Straight Talk about the N-Word

Like no other word in the English language, the N-word spawns leading news headlines particularly when celebrities utter it:  comedian Michael Richards, Larry Wilmore, Paula Deen, Hulk Hogan, Iggy Azalea, Dog the Bounty Hunter, John Mayer, Mel Gibson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Barbara Walters, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Iggy Azalea, or Jesse Jackson, Sr.  This word shows up in American childhood rhymes and ditties, in minstrel songs that are now popular Disney children’s songs and in commercial advertisements. It punctuates some rap songs, is euphemized, buried in mock funerals, and bleeped from media broadcasts. Responding to one critic’s challenge “to create an environment for dialogue about the word’s purposes and problems,” this presentation is an opportunity to hold under a critical microscope this single word described as “the most inflammatory, shocking and historic word in the English language.” The presentation considers the word’s “continually shifting use” through the complex discourse of American race relations, ultimately gauging more broadly the fundamental role of words, history, language, and performance to construct identities--individual, communal, and even national.

Straight Talk about the N-Word - An Interview with Teaching Tolerance


Managing Editor Sean Price's interview with Arizona State University Professor Neal A. Lester. Lester has twice taught courses on the n-word and found there’s plenty to talk about.

The n-word is unique in the English language. On one hand, it is the ultimate insult- a word that has tormented generations of African Americans. Yet over time, it has become a popular term of endearment by the descendants of the very people who once had to endure it. Among many young people today—black and white—the n-word can mean friend.

Read More...

The N Word In Sports with Dr. Neal Lester" - The Sportscaster and Her Son (May 2019) :

 Today with Dr. Kaye - WEAA 88.9 FM (Baltimore, September 2017) :

Workshop with Neal A Lester, PhD: Straight Talk About the NWord (September 2018) :

Dr. Neal A. Lester Talks about N-word with BFM Radio Malaysia (May 2016) :

"The Anatomy of the N-word," The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Arizona State University (October 2016) :

Dr. Neal Lester Talks about the N-word and American Race Relations: Arizona PBS Horizonte  (February 2016) :

Dr. Neal A. Lester on President Obama's Striking 'Negro' from Federal Documentation (May 2016) :

Is it 'just a word'? Questions, Comments about the N-word Controversy at Desert Vista High School  (January 2016) :

Dr. Neal A. Lester Weighs in on Desert Vista High School Controversy (January 2016) :

Dr. Neal A. Lester Talks about N-word at the University of Alabama (November 2015) :

Dr. Neal A. Lester with Mac & Gaydos:  KTAR News 92.3 FM (January 2016) :

Dr. Neal A. Lester Holds "Straight Talk about the N-word" Discussion at Valley Church: AZ 12 News (May 2014) :

Dr. Neal A. Lester on BBC Radio 5live - Up All Night (June 2015) :

 In the Studio with Michael Manning (December 2014) :

The N-Word (Radio Supa) - December 2014 :

Professor Neal A, Lester Puts the 'N-Word' under Microscope at Iowa Wesleyan College: KTVO-TV News Coverage (March 2014) :

 

 

Responses to Presentation
Fifth Grade students' Responses to N-word Presentation and Project Humanities Miscellany
Workshop Survey Response: Tempe Union High School District

Feedback: Saint Ann's School (Brooklyn, NY)

Class Evaluation: Straight Talk about the N-Word

Epiphany Training Institute Youth Workshop Feedback to Straight Talk about the Nword

 

“On behalf of the University Innovation Fellow Office, I wanted to thank you for speaking to us at the last Fellows' Forum. We were very interested in your efforts with Project Humanities. … Please see the link to the post on your meeting: https://ui.asu.edu/blog/dr-neal-lester-of-project-humanities-visits-ui/.” -- Ted Cross, Ed.D., University Innovation Fellow, Office of University Initiatives, Arizona State University

"Absolutely fantastic presentation. Thank you, Dr. Lester so very much" -- Kelcey D. 

