to that effect, and actually used that word forbidden to me, to describe black people in my comment. I noticed that my comment didn’t get posted onto the comment thread. I later read the rules about commenting and then discerned that it was my use of that forbidden word (for me) that caused my comment not to be posted. I signed my name “Wisconsin Whitey.”

I don’t mind that my comment wasn’t posted; I guess I feel some sort of therapy for going through the process of expressing my opinion, though it may not have been heard by anyone. But if it was read by you, I just want to say that, while I cannot say that I didn’t mean what I said, that I am in an ongoing (lifelong?) process of fighting the racism that is in me. I have a deep admiration for humanity, and particularly the part of humanity that is black (African and its diaspora). I do admit that I do (too often) tend toward negativity, and like to label people with pejorative labels when they emotionally upset me, if you catch my drift. For reasons of common sense, I would not put myself in situations (intentionally) where this tendency would cause me physical or psychological pain (like yelling “n_____” in a rough, predominantly black neighborhood without a viable escape plan). But the thing is, I have no desire to do such a thing. I know from what you wrote that you would have me do this if I ever find cause to use that forbidden word in any other context. 

As a male who is white, I feel that this order for me to not use the pejorative label for black people, while other black males can banter it about with no care or consequence, and with utter machista swagger,is a form of emasculation, which is very personally degrading. You may feel that white people really have no reason to be angry at black people, but as far as my prejudice, I see patterns (maybe I only see them in other groups) that I do attribute to their race; I admittedly see “rude” drivers who cut in front of people without turn signals (instead of waiting “their turn” as I waited behind other cars), and it seems that at least 4 out of 5 times, they are black drivers. I don’t like it when anyone, of any race, drives “rudely,” but for some reason it makes me feel validated when I see that it’s a black person doing it, validated for stereotyping them in that way.

I live in Milwaukee, and I have been a personal victim of assault by a group of young black men while riding my bicycle. I had no occasion to say a word to them; my only crime was riding past them and not swerving to the other side of the road to avoid them (that would make me a racist, would it not?). They used no racial epithets toward me when one of them threw a punch at my head and caused me to land on my left elbow, fracturing it. It could just be machismo and territoriality (and not related to race), but I couldn’t avoid seething with anger toward them, and viewing this as a racially motivated incident. When I see black men using “n_____” while saying that I cannot, I see that as a demonstration of black male supremacy. So, maybe it’s my macho “instnct” that makes me feel the need to be “equal” to black men in terms of vocabulary, even if I use it in a different way.

If you’ve made it this far in my e-mail, I thank you very much for listening to me, even though I would expect that you would feel offended by my words/thoughts. I wrote you in part because I wanted to somehow make mybself appear more “human” to you (and not “just” a “racist,” as I’m sure you would label me, and I understand that). But I also want to state that I acknowledge that, as a human, and as a woman, I respect you for being you. Believe it or not, I label myself as a “liberal.” This may seem ironic, but to be sure, I do take take the “long view,” putting current situations in historical context. I am aware of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (during the 16th through 19th centuries), and have an “academic” understanding of how this would affect today’s race relations. I have an interest in music, and am a student of African drummers (from Senegal), and feel honored to be able to be taught about African culture. But I guess I tend to fall back on racist thoughts, even as I yearn to understand the human species and the universe in general. 

I wouldn’t have written anything had it not been for my obsession with the use of that “n” word and hadn’t found your blog on the Internet. I will just end by stating that I hope that you are happy. You felt a “calling” to blog about race and other social issues, and that is how I ended up finding you. I’m sorry for any hurt that I have caused. I have a “shadow” side and at times will dwell in that, but right now, I feel the need to express that you are a human being deserving of happiness as any other, and any racist expressions on my part does not negate that.


This is just a small example of what happens behind the house of this blog, and what fills my email on a daily basis. This space is not safe for me to moderate, and it comes with a lot of personal pain.  He had to have known damn well that I read his original comment, but still decided that what I really needed was to learn that he feels “emasculated” by MOC because of their “machista swagger.” It’s simply not fair that people of colour can choose to reclaim a slur which has been used to dehumanize us for centuries, while this seemingly non-racist White man is excluded from all the fun.  He does after all have the right to feel like a White man of racial privilege.

He has gone to all of this work to collect anecdotal evidence of “rude” Black drivers, which of course backs up his racist points.  How dare I decide to privilege the lived experience of Black people currently living in a White supremacist state, when he has so much proof that it’s White people who are actually living in fear.  He is an angry White man and all POC had better recognize.  Despite all of his anger, he is a good liberal and has complete and utter respect for me.  Aww isn’t that sweet? He loves me though I seek to make him accountable for his actions and speech.  What a good White liberal. We certainly need more of these kinds of people on our side.

Unlike many White faux liberal allies he doesn’t have a Black BFF.  He is going to have to do something about that if he wants to be taken seriously.  Jim’s alternative is to share with me his interest in African drumming.  Why are you rolling your eyes?  Is it the appropriation of African culture?  Is it the fact that  children of the African diaspora, and actual Africans have a completely different culture now that we have been divided from each other through slavery?

Jim has done his homework.  He took the time to learn about the trans atlantic slave trade.  Isn’t that the perfect example of being responsible and educating yourself on marginalized people?  Isn’t this what we demand that allies do before engaging with us? I guess I should be pleased that he has an “academic understanding”.

More than anything, what I took away from Jim’s e-mail was his assertion, “you are a human being deserving of happiness as any other, and any racist expressions on my part does not negate that.” Isn’t that wonderful everyone?  I am so excited that my humanity has been justified by a White man.  I just need to let go of the fact that he occasionally says racist things, because he really is a good person. I’m human everyone – I’m really human. Yes that would be me squeeing with joy. Oh what a wonderful world.

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