Teaching My Kids About The "N" Word And Other Slurs
As a journalist and author, I have a tremendous respect for words. I teach my kids that words are powerful, should be used wisely and can do either great harm or great good.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of words out there whose sole purpose and intention is to hurt others. Racial epithets are definitely among those. My children know none of these words—they don’t even know the ones directed to African Americans.
But as my daughter enters middle school this month, I’m reminded of all the other places where she may hear racial slurs, particularly the N word. Young people of color, thanks to liberal use in hip hop music and culture, now use the N word very casually. To some, it has become a term of endearment or brotherhood. Those in that camp believe that they have somehow reinvented the word by claiming it as their own and changing its meaning—similar to what some in the gay community have done.
But the liberal use of the word by trendsetting African Americans in pop culture, has led many Asians, Latinos, and Indians and those who identify with the hip hop culture to use the word a little too freely for my taste. I’ve even heard young white boys use the word toward each other. And I have a Latino neighbor whose son uses the N word pretty freely in his cell phone conversations.
I’m not ok with that.
As a professional journalist working at a large, mainly white-male staffed magazine for several years, I had my own painful run-ins with white co-workers who thought they were “cool” enough to use the word as they quoted hip hop lyrics. There is no such level of cool for non blacks.
In general, our lessons to our children should remind them that every time you use a bad word it essentially has two meanings: (1.) What you meant by it, and (2.) What it means to the person who hears it. There's a difference between "intent" and "impact" and you've got to take some responsibility for both.
I will teach my children more about the horrific history of the N word and why it is still very hurtful today and I hope all mothers will do the same, so they can understand the origins of the words that may pass freely today.
I am teaching them that some things are best left in music lyrics and music lyrics are not necessarily their reality.
I teach my children that using offensive language makes you look less intelligent, less empathetic and even cruel. It may even get you into big trouble at school depending on their conduct codes and it will most definitely land you in trouble at home.
And if someone uses a racial slur at you, then always remember that you define who you are—not someone’s else’s poor choice of words. Or as my Granny said, "It's not what people call you, it's what you answer to that matters."