"Thank you Dr. Lester for such a fabulous presentation. The conversation must keep on to go on!" -- Rashaad T. 

"I learned a lot of things I did not know and understood everything I learned. I would want to listen to him again about other subjects." -- Nicole A, Iowa Wesleyan College

"I really enjoyed the discussion because I use the word and I never knew if it was actually right or wrong. I don't see a problem with it depending on the context. It was nice to have an adult agree that the "N" word is simply just a word, offensive or not. He also made me think about things I never thought about before. To improve the speech, I would have given more personal experience, or at least stories of friends or family if I didn't have any experience of my own. This just makes the topic more relatable to the audience, as if you've been there before. From Dr. Lester I learned how to create an effective power point with less text and more visuals. I also learned how to interpret more movements and engage with my audience better because I often stay in one spot." -- Chloe M, Iowa Wesleyan College

“I know you must be absolutely spent! All I had to do was get you to the meetings - you were the one who had to be ‘on’ the whole time. I am, again, in awe of your energy, wisdom, and deep and abiding kindness.”-Lane McLelland, Director, UA Crossroads, Division of Community Affairs, The University of Alabama,Tuscaloosa, AL

“Thank you for your presentation last Thursday at the ASU Polytechnic campus. It really gave me an insight into several issues.”—Stephen A.-W.

“Thank you for the presentation last night. Nate and I were making comments at dinner last night about the presentation.  He thinks some of the students he interviews for jobs should hear topics like this on a regular basis.”—Wadell B.

I thought it was a great program and I'd like to see more if it around our campus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and the opportunity for dialog.

I loved it! I thought it was very informative and brought new light on the word.

It was powerful. I thought Dr. Lester created a safe space to have an honest dialogue, and the audience was fully engaged in the discussion.

Students need to hear more about the topic that was discussed last evening.

Let's continue to have PH events and activities across all locations! Thank you for the important work you all do.

“Thank you for bringing your captivating and impressive discussion of the Nword to my First-Year Composition 101 students.” - Debra A. Schwartz, Ph.D., Instructor, Writing Programs, Arizona State University

"Your presentation at our Many Rivers to Cross event last fall left a lasting impression on me.  I appreciate the important work you are doing." - Colleen O’Donnell Pierce, Public Relations, Eight, Arizona PBS

“I really enjoyed your presentation…. I think the most compelling part was when you explained why the N-Word is not a term of endearment, and you had the historical context backing it up. I couldn't believe those children's books/songs either!”-- Laura Simon, Reporter/Anchor/MMJ, KTVO-TV, Iowa

"I did not realize that one hour could create such a powerful paradigm shift for [my spouse] and me. I want to thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for the incredible conversation you began yesterday - I was shocked." - Anonymous

"You see, [my spouse] and I have always assumed that America was indeed post-racial. We grew up in homes where racism was never an issue, and we learned to judge people by their character, not by their culture. We could not understand why the topic of racism was brought up again and again by the media - I was of the opinion that this alone (except for the "very few" who are indeed racist) was what kept the division between the different cultures. For me personally, any awkwardness that I ever feel around a different culture is whether they judge me because I am 'white' ... whether they are interpreting my actions under a false stereotype." - Anonymous

"Your lecture turned everything up on its head, and is going to take us a while to digest. What I thought was one culture raging against 'whites' because of past generations' actions that I could not control and do not condone, is actually the explosion after grenades continue to launch and detonate. I.e., the present history of subtle slights and abuses, seemingly almost benign at the surface, actually contain a fuse that is grounded in decades of pain and oppression and humiliation. I finally got it. Just because my immediate family is not launching grenades does not mean that the grenade launchers are a small minority. As you said, you cannot unknow what you now know - I am surprised to see that my naivety of the situation has actually prevented me from devoting the type of compassion and support that is needed. For this, I am so sorry." - Anonymous

