Conversations outside of one’s racial comfort zone

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily represent those of Maryville College or the Highland Echo staff.

On Wednesday, Feb. 19, the Black Student Alliance (BSA) hosted a Maryville College community conversation in the Lawson Auditorium.

According to Ra’Sham Dickson, a current public representative of BSA, the night’s discussion was intended to get people on campus talking and thinking about the issues regarding the context of the “n-word,” such as the ways in which it is used, who can use it and its evolution over time in the United States.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty affairs of the event, I want to confess that being someone like myself, introverted and not quite used to discussing such controversial topics (especially those concerning an argot of another culture separate from my own), I greatly sympathize and identify with those who may have been uncertain of whether or not to attend, worried about feeling as though it is not their place to offer an opinion on the matter.

This is because of the dominant ideology that today’s society imposes on young people is that they will feel as though they’ll be demoralized for expressing different ideals other than the mainstream.

I completely understand that going out of one’s comfort zone can make certain people feel cornered, exposed and maybe even a little objectified, especially when encouraged to discuss inequality issues prevalent on a daily basis in society. If you feel this way, you’re not alone.

I was reluctant to attend the event simply because I was afraid of being the only white chick there. My feeling this way is, in itself, a small example of self-inflicted racial segregation, one of the topics covered during the discussion. I was stuck approaching the conversation from a white perspective, but I hoped with an open mind I could learn from my peers.

Looking back, I find it ludicrous that I even felt this way considering that I am, in fact, a student of MC: a non-discriminatory and vastly integrated school of the south, harboring many students who differ in culture, ethnicity and ideals, bringing much diversity to our small liberal arts community. I find it such a privilege to go to a college, which was once one of the first to reinstitute the acceptance of African-Americans.

As people filed in that night, rap music such as “My Nigga” by YG, “Jigga My Nigga” by Jay-Z and “Lookin Ass Nigga” by Nicki Minaj played in the background. Before the convention commenced, Germani Williams, BSA president and spokeswoman, advised that all shared opinions were to be respected and graciously acknowledged.

Although I chose to remain quiet and observant throughout the meeting, I felt that this instruction would help ease other people into discussion about the n-word, offering students of all different backgrounds opportunities to actively contribute innovative ideas and to express their individual perspectives about its usage.

In order to get conversation started we watched a clip from the 2013 film, “The Butler.” In the scene, when Cecil Gaines, the main character, says, “I’m a house n—-r, a good one.” Maynard slaps him in the face and corrects, “Don’t you ever use that word, son. That’s a white man’s word, it’s filled with hate.”

When the lights when up, there were several hands up, which lifted my spirits after witnessing such a sad clip.
Curious about what society thought about the term, I chose to do a quick search online. According to Urban Dictionary, a site I found during my investigation created and edited by the public, the n-word is considered “another double standard in society.” As reflected in the discussion, most members of the audience agreed that black-black identification is acceptable as long as the two people share camaraderie. The word in this sense is basically a substitute for brotherly slang words used in other cultures such as “homie,” “dawg” and “bro,” just to name a few.

Furthermore, from what I had noticed, the consensus agreed that no other race except for African-Americans, especially whites since white men had negatively originated the term, can use the word without it being taken offensively.

At the event, there were many different opinions. The first guest to initiate the discussion commented bluntly that the word is like calling yourself fat; it’s OK to use it to refer to yourself, but to others, it’s offensive.

The second person who chimed in believed that the word is used more as a title of acceptance and endearment which young men use toward one another. This idea reflected the definition I found created by the Urban Dictionary network.

There was also a strict differentiation between the meaning and offensiveness of word with and without the suffix. When the conversation shifted to history, Dickson commented that the racial slur “is like claiming a word of oppression.”

Another guest chimed in by agreeing with him. “If you don’t reclaim the word, you aren’t accepting your past.”

Part of issue lies with deciding how to view racial history. Black History Month is problematic to some students here at MC. One woman admitted that she thought “dedicating a whole month to blacks is an insult because our ethnicity had a hand in constructing this great nation.”

This got me thinking that perhaps we should include more holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and also integrate more rich and eclectic African culture that existed at a time before the peak of slavery.

Furthermore, the term is not traditionally cultural because culture varies and the term was not of African origin to begin with; it has simply been transformed due to pop culture.

Historically, African blacks considered themselves separate people groups with separate cultures. When slavery became predominant in America, whites viewed blacks as a collective, foreign out-group beneath them, hence how the historical context of the term came about. If you look up the word in the dictionary, it defines the n-word as an offensive term of a black person. The other associations like “lazy” or “uneducated“ are merely stereotypes which modern society has imposed.

Clearly, we are still in the midst of racism. The only reason the offensive racial term discussed at the event negatively exits is because racism itself still exists.

Still, what we need to realize is that the civil rights movement started not that long ago, and society is slow to change.

The slowness of change means we desperately need to strive towards the common goal of unity within and outside of our respective cultures all the more.

Make it a priority to change your outlook and to influence others. Hold one another accountable. Ask yourself what you can do, even if the movement starts right here at on campus.

I know I will have to do the same in order to create a better society, and discussion and conservation are an essential first part of that process.

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