When can a White person say the “n” word: a primer

I’m reaching out to fellow White folks today. Do you find yourself thinking it’s not fair that a Black person can use the “n”-word, but a White person gets all kinds of grief? If so, then it’s clear an explanation would be wasted on you, so I offer this simple rule-of-thumb:


Hope this helps!

Please note that if you are, for example, an author writing vernacular dialog for a racist character, then, obviously, you’ll use the word, but you won’t be wondering about the unfairness I mention.



  1. Steve said

    So …what prompted you to comment on the ‘n-word’ subject? Was it the Paula-Deen-Crash-N-Burn or something closer to home?

    Imploding minds wish to know.

    • Nancy said

      Yes, it was prompted by people claiming Paula Deen has been unfairly attacked–specifically, in the case, that if Black people can use the word, then anyone (read: White) should be able to, too. Note that what she and her brother are accused of is so much more than one word used 20 years ago.

  2. Steve said

    My impression has been that the use of the n-word among Black people, and sometime Latinos, is an expression of camaraderie (although Bill Cosby once, famously, begged to differ). Our norms do not extend use of that transformed meaning of the word to White folks for obvious reasons.

    • Nancy said

      One would think it was obvious, but there are those making the argument that is not fair (not fair, mind you) that White folks can’t (shouldn’t). Obviously reasoning is not useful for them, hence my brief “how-to.”

  3. Steve said

    “Arnold, you have a lot of work ahead of you. She’s a Native. Her name’s Viola Lopez. She speaks Spanish and English, and she’s a Catholic. Don’t ever make the mistake of calling her a Mexican. Her brother will kill you. Of course, if you call her a Creole she’ll get confused as hell and think you mean she’s part Negro -that is, part dark-skinned Anglo- and her brother will kill you again. So think of her as a Native, unless you’re comparing her with an Indian. Then she’s ‘white’. Got it?”

    -R. Bradford’s ‘Red Sky at Morning’

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