"There is so much more that I would like to say and discuss, but too much for an e-mail that is already getting long! I look forward to future workshops, or maybe office hours, to try to sort out with you the shattered pieces of my now broken rose-colored glasses. Thank you for giving people a safe place to explore such explosive topics...I would have never had the opportunity to view the perspective from the other side if it hadn't been for you." - Anonymous

"Blessings on you and your week - I'm excited to continue participating in this week's [kickoff] events!" - Anonymous

"Thank for the presentation on the N-Word. The 'standing room only' response to your presentation on the N-Word, is evidence of the huge interest and concern for this word and its effects upon African Americans. Your presentation style and information formatting was just right for our congregation. I hope that we will get a chance to present this topic in a more expanded format." -- Roy Dawson, First Institutional Baptist Church School Facilitator

"Thank you for bringing such a powerful message to the South Mountain Community.  The engaging questions and comments from participants, as well as the line of people waiting to chat with you following the presentation, are evident of the need for continued dialogue and  action. " Alicia D. Smith, PhD, Early Childhood Education Faculty and Program Coordinator, South Mountain Community College

"Your 'N-Word' talk today sparked a lively and inspired conversation between me and another person on Facebook.  He had, until to your talk, supported the use of the N-word in public use, but now cannot ever imagine doing so. Bravo!" - Mary S.

"The presentation was informative and expansive to me.  I was pumped with encouragement to have a lot of my convictions affirmed by your speech, yet I also learned a boon of new information about the history and context of the word.  At times, I wanted to scream or cry and couldn't help but think about my children and everyone in the room.  Actually, I also thought a lot about my students, many of whom are lost and rudderless when it comes to the word." - Anonymous

"Like I sensed from you near the end, I too was antsy because I felt like the discussion was really starting to take off just as it was time to conclude.  I appreciated the nature in how you let people express themselves." - Anonymous

"Frankly, there was just not enough time.  I wanted more.  It was obvious you had condensed your presentation in the interest of time.  I want to go to a three-hour deal or all day workshop." - Anonymous

"Is an audio or podcast version available? I really want to ruminate over it all again and take notes." -Steve D. 

"You did a fantastic job stimulating conversations around a very complex and misunderstood word.  I have never said the N-word. It is sad to know that there are so many highly educated people in the US, that really still do not "get it". I am looking forward to continuing our learning by hosting a workshop through your facilitation, Fall 2014.  The faculty in attendance at your event last night will be moving the proposal forward through our Faculty Shared Governance Council." - Shari Olson-Nikunen, President, South Mountain Community College

"Very informative... My twins said that they enjoyed it and they will the check down on someone who uses it in their presence." - Somers K.

"I am an adjunct instructor at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.  I heard your presentation there awhile back about “The N Word”.  It was very powerful.  I also teach 8th grade social studies, and it just happened that your talk was during our Civil Rights unit.  I told each of my classes about your presentation and how much I was impacted by what you said.  Although I am a white woman, I grew up in a predominately African American community and saw racism and gender bias regularly.  I was also picked on by my 1st grade teacher because I was white, so I am no stranger to discrimination.  I am fortunate that I was raised to accept everyone as an individual, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, etc.  My students are very aware of opinions regarding equality and civil rights for all people." - Anonymous

"The very next day, after I had shared your presentation with my students, one of my young ladies asked if she could show me something she wrote.  She was so moved by what I shared about you and your presentation, that she wrote a poem about her experiences with racism.  I was extremely excited that she was so impacted by what I had shared.  I had her show it to our language arts teacher, and we both encouraged her to continue writing." - Anonymous

"We continued on with our study of Vietnam and all of the protests that were happening in our country.  We listened to several protest songs, denouncing racism, the war, poverty, riots, and the many problems our country was facing during this period.  I then assigned students to write their own protest songs on any issue that they felt passionate about.  The young lady mentioned above took the poem she had written about racism and turned it into her song.  I allowed her to share it in front of the class.  I have encouraged her to continue writing and expressing her opinions on this and other issues. " - Anonymous

