The N-Word is Like an Employee-Only Break Room

Why is this even a thing that we still have to talk about? We live in a society that is so worried about being non-offensive, careful with our words and making sure we do our best to celebrate and respect cultural differences. But for some reason, people still don’t understand why some folks can say the N-word and others don’t have the privilege or right.

I used the word “privilege” very intentionally, because this has a lot to do with it. In the midst of such an accepting period of time, a good amount of people still feel entitled to do whatever they darn well please, but this is a fallacy—no one has the right just to do WHATEVER they want to do. And also important to mention, many can do almost anything they’d like, but have to realize there will be consequences to their actions. I always think about Kat Williams in his comedy act where he says: “You can go in the club and say ‘f#@! everybody in the club’ but you can not then walk back to your car. I keep tryna tell you, go ‘head! Try it, try it! … wait for it…” Pop!

I just hope I can help a few more people avoid getting “popped”!

So, no. You CANNOT say or do everything under the sun, and if you do something that others don’t agree with, you will be called on it—or worse. I think the best way to explain the N-word is by thinking of an employee-only area of a store. You might be a customer, you might be a consumer, but you are not an employee. You can visit any other area of the store with no problem, but the employee-only break room is off limits. And that concept is not difficult to understand. No one goes to a store and requests to speak to a manager to explain why they can’t go to that area of the building because it is already an understood rule.

When employees are in their designated lounge, they are able to feel comfortable, talk freely with their coworkers about ridiculous customers, problems they are facing, and overall be able to candidly express themselves without censorship or correction. Maybe the employees visit the lounge on their fifteen-minute break or lunch period, or maybe they decide to go outside for a brisk walk. Either way, they still have the right to go to that employee-only break room, because they are an employee.

Listen, if your friend is an employee and sneaks you in the employee-only break room, and allows you to hang out back there with them, then that’s on them; that is you and your friend’s dirty little secret! But you wouldn’t go to that break room if your employee friend wasn’t there with you. If you aren’t an employee and you just walk in and plop down on a seat by yourself when your friend isn’t there, the actual employees would look at you with a “WTF” expression and ask you what you are doing and tell you to get the heck out. They might be a little more pleasant and direct you back to the customer-privileged area, but don’t expect that generosity at all.

And maybe you’re like, “Hey! My great-great-great-grandparents built this company centuries ago!” But that still doesn’t give you any rights to the employee-only break room, because they also sold the company centuries ago. That’s just weird. That’s like going to your preschool and joining the class because you were a student there once before… but now you’re thirty-six, and you attended that school decades ago, and you look really weird.

All in all, this is just one of those “things” of which we have to be aware. It’s social etiquette to respect the wishes of others who might become offended by your language—there doesn’t have to be any explanation. If saying or doing something is overall universally offensive, just don’t do it! Like, would you call your grandma the C-word? No, right? Or maybe you would… but I hope not.

As a (half) Black woman, one of my weirdest fears is a person who is close to me will be revealed as racist. I have had friends whose parents were racist, I’ve worked with prejudiced co-workers, and it’s very discomforting. My mom’s side of the family is from Fort Worth, Texas so I’ve always been conditioned to believe if a non-Black person says the N-word, they are racist.  I can recall several times in my life during intense instances where I’ve wondered if a person would call me the N-word in the heat of the moment. Quick story: My coworker is a Warriors season-ticket holder, and he took me to the Warriors’ opening night once (no, I’m NOT sleeping with him 🙂 ) for my birthday. He told me I had to be “hookin it” (looking REALLY good, not being a hooker!) if he took me. I obliged his request and didn’t think much of it. So, I added a few clip-in extensions, had on my lashes and thigh-high boots, looking flawless to the infinity power. It wasn’t until we pulled up to Oracle Arena that he tells me his ex (who I have learned over the years to be a psychopath and stalker) was a season-ticket holder as well, and her seats were IN THE NEXT SECTION OVER!!! Well you know, I’m from the Bay Area, so I was like, “You need to point her out to me so I can stunt, but also so that if someone tries to jump me in the bathroom and I go off, I know who I’m beating up!”

When she comes in, she’s giving me the stare of death. Our eyes meet and this was probably one of the top ten awkwardest moments of my life. The game went on and we leave, with thankfully no altercation.

Until I talk to my coworker the next day.

Yeah, the woman hated every ounce of my being. My coworker had blocked her number, so she resulted to emailing him. She called me almost every name in the book, but what I told my co-worker was this: “As long as she didn’t call me the N-word, I’m all right!” Here I am, being what I think to be one of the baddest chicks in the whole arena, strutting in the spot with sexy thigh-high boots, sitting in better seats than this woman with the ex-boo she is still crazy about, and yet I’m worried she didn’t like me because I’m Black. It’s crazy, but because I’ve dealt with such situations before, it’s like muscle memory for my feelings. And that’s something I have to deal with, and hopefully one day shake.

This is why I don’t want a non-Black person to say the N-word: because so many people still use this word to propose hate and disdain, and it’s too hard to decipher who intends to be playful, and who intends to be hurtful. If you’re my friend, I expect for you to resist behavior that I would consider disrespectful or harmful, as I would do the same.

There are somewhere around a quarter of a million words in the English language, and people make up new words and slang all the time. I think that the people out there who are having a tiff over this—over being able to use just one of these hundreds of thousands of words—need to slacken their fit of pique (see, I could have just said “chill out,” but there are so many words to choose from that I don’t have to feel limited).

It’s one word that’s off limits—get over it!