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The N-word has been used for decades, and always brings some controversy or discussion with it. Using the N-word usually comes with a price, and depending on what race you are, the price you pay is very different. Raquel Cepeda discusses the rising use of the N-word among Latinos of the hip hop generation.

Hip hop artists, members of a league traditionally and mostly inhabited by black people, have been using the N-word in their recordings since the beginning. Latinos have been gaining ground in the hip hop industry, with artists like Fat Joe, Immortal Technique, and Big Pun all using the N-word. Now the word can be heard on any street in the Latin areas of New York City. Questions arise about who is allowed to use the word, who is black, white, Latino? What does the word mean: insult, joke, or as Fat Joe would call it, term of endearment?

The use of the N-word by black people is said to be a reminder of their oppression, and how they were once slaves. Juan Flores, Professor at New York University says that the use of the N-word by Latinos is a reminder that they too went through oppression. The N-word has also grown to be a part of hip hop culture. If black hip hop artists are using the word, why can’ Latino hip hop artists?

Professor Flores brings up two basic viewpoints on the usage of the N-word. Some think that anyone can use it whenever they want because through time and usage it has acquired a different meaning. The opposite are those who thing that the word can never be used under any circumstances because it has negative connotations in every context.

The women of The View weighed in on the topic when it came in the news that Jesse Jackson has used the N-word. An exchange between a white and black woman came up that has probably occurred thousands of times, and, to me, illustrates the core conversation and problem of the use of the N-word by white and black people:
White: “It’s not a word that should be used.?
Black: “Don’t tell me I can’t use that word, ‘cause I use it.?
White: “So you’re telling me that I can’t use the word??
Black: “It’s not the same as when I use it.?
This classic conversation creates the underlying question of why black people, and increasingly Latinos, “can? use the N-word and white people “cannot.?

“It means something way different to me than it does to you,? says black woman, Sherri Shepard. Whoopi Goldberg agrees, “This is a word that has meaning when you give it meaning.? Elizabeth Hasselbeck, a conservative white woman disagrees with the use of the N-word by anyone. “I would never go into my own heritage and use a word that is used against me [...] I think that it perpetuates stereotypes and hate.? This feeling of stereotype and hatred no doubt comes from when white people would use the N-word in a hateful way, as some still do. It was a way to promote the dominance of white people.

Now Hasselbeck poses a final question: “How are we supposed to move forward if we keep using terms that bring back that pain?? While Hasselbeck sees the word as a potential means of separation and pain, Goldberg sees the word as a sort of symbol of progress. She explains, “Basically we took it out of the hands of the people who were using it and put it into our hands and we use it the way that we want to use it.?

So when is the word acceptable to use the N-word and when is it not? As a white person, I avoid using it. To me, it is a cultural term that poses a double standard: it is ok for black people to use it, but not for white people. Of course it is not as simple as that. Underneath the black/white label, there is the issue of context. When the N-word is used mutually, as a term of endearment, from the inside, it is ok. When used from the outside, it is considered an insult and should not be used. Society, for now, needs to accept the way things are with the N-word. So how do you know if you can use it? Black? Yes. White? No. Latino? Only if you have enough street cred.


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