"With her permission, I have attached the protest song for your review.  Please remember she is only an 8th grader, so it is not a polished piece of work. I have not changed it in anyway.   However, the message is still powerful from someone so young.  I wanted you to know the impact you have had on a group of students with whom you have never even come into contact.  These kids are much more accepting of people from all walks of life, and I am encouraged that they will make a difference in the future. Thank you for all you are doing." - Ms. Chris B., Kyrene Middle School, College Prepatory Academy

"The feedback I received from students and faculty colleagues about your presentation was overwhelmingly positive.  There is too little willingness on this campus in general and at the law school in particular to discuss the realities of race, racism and discrimination.  Your talk and the images you used to illustrate your lecture were a wonderful corrective to this deficit.  Thank you so much for coming and for sharing your research and erudition with us.  We are indebted to you." - Myles Lynk, ASU Professor of Law

"I was privileged to give a short commentary on Professor Lester’s most illuminating talk at the law school the other day. 'Straight Talk about the ‘N’ Word' … has garnered well-deserved renown."  - James Weinstein, ASU Professor of Law

"I very much appreciated your lecture today.  As you opened the lecture with references to the meaning of the word, I could feel the pain, intention and suffering the 'N' word has caused since inception. I was taken by the emotions of 'knowing' the history of the word and the almost 500 years of its continued use. The lecture was on the 'N' word, I also took away a personal lesson, that many words have history, intention and back stories that 'reach into the soul' good or bad and can cause joy or pain. I looked within my own culture and now understand why I take offense to some words and their use in humor within my culture. I walked away thinking about language, words, intention and their history. I truly believe this lecture should be required in schools across the country." - Anonymous

"It would help build understanding and better citizens. We must move forward, but not forget and share these type of critical conversations and insights within our community, otherwise the cycle continues, permeates and embeds itself into culture as it has with this word.  Our words are manifestations of our thoughts, intentions and character. There is a choice we make in use of words. I will be more careful in the words I choose to use to convey my thoughts. You have also brought a better way for me to communicate why I choose the "N" word out of my vocabulary and will not tolerate or accept it in any form within my circles of interactions and experiences." - Jeffrey Ferns

“After attending Dr. Neal A. Lester’s ‘Straight Talk about the N-Word’ yesterday afternoon, I completely look at the N-Word differently. What I have taken from it is that it is never okay to say the word. Nor does the meaning change when spelled different. At first, I thought blacks and Hispanics used the word in a different manner than a white person uses it. But in all reality it’s the same thing. The definition Neal Lester gave us really opened my eyes to how to view the word and how people use it. One specific part that sticks out to me is that, “A member of any dark-skinned race.” So that part of the definition right there pertains to me, as a Hispanic. Before the straight talk, if someone was to say the word in front of me who is white or not a black, I would get offended not because of my skin color but because of my friends’ skin color. I grew up in a black and Hispanic community, so I either went through the same struggles or can relate to the struggles blacks have gone through. Being categorized together (Hispanics and blacks) can only make us stronger, but it does not make it right to use the word amongst each other. I am thankful that Neal A. Lester came and spoke to us. I would love to hear another straight talk from him.” - Raul, L, Iowa Wesleyan College

“I am sorry we did not have an opportunity to meet and was disappointed to have missed your presentation. I understand you were met with a packed house and the reports I’ve received have been very positive. Well done and congratulations. Thank you for contributing to the intellectual and social justice sensibilities of Iowa Wesleyan. We appreciate very much your presence here and your good work in the world.” - Steven E. Titus, J.D., Ph.D., President, Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, IA

"I can tell that Project Humanities, and now Humanity 101, are truly making a difference in the lives of ASU students, Phoenix residents, and now those of us you are influencing beyond the university area." - Kate R. Soule, President, The Phi Beta Kappa Society

