2nd September 2020
By Hannah Storm

When journalists are considering whether to use the N-word, they need to consider what its use means to black people.

By Al Hassan Peter Kamara

The N-word has been used for as long as I can remember.

Coming from an African background with a mother who disapproved of bad language, it was a word I knew I couldn’t use myself

My first encounter was from hearing my brother’s rap music. I asked him what it meant. He said it was a word used to degrade black people but which was then taken and used by blacks as a counter-attack against racists. For example, NWA, a group from Compton, used it in gangsta rap. This confused me but I could hear the pride in the voice of the rappers.

My first negative encounter came from playing outside with some Irish kids in my area. We had always had a good relationship but one day I tackled one of the lads in football and he fell over. He jumped up, pushed me and called me ‘a stupid n…’. At once I felt disrespected and belittled. The game stopped. The Irish lad was supported by his Irish friends and my black friends said I could never let anybody who isn’t black say that to me because they are basically treating me like I’m less of a human.

So my understanding of the word was that black people could say it but nobody else was permitted to do so. It made me wonder;  if you had mixed parents could your white parent say it? If it is in a song, can anybody enjoy singing it? It was confusing policing the use of the word. But I knew that if the wrong person used it in the wrong way, you couldn’t allow it or you would look weak. It was an unwritten law which everyone knew.
Over the years, I’ve seen people from other ethnic groups become immersed in hip hop and grime and other aspects of black culture, like fashion, hairstyles and even Jamaican slang. Those are positive but there is still so much that is negative about the way black people are seen. Ending the use of the N-word would be great. Personally, I would like to be called Nubian.

Author Photo

Al Hassan Peter Kamara is a Black Muslim and grew up in Shepherds Bush, West London. He is a freelance Researcher/investigative Journalist working on BBC3 Docs and has also made several independent films.

Main image from Shutterstock Image ID: 1155426682