The following is a first hand experience from an anonymous Black citizen of Coos Bay, OR.
“The first time I (a Black person of Coos Bay, OR) got called the N-word was when I was in middle school (in Coos Bay, OR). We were riding the bus with the high schoolers, because their bus broke down. I was sitting in the front with a friend, there were these two high schoolers who were picking on us. When I asked them to stop, kindly, they said “shut the f*** up you stupid N***er.” Later that day, when I got home from school, I asked my mom what that word meant. Then I looked at her and she looked upset that she had to tell me what that awful word meant. She basically had to ruin my innocence as a kid. As I grow older, I still never use it. I just don’t see the point. I mainly use the alternative: “n***a.” I know it’s not any better but I feel the power in the word "n***a" is a different sin. I know we shouldn't say it but we do, and when we use it, we know that's just how we greet each other. When white people use it, we know there's a double meaning under. I feel it is important for a non-Black person to refrain from using the N-word or n***a because, it is harmful to their fellow friends and potential family.”
The N-word, when used by non-Black people and especially white people, has hundreds of years of power and pain behind it. What it boils down to is this: it’s just not okay to use derogatory language no matter what group of people you are referencing. So how do we achieve rooting out intolerance? Through education, self-critique, and letting those around you know that you don’t approve of their negative behavior.
“But I have a black friend and they let me use the N-word”. Or maybe it's in a song you want to sing along to, so it's "okay." To understand why it isn't, we suggest you look up Ta-Nehisi Coates and watch his short video on, “TA-NEHISI COATES Explains how you should deal with your White friends saying ‘N***a.’” In general, non-Black people should not use the n-word. Not in public, not with your non-Black friends, not during karaoke, and never as a derogatory term.
So what is the appropriate way to refer to our Black brothers and sisters? During a phone interview with another Black Coos County resident, they shared their experience of being a Black person in Germany. While in Germany the interviewee had conversed with two Black Germans on the topic of being Black in Germany. The respondent had asked if they were referenced as African-Germans, as in the United States Black people are often referred to in this manner as African-American. The Germans laughed at him. The fact that their skin color is darker is obvious. In European culture there is no extra need for this extra delineation — separation, description, border — within speech. This Coos County resident explained that this is a rather American act. We do this with Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, and other cultures to say, “Okay, you are Americans . . . but not quite.” The only time you are simply referred to as an American is typically if you are white. Black people in Germany are Germans. That’s it! They are Germans who happen to be Black. Likewise, in the United States, we have many Americans who happen to be Black.
There are generations of Black family lines in the United States. If you ask a non-first generation American where they are from, it is likely they will tell you which state and or city they come from, “I am from New York” or “My family is from Philly” are just a few examples. This goes for any race. If you ask a white person where they are from, they would say “I am from Pennsylvania” not “I am from Ireland.” You would expect very different behaviors and cultures from a Pennsylvanian than an Irish person. Emmanuel Acho on the YouTube series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” states that “Black” is the least offensive as not all Black people are from Africa, his particular example is that some Black people come from Jamaica for instance. There are many other countries where people are melanin rich, therefore the blanket term “African-American” is actually an over-generalization.