"Thank you Dr. Lester for your insight on a word that ignites many debates and is the epitome of even more conflicts. I agree that the historical context of ‘nigger’ cannot be erased nor can we or should we try to negate its historical matrix. Outside of a discussion or educational type forum, I feel that the term itself carries and will remain to have a negative connotation. ‘We will never own it…’ Slaves did not want to own themselves, they wanted freedom – just as humanity should desire freedom from condemning words. I do not believe that it is possible for this or any other negatively versed phrase to be used as a ‘term of endearment’ in one text and then an insult in the next. A ‘potato’ is a ‘potato’ no matter how you pronounce it; its definition never changes no matter how you cook it. Again, I’d like to say thank you for the incredible presentation, for your personal insight and professional clarity.” - Walena M., Chandler-Gilbert Community College

“Thank you, Dr. Lester, for such a fabulous [Nword] presentation [at Chandler-Gilbert Community College]. The conversation must keep on to go on!” - Rashaad T.

"Thank you very much [for your lecture on the Nword]!!! It was a lots of good information I can take back and talk to others." - Marshall C.

"Dr. Neal Lester provided great insight on the use of the N-Word. Lester stated that the use of this word which is hated by some is a choice, and that much of the tension over the word comes from the context in which it is used in. As a young African American man having grown up in the deep south I do believe the use of the word can be offensive when spoken by white people regardless of the context. I say this because I have heard many stories from my elders about how they were degraded by whites by the use of the word. I feel that many whites today use the word because they think it is "cool", when in reality they are using a word that has no meaning to their culture. Lester also spoke about how this word is absorbed by children in both white and black cultures which I believe is true. As a young boy I had no idea if it was right or wrong to use the word I heard continually used among my family and neighborhood. While whites may also absorb the word they most likely absorb it from a different aspect than blacks. As Dr. Lester said we are adults and we can't tell anyone what to and what not to say, but there comes a time in our adult life's when we must decipher if the words we are using are offensive to others. There are many other words in the human vocabulary that there is no reason we shouldn't be able to broaden out and use other words that are less offensive to others. As a frequent user of the word I am going to try to cut back on my usage of it. All though I may not mean any harm when I say it, I do not know how others may be receiving it. There is a shameful past associated with this word that is still alive today, and in order to change the future small steps must be made." - Ja'Korey W.

"Just want to thank you for coming today [to Iowa Wesleyan College]. I really appreciate the message and your time. I was the young man in the front row at the big discussion who asked the question about "being called a n-word on campus." I feel the word is used so loosely around here and it really sickens me, but like you said, we can't control what comes out of someone mouth. I was able to stop by the lunch today, but had to leave due to some students I had visiting campus. I did receive the {Project Humanities button] you passed out. Is there a way to get involved? You had a great presentation, and I have many people who didn't hear it wanting to hear it just based off what I had to share about it. Do you have any recorded presentations?" - Jamarco R. Clark, Student Government President, Teach for America Fellow, Athletics Service Ambassador, Iowa Wesleyan College Football #7

“Thank you Dr. Lester for everything, your presentation was informative and thought-provoking. I am sharing the YouTube video with the entire [Iowa Wesleyan College] community!” - Lori Vick, Assistant Professor, Iowa Wesleyan College

"I just want to start off with saying the forum on the N word was very inspiring, especially being an African American male on the campus of Arizona State University.  I learned a lot from the information you provided about the N word, and where it originated. The N word itself has been used by many generations in the United States. One thing that caught my attention during your presentation was the different forms of how the N word was used. I was familiar with a few, but you provided concrete evidence about this word being used hundreds of years ago. Lastly, the N word itself is being used in a negative way on campus and in society as well.   It is an issue when people of different ethnicity use it in there vocabulary everyday.  However, it is more of a problem when the African American community uses it, and when other cultures hear it, they think it is okay to use.  I hear other groups of people who were not African American use it, and I take offense to the word.  It does not matter how it is used.  All forms of using this word are all the same. More forums like the one you presented need to happen more often to bring awareness to ASU campus. Thank you for bring attention to this important issue." - Antwoin J.

