The Problem with the ’N’ Word.
There has been much talk over the last few days about the use of that ’n’ word. A controversial minefield often avoided by commentators and critics, it is an issue that has been around for some decades.
This was of course ignited this week by coverage of Kendrick Lamar seemingly inviting a white fan onto the stage, only for her to be kicked off for rapping the ’n’ word, having begged to be allowed to stay.
On reflection, it may well be a cleverly orchestrated publicity plan, but we will probably never know. What we do know is that at one end of the scale, use of the ’n’ word is acceptable, and widely (arguably over) used, whilst at the other end, if you aren’t a black rapper you can say the word under no circumstances. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not fighting for everyone to be able to go around shouting ‘n’ this and ‘n’ that, but this seems to me to be somewhat of a double standard. The argument behind the popular use of ‘n’ is that it has been reclaimed by black people; a celebration of better days and an embracement of the past. So, why, in this case, is it unacceptable for a young girl to embrace the reclamation of this artist that she presumably adores? (We assume that for her to be on stage with Kendrick that she does embrace its use, and isn’t racially abusing anyone) so this sort of ostracisation seems to be a little backward and a lot unfair.
I know that as an average white man I don’t really have any say on this topic, but it just seems so wrong to stigmatise someone (especially in Lamar’s case a fan) for embracing your artform. In the same vein, am I not allowed to sing along to Pink Floyd’s The Wall in the antisemitic parts without being called antisemitic? The blurring of moral and art seems strong here. Furthermore, to my mind an artist with such contraversial material as Lamar surely should understand the difference between appreication of his work and an attack on people of a certain skin colour? As a gay man, I personally don’t like the gay reclamation of the word “fag”, so I really struggle to empathise with the logic of the “we-can-have-this-horrible-word-but-you-can’t” argument.
There are many other taboo words that have been “reclaimed” or used ironically in art, especially music, but they should always be taken in the context that they are given, and if you as an artist don’t want people to embrace those songs and lyrics, then simply don’t release them.
Sam Marshall is a freelance musician, writer and reviewer based in SW UK.