(Note: I’ve edited the original post as it appears below to asterisk out the word in question in order to not compound the problem. The actual post I’m replying to was not censored in this way.)
Can I use the word “n****” if I’m quoting a song? Specifically, the extremely common gesture of sharing lyrics on a blog or profile.
I imagine nobody would suggest it’s offensive for a white person to share the recording (perhaps excluding the RIAA), but printing the word felt different enough to make me hesitate when making a post earlier. Just curious.
david, can I ask you a question?
Oh look, I just did! I asked if I could ask you a question, while asking you a question! Ahahahaha, I’m hilarious.
No, but seriously…
If you’re honestly concerned, why would you do the thing you’re asking about in the course of asking about it? Do you walk up someone’s desk who has just received an Edible Arrangement and get your hands all over a chocolate covered apple slice while asking “Hey, is it cool if I take this?” Do you hop into a co-worker’s car while saying, “Hey, what do you think about a carpool situation?”
I wouldn’t wish to suggest that these situations are comparable to using a word that originated as a dehumanizing threat and is still used as such, but I just wanted to draw your attention to this simple and basic fact: when you’re asking if you can do something, you ask… then do it. For 99% of things under the sun, I’m sure you don’t need to be told that. It’s automatic. You don’t have to stop and think “What’s the order of operations here?” It just doesn’t make sense to do it any other way.
But here, for this one thing, you apparently don’t think, either… you just open your mouth (or move your fingers) and it comes spilling out.
So why is that?
I could make some unkind speculations here. I don’t know how plugged in you are to the day-to-day running of Tumblr. I don’t know how much you have to do with the situation where the abuse team upholds the rights of people to use a lynching word (and honestly, that’s what the n-word is. It’s not even a fighting word because it’s traditionally been used in situations where one “side” of a conflict has no power to fight back, but more on that later) and threatens to shut down the blogs of people who complain for so-called “hate speech”.
I don’t know how much you have to do with that, but if you’re aware of it at all then it changes the nature of this post from seeming like a badly botched attempt at sensitivity to a joke, a very mean-spirited and hurtful and harmful joke, calling attention to the unequal situation that’s been promulgated across Tumblr by the unequal protection of the support staff.
Mr. Karp, I’ve seen at least one blogger that I follow and support take this post of yours as the last straw, after having seen themselves and their fellow bloggers of color been denigrated by others users, been given no support from a Tumblr staff that claims freedom of speech protects their attackers, and then had Tumblr staff come down on them for exercising their own speech in return.
Mr. Karp, I said I was going to come back to the point about disparities in power, and this is it right here. Black people on Tumblr get the n-word thrown in their face. They get lynching threats. They get rape threats. It’s called freedom of speech. In response they say things like “cracker”. They assert their rights to defend themselves if someone behaves in a threatening manner towards them. It’s called hate speech. It’s called a threat. They receive missives telling them that their accounts will be suspended if they don’t stop doing those things.
And this is the reality behind the n-word, whichever form it takes. It’s a word that white people created to define reality in exactly this way. There are people, people like you and I, whom the system—be it law, society in general, or the staff running a blogging platform—exists to protect. And there are… them. Those people.
The ones we describe with this word. This othering, denigrating, dehumanizing word. The word that some people who are targets of the word have made their own construction of, have spun around and taken for themselves, have reclaimed. You and I, we have no claim on the word except in its original formulation. It’s a threat in our mouths. It’s a weapon in our hands.
And you want to ask if it’s okay for you to quote the word. You want permission to reproduce it, to use it by proxy.
Well, let’s say the answer is yes. Yes, you have the right to use that word. Freedom of speech, right? Besides, society gives you that word. That word exists for your benefit! That word exists for upholding you at the expense of others. What’s the point of it if you can’t use it?
Now let me ask you a question: whether you can use it or not, do you want to use it? This harmful, hateful word. Do you want Black people who follow you or who follow people you reblog to see your privileged white self throwing the word around on a blogging platform that’s already known for upholding white privilege?
If so, why?