"Your work has stuck. Our classes reflect or or use the forum as a reference for their own developing perspectives." - Lori V.

"Loved seeing your [Nword] project in this Teaching Tolerance alert-I saw the teaser and was about to make sure they knew of your work when I read the alert and noticed you are the very expert whose work they are sharing. Congrats on growing the project in and beyond Arizona!" - Lynn T.

"Thank you for such a thoughtful dialogue on a word whose historical meaning is clearly lost on an entire generation." — Tamera M.

"Real Talk about the ‘N’ Word  -Veronica D., Arizona State University Student

"Thank you so much for your wonderful class "Straight Talk on the N-word" at the Tempe Public Library on Friday.  It is clear to me that you are a gifted and talented classroom instructor, surely one of the best I've had in my 80 or so OLLI [Osher Life Long Learners Institute] classes and lectures during my six years of retirement.  My political consciousness was formed in the civil rights period of the early 1960s, and I have a lifetime of supporting liberal causes.  But now great suffering in my retirement, with the police shootings, Black Lives Matter, and Trump leading me to feel I did not do enough and should have done more.  I beg you to teach more classes for OLLI because there is a great interest and enthusiasm to learn more about what you have to say.  I suspect you could tell this from the audience response on Friday." - John Johnson


 

I went to this talk with the expectation of the end result being, don’t say the ‘n’ word. People who are black shouldn’t say it, people who are white shouldn’t say it, no one should say it. But that’s not what I left with.

I grew up with the rules that I was never allowed to say that word. My parents never said it, my aunts and uncles never said it, and until I was out of high school, I never and any friends that said it. My grandpa though, he said it. My first experience with the ‘n’ word was when I was about 9 years old. I was sitting in his car with him while my grandma did the weekly grocery shopping. He pointed his finger at a black, or as my parents taught me, African-American man and said, “Look at that ‘n’ word, it disgusts me.” It hit me that the use of that word was negative. My grandpa looked over the man’s gender, over the nice suite that he was wearing, and completely past his identity. To my grandpa, he was just another ‘n’ word.

The two African-American women with the “Straight out of Melanin” shirts came in with clearly strong opinions on the ‘n’ word. When either woman spoke, I could tell that they were educated, quick witted, and opinionated. At the same time, it felt as though they came ready to fight. I wonder how it would have turned out if the presenter was someone else. You remained very cool and calm, whereas I don’t think many others would have been, but you knew exactly where their opinions came from. Were they offended that this entire talk on the ‘n’ word was presented by someone who wouldn’t even use it in the presentation title? I am glad that they attended. It gave me a perspective that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise. They seemed to be the only ones that were verbal on being pro-‘n’ word. They said the same thing that the one man said in the “’n’-word card” video. That the hard ‘r’ and soft ‘a’ in the ‘n’ word has two different meanings. I had never heard of an ‘n’ word pass before. I had never heard of a difference between people having opinions on the pronunciation. But all these things showed me about how much I was able to be sheltered as a middle-class white person. I finally saw a small part of the things that I had never had to face or truly form an educated opinion on.

What I walked away with was that it’s not necessary to try and erase the ‘n’ word. It’s in books, history, and it even tells a story. But what we need is to have people be aware of what they are saying when they use the ‘n’ word. There is no way to make it a term of endearment. No pronunciation of spelling will ever make it a loving word. People who are black cannot take ownership of a word that was never theirs.

On a side note, I cannot get over what was said in the beginning. “When we called each other brothers, that is how we treated each other. When we started calling each other the ‘n’ word, that is how we started to treat each other.

