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Why I’m Trying to Stop Using the ‘N’ Word
Lisuini Palacios
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In the beginning of 4th grade, I was waiting on line to go to class when one of my friends came up to me and said, “What’s good, my n-gga?” I didn’t know why he called me that because I thought it was a curse word. When I asked him about it he told me it was another word for black.

The next day in class we were doing group work and my friend was talking a lot. “Who seen Family Guy last night?” he asked. I didn’t get a chance to answer because my teacher started yelling at him for talking. Then they both started yelling across the room at each other and my friend says to the teacher, “My n-gga, relax.” When he got reported to the assistant principal’s office his excuse was, “I was angry.”

The teacher stopped teaching math and gave us a big history lesson about that word; it lasted three periods. What stood out for me is that it’s a racial slur and was used to refer to dehumanize slaves. But I didn’t take the lesson seriously. My friends still used the word all the time, and I started to also. Maybe I wasn’t old enough to understand.

It wasn’t until I took a program called Passport to Manhood, as part of the Boys & Girls Club, that I understood the word’s significance. It was during the summer before 7th grade. Staff started talking about the “n” word and why it wasn’t OK to use it.

They talked about the history of the word and how it was used to abuse black people and demean them. I felt bad for the people that had been hurt because of this word. I felt grateful that I didn’t have to live during slavery. This time, the lesson hit home. I decided to try to stop using the word.

Negative Roots

When I started writing this story, I did some more investigating on my own. I found out (from the website tolerance.org) that the word started being used in the 17th century; it quickly evolved to become intentionally belittling. It has never been able to shed that negative meaning even when black people use it among themselves. “The poison is still there and the word is linked with violence and brutality on black psyches (minds) and bodies.”

In another article I read on The African American Registry, I learned the “n” word “strengthens the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless nobody. It is the ultimate American insult; it is used to offend other ethnic groups. Jews are called white-n-ggers; Arabs, sand-n-gger…”

Now that I know the word’s significance, I make an effort not to say it. But it’s hard to drop it completely when you grew up in the hood and everyone constantly says, “What’s good, little n-gga” or “How you, my n-gga?” It’s almost like inheriting a trait from a family member and then you have to change this trait you’ve had all your life. The word is part of who I was. Still, I make a big effort to replace it by saying “bro” or calling the person by his name.

image by YC-Art Dept

One thing that I noticed about myself is that I still say the “n” word when I’m frustrated. For example, one night after summer school, my friend Sheldon slept over. No one else was home and I was sleeping on the couch while Sheldon watched Nickelodeon. He kept tickling my feet and I hate that. I kept on saying “chill, bro” but he wouldn’t listen so I got up and said, “Chill, my n-gga!” and he was shocked. I said it because I was annoyed but I felt awful as soon as it came out of my mouth. I was tired but that’s no excuse.

It’s a Matter of Respect

While I’ve been trying hard not to use the word, I get frustrated when I see other kids using the word casually among themselves. Toward the end of 8th grade I was heading to a basketball game on the Lower East Side. While I was on the train, an old white man kept calling a few groups of black and Hispanic teens the “n” word and most of them were going back and forth with the white man.

But the complicated part is that before the white man came onto the train most of the black and Hispanic people were either talking to their friends or on the phone and they were using the “n” word over and over again. So when the white man started up I thought: Why would you feel offended when a different race calls you the “n” word but don’t mind when you and your friends are calling each other that?

I gave this a lot of thought and did more reading. I learned that throughout history U.S. senators, congresspeople, and even presidents used it. The “n” word’s been used in 17th-century children’s rhymes like “Teacher, teacher, don’t whip me! Whip that n-gger behind that tree!” The word is still used today to make black people seem like criminals, useless, and less than human. Racist and white supremacist websites are full of the “n” word. I read about one that posted jokes like:

Q: How do you keep n-ggers out of your backyard?
A: Hang one in your front yard.

Q: What do you call a n-gger boy on a bike?
A: Thief!

These jokes really upset me and made me come to the conclusion that by using the “n” word we are being racist toward ourselves. Although I don’t feel offended when friends use it because I know most of them don’t know the history behind it, at the same time I don’t want people to use it because I agree that it’s poisoning the world.

I’ve tried to talk to some of my friends but they’ve just responded with smart remarks and haven’t taken what I say seriously. I feel like black people aren’t respecting themselves when they use it. I think the only way to get the word removed from our culture is if we all stop using it.

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(NYC-2015-11-03)

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