Something in Common: Black Americans Using the "N"word and Whites Who Wave the Rebel Flag

Black Americans (and other people of color) who use the word "nigga" and White Americans who fly the conferedate flag have more in common than they do different. 

Both groups avoid the pain of the past by side-stepping it and instead attempt to redefine words or symbols of hatred and exclusion as signals of comradery and empowerment. Black Americans must deal with our pain of rejection, abandonment and generational subjugation. And White Americans must face the painful, ugly portions of their collective identity and the fear of what would happen if power was actually shared among all people for the good of all people.

"Only we can say it" or "it's okay, it's us" is a pitiful attempt to take one of the most hateful words ever invented by humans to denigrate, corrupt, and control a group of people and use it to somehow build community.  What we instead should do is face the pain, subjugation and rejection that the word originally intended and is still used for today. I wish Harriet Tubman or Nat Turner could sit down with a kid from Harlem, Liberty City, Montgomery, or Dallas and have that child say, "what's good my nigga". The ensuing beat down (physical and verbal) would go viral. The personal, relational and systemic injustice of using that word is what's TRUE and no amount of rap music is going to somehow rid the N-word of its priniciple use for degradation. That is what's true. It is absolute, timeless and more powerful than the microphone of any artist or producer. It is not and never will be empowering because it is the antithesis of what it was meant to be in the first place. 

Similarly, I wish that some of my White American friends who long to fly the "stars and bars" and detach it from racism, hatred and intimidation that still persists today could sit down with John Calhoun and other leaders of the confederacy - or even Dylann Roof. Extensive historical writings, recorded narratives and Roof's manifesto clearly articulate the original purpose of the confederate flag and the foundation of the South pre-Civil War was white supremacy; and the continued subjugation of black slaves (and all others) at all costs. To say, this flag is part of our (I'm from the South) culture and something we hold dear is to say that the 350 years of slavery and 160 years of voting disenfranchisement, lynching, unlawful arrests, sexual violence, and hate crimes is "just how we do things down here". 

We cannot take words or symbols and decide what we want them to mean and at the same time deal with the pain of rejection and abandonment (black folks) or the fear of what would happen if we face faults and successes alike and used our power for something other than keeping it (white people). 

This same logic goes for men who degrade women by calling them s***, c***, b***** and other words that are verbally abusive. Or the derogatory names that we ascribe to people  that are indigenous and Native American, or Latino/a and Asian. No matter what argument those doing the hurting make, these words are painful and destructive. And when we don't apologize, ask how we can better serve one another, and then do what is in our power to do and instead dig in, get defensive and try to justify our bigotry, sexism and ignorance, we are doing a gross disservice our brothers and sisters made in the image of God. 

Similarly, i believe that the "we can call ourselves that but you can't" argument is a painfully misguided attempt at claiming a safe place to stand because we find no refuge from those in power so we opt-in to the oppression because it's easier than perpetual defeat. 

Feeling powerless, afraid and under attack sucks. And right now, as a Black American man I feel that way. And after a conversation with a white conservative male friend from South Carolina, I know there are White Americans who feel that way too.