Why White People Want to Say the N-Word

You’re White, you’re rapping along to your favorite Kanye verse in the privacy of your own home, and you realize the n-word is coming up. Do you say it? Do you skip it, and break the flow of the song? Do you have time to come up with a suitable replacement word?

“Why can’t I say it though?” Well why not? You’re like, the least racist person ever. You love hip-hop. You love Black culture. You could never say that word in a degrading way. And, if the word is really so bad, why is it fine for them to say it all the time?

Saying the n-word is a transgression, and transgressions exist to be enjoyed. In fact, much of hip-hop is transgressive speech: calling women bitches, boasting about having casual sex, doing drugs, breaking the law in various ways, inflicting violence, etc. But who gets to enjoy these transgressions?

Even though Whites are fascinated by these transgressions and want to enjoy them, they can’t really. Not without giving up the very things that make them White: their jobs, their connections, their family ties, their inheritance. So they have to enjoy vicariously through the figure of the Black man, who, unconstrained by polite society, can fully enjoy.

Obviously, Black people are neurotic subjects just like Whites and have no access to some kind of full enjoyment, not even the most famous rappers and basketball players. But Whites project this enjoyment onto them because of what makes them Black, which is their exclusion from White society. This exclusion gives them a certain freedom: they don’t have to conform to the norm, since they don’t have anything to lose.

Since there is no stable criterion for who is included in a society, no-one can ever be really sure if they are included. Since your prospects for a job, a relationship, love and acceptance, depend on you being on the inside, a lot of anxiety comes from the worry that there is something about you that doesn’t quite fit, something that would cause you to be thrown out if others were to discover it. This creates the fantasy of the excluded group: a group of people who are excluded by virtue of some contingent external factor like skin color or religious affiliation. Because they are out, it means we are safely in. I call it a fantasy because the excluded group creates the hypothetical possibility of a harmonious society where nobody needs to worry if they really belong, and everybody is accepted just for being themselves. The excluded group is the obstacle that prevents this impossible dream, which is why every society is simultaneously trying to get rid of its excluded group, but also dependent on them for its own internal consistency.

In a liberal democracy however, you can’t have such an excluded group, which is why the word that signifies most the exclusion of Black people, the n-word, needs to be repressed. Through its repression it becomes associated with all the other things that are repressed in liberal society, and becomes a lightning rod for transgressive enjoyment. And it becomes attractive as an identification for all those who feel more stifled than secured by their inclusion in White society.

But the wigga can’t have it both ways. You can’t enjoy the freedom of being excluded without paying the price for it. You can’t enjoy listening to NWA but then also call the cops when you feel threatened. Because then your enjoyment remains vicarious, parasitical, dependent on a mythical figure of a Black man who fully enjoys (which, on a bad day, can inspire a jealous rage).

Yes, love Black culture, identify with the excluded in our society. But use that to challenge White society, renounce it, and not to just spice it up a little.

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