When White Kids Call Each Other the “N” Word

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After reading a post on a (black) friend’s Facebook page about his kids sharing that their white classmates call each other the “N” word, I asked my friend Karen DeGroot Carter to share her thoughts since her (biracial) kids go to that same school. Read what she thinks. Then, please comment to share your own thoughts! ~ Melissa

When White Kids Call Each Other the “N” Word

written by Karen DeGroot Carter

When I asked my biracial daughter, a junior in a predominantly white suburban high school south of Denver, if she’d heard white kids at school call each other the “N” word, she didn’t hesitate to say yes, and then explain why. “First of all,” she said, “they’re saying the word that’s spelled N-I-G-G-A, not the other ‘N’ word.” She went on to explain white kids hear the word in rap songs and then use it with other white kids in a friendly way, not to upset anyone. “They would never say it to someone who’s black, and they would never say it to me.

So it’s a term of endearment?” I asked, incredulous.

She shrugged. “Yeah. I would never say it, though.”

Parents of children who hear their kids use such a loaded word with their friends might not be so understanding, and for good reason. Not just because their kids might accidentally insult someone and find themselves in serious trouble with a peer or authority figure, but because the “N” word will always carry with it the weight of the brutal history that created it.

The “N” word came into being as a hate-filled, threatening epithet used to help humiliate and control a specific group of people―men, women, children, teenagers, and the elderly considered to be third-class citizens equivalent to property due to the color of their skin. For generations, such humiliation and control went far beyond insults to include various forms of psychological and physical torture as well as horrific deaths.

While some may be eager to forget and “move on” from any such painful aspects of our country’s history, the reality that slavery existed in the U.S. ‒ and that racism and prejudice continue to exist here ‒ needs to be acknowledged and discussed. Perhaps the current use of the “N” word by white teens provides a good place to start.

Parents whose kids use the “N” word in any context can contribute to their family’s understanding and rejection of racism by addressing this issue, insisting this word is not only controversial but unacceptable, and backing up their arguments with facts and insights. Online resources like those noted below can help educate adults and teens alike on how the use of this single word can still cause significant pain and suffering, regardless of its intended meaning.

African American Registry: “Nigger (The Word), A Brief History”

Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance: “Straight Talk About the N-Word”

PBS: Huck Finn in Context: Teacher’s Guide: “Exploring the Controversy: The ‘N’ Word” 

BIO: Karen DeGroot Carter is the author of ONE SISTER’S SONG, a novel that explores issues faced by people of mixed-race heritage. Her blog, BEYOND Understanding, includes a comprehensive list of resources that promote tolerance and celebrate diversity.

believe it or not, white kids are calling each other the n word! Here's what one mom of biracial kids says about it.

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  1. I have heard people use the -er version, typically when they had no good argument and desired to get a reaction, which they could parlay into some sort of false superiority, but eliciting undisciplined or emotional behavior. It is entertaining to watch the target for this attempt fail to entertain the deceit that the speaker has any power over his behavior, by emotion today as by his ancestors’ whip yesterday.
    I have heard young people, including whites, using the -a version in the same manner as “dude”, “bro”, or “guy”, or “bud” used to be employed. They seem to know the evil of the -er version, and it would never occur to them to use it. I have seen the rare case of close black and white friend groups, where they use it freely, but an outsider would not be permitted. It is much as American friends sometimes may use insults or endearment as a privilege of association, but no outsider dare do it.
    I may be wrong, but this diluted appropriation of the modified term by white kids seems to be, not just fad, but a concerted effort to take power away from racists, by symbolically saying, what you call him, you call me, so what’s it to you? In the past, those who had certain things others did not have, could belittle others, but as it became common, the power vanished. This may be that. White kids can never know what Black kids’ ancestors endured, nor really know the stresses of resurgent institutional bias, but they can reverse assimilate, as they seem to be doing, rebelling against past evil, and aligning with people of color–their peers–to crush past bad habits by building new unity. At least, so it seems to me.

  2. I heard my white grandson repeatedly say either “nigger or nigga” while playing an online game where kids can talk to each other over headphones. Neither word word is acceptable and because they hear it on rap “songs” is not an excuse. I must be getting to old because rap doesn’t even sound like music to me. Sound like my parents in the 1960’s when our music didn’t sound like music to them. Off course, I know, but I am trying to understand how things got so off track from civil rights to now. How do kids not know it’s not right for white kids to call each other the “N” word! I know my daughter has heard him say it and does nothing. If black people call each other that, well that’s their right, but not us white people who started using it to put black people down!! Do schools even teach about the civil war anymore? Please help me to know what a 72 year old says to a 13 year old to explain how terrible that word is and what it really means.

    1. I think you have to take Karen’s advice and tell him about the history and the hatred behind the word and that it’s completely unacceptable to ever say.

  3. I’m not the type to get all bent out of shape about a word, and I hate the “professionally outraged” SJW types, but this pisses me off. I have a son in grade 2 and some of the older white kids in his school were calling each other “nigga” the other day and he repeated it, I had to explain to him how dumb it makes them sound to say that, and that unless you’re ancestors were labelled as that word, then you’ve got no business saying it!

  4. This is a great post! I am going to read it with my 7th grade sons. While they KNOW this term is absolutely unacceptable, I want them to hear again (and with more facts backing up) the “why”. Thanks for the links. Just the other day, one of my sons asked if my dad or mom ever said any cuss words. As I thought about it, the only “off” term I EVER heard either of them say was “damn”. It made me think about how normalized it is to include these words in friendly “banter”. I am shocked that the “N word” has been normalized in friendly banter amongst white kids. NOT O.K.! Thank you for shedding light on this!