Some black people use the n-word, so why the uproar when a white person says it?

Discussion of the term has peaked again with Papa John's founder John Schnatter resigning after Forbes reported he used the n-word during a media training. "Colonel Sanders called blacks n-----s," Schnatter said, complaining that the KFC founder never received backlash for it. He later issued an apology, but the damage was done.

The pizza tycoon is not alone in haphazardly wielding the n-word. Paula Deen, Madonna, Charlie Sheen, and others have faced scrutiny for using the term, in each case prompting some white people to start questioning who should and shouldn't use it.


Here are some explanations from black folks for why the n-word needs to be off the table for nonblack people.

Ta-Nehisi Coates explained how words can be appropriate or not depending on our relationships.

In 2017, a high school student asked Coates about her white friends singing the n-word as hip-hop lyrics. Coates explained that who you are matters, pointing out that even though his wife calls him "honey," it wouldn't be acceptable for a strange woman on the street to call him that. "The understanding is that I have some sort of a relationship with my wife," he said. "Hopefully, I don't have a relationship with this strange woman."

He also gave several examples of how certain words are used within groups that aren't appropriate for people outside the group. Sometimes his wife's friends will use the word "bitch" in a funny, ironic way toward one another, but Coates doesn't join in. "And perhaps more importantly, I don't have a desire to," he said.  

"We understand that it's normal, actually, for groups to use derogatory terms in an ironic fashion," he continued. "Why is there so much hand-wringing when black people do it?"

Franchesca Ramsey broke down the origin of the word and explained why the history of it matters.

"The n-word comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word for black — 'negro,'" Ramsey explained in a YouTube video:

"How do you take a completely benign word — the word for 'black'— and make it into a slur? Well, you have to look at the word's historical context. The n-word was used to describe black people as they were being stolen from Africa, put into slavery, chained, lynched, beaten, spit upon — so the word was created as a tool of oppression. Its historical context cannot be erased."

Ramsey also touched on how relationships give context for certain behaviors. Football players regularly swat one another on the butt on the field as a form of encouragement, she said, but doing the same to a random person on the street is never OK.

We apply different standards to different groups of people all the time — without claiming that it's unfair.

Franchesca Ramsey. Photo via Bennett Raglin/Getty Images.

Michael Harriot used the analogy of someone making themselves a little too "at home" in your house.

In a hypothetical conversation between two black people, Michael Harriot of The Root explained why the n-word is taken differently when white folks use it:

"But if white people are racist when they use it, then why isn’t it racist when we use it? Take the woman who was onstage with Kendrick Lamar. How can you call her a racist if she uses the n-word in the same exact context Lamar did? It’s just a song, right?

OK. Suppose you came home one day and found someone naked, asleep in your bed. Would you be OK with that?

Of course not.

What if they gained entry because you inadvertently left the door unlocked?

I still wouldn’t be cool with it.

OK. Let’s say you invited someone to your house to watch the game. Instead of knocking, they waltzed in the unlocked door, got naked, took a shit in your bathroom, and crawled in your bed. That would be OK, right?

Absolutely not. People really shit in other people’s houses? That’s nasty and disrespectful.

Why? I bet you’ve done it a million times. How are they being disrespectful if they are only doing the same thing you do all the time?

Because it’s my house. Every idiot knows that.

Exactly."

















Bottom line: As a white person, I don't have the right to use that word — nor do I have the right to tell black folks how to use it.

The n-word is a verbal weapon that was created by white people specifically to harm black people as part of their systematic oppression. That's its origin. We can't change that.

If a black person feels empowered in owning or reclaiming that weapon, it's not my place to say they shouldn't. But seeing that weapon displayed in the home of a white person would have an entirely different feel. One is the historical oppressor and the other is the historically oppressed, and that changes what's appropriate for each.

Some feel that no one should use the n-word, and there is ongoing debate among the black community about the word. But that's not a discussion for white people to insert ourselves into. We don't need to weigh in on this. It's not our debate to have.

The idea that some things don't belong to us is a weird thing for many white people to wrap our brains around.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, white folks tend to assume that we get to make the rules for everyone. We've always held that power, and we're used to having the final say. That's part of the legacy of white supremacy.

The sentiment "If we can't say it, nobody should be able to" is also an extension of white supremacy, and we need to let it go. When a word represents centuries of pain inflicted upon an entire group of people, let's be humble enough to acknowledge that our feelings and opinions are far less important than those directly affected by it.

That seems only fair.  

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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