On a second side not, Everyone there had such a good time till the end, we didn’t even need a break."

Real Talk about the Nword

-Ashten Chambliss, Student, Arizona State University

October 2015


 The “Straight Talk about the Nword” workshop I attended was something I believe every American could benefit from. The modern age has turned the Nword into a trend; it is now 'acceptable' to say, as long as it ends in -a rather than -er. Throughout the workshop, the most prevalent debate was whether one should say the Nword at all, and the divide was almost perfectly generational. Many speakers of my generation claimed that African Americans should forget the slavery, oppression, and humiliation that have come from that word in the past, and reclaim it, recreate it as something brand new. The older generation unanimously remained too angry about past injustices to even hear this argument without losing their composure.

However, the workshop was not meant to argue for one side or the other, but to educate on the loaded history of that word. This word has been used by masters to address their slaves, by little white boys to address children exactly like them, but for their skin color. Throughout American history, the Nword has been used to draw more thickly what WEB DuBois calls “the Color Line”. No matter its usage, it separates black Americans from white ones. And in a country where whiteness gets you privilege and blackness makes you a second-class citizen, words like these, even on the tongues of black Americans, are Jim Crow in disguise. A poet shown in the workshop recited, "I cannot be greeted and hung with the same word." It is important to remember the past, to remember the enslavement, the lynchings and the suffocation of black liberties, before one makes a judgment on whether it's acceptable to use the Nword. I for one have reaffirmed my decision to never use that word in any form, and to confront anyone I hear using it. That word has done too much damage to the identities of black Americans for us to turn around now and start using it as “a term of endearment.”

Real Talk about the Nword

-Veronica Daigle, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University

October 2015


 

 I went to this three-hour workshop with the expectation of the end result being, “don’t say the Nword. People who are black shouldn’t say it, people who are white shouldn’t say it, no one should say it.” But that’s not what I left with.

I grew up with the rules that I was never allowed to say that word. My parents never said it, my aunts and uncles never said it, and until I was out of high school, I never had any friends that said it. My grandpa though, he said it. My first experience with the Nword was when I was about nine years old. I was sitting in his car with him while my grandma did the weekly grocery shopping. He pointed his finger at a black person--or as my parents taught me, an African American man--and said, “Look at that Nword, it disgusts me.” It hit me that the use of that word was negative. My grandpa looked over the man’s gender, over the nice suit that he was wearing, and completely past his identity. To my grandpa, he was just another Nword.

The two African American women with the “Straight out of Melanin” shirts came in with clearly strong opinions on the Nword. When either woman spoke, I could tell that they were educated, quick-witted, and opinionated. At the same time, it felt as though they came ready to fight. I wonder how it would have turned out if the presenter was someone else. [Dr. Lester] remained very cool and calm, whereas I don’t think many others would have been, but knew exactly where their opinions came from. Were they offended that this entire talk on the Nword was presented by someone who wouldn’t even use the word in the presentation title? I am glad that they attended. It gave me a perspective that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise. They seemed to be the only ones that were verbal on being pro- Nword. They said the same thing that the one man said in the “Nword pass” video. That the hard ‘r’ and soft ‘a’ in the Nword have two different meanings. I had never heard of an “Nword pass” before. I had never heard of a difference between people having opinions on the pronunciation. But all these things showed me about how much I was able to be sheltered as a middle-class white person. I finally saw a small part of the things that I had never had to face or truly form an educated opinion on.

What I walked away with was that it’s not necessary to try and erase the Nword. It’s in books, history, and it even tells a story. But what we need is to have people be aware of what they are saying when they use the Nword. There is no way to make it a “term of endearment.” No pronunciation or spelling will ever make it a loving word. People who are black cannot take ownership of a word that was never theirs.

On a side note, I cannot get over what was said in the beginning by one African American male participant: “When we called each other brothers, that is how we treated each other. When we started calling each other the Nword, that is how we started to treat each other.”