OPINION: The “N-Word Pass?” I’ll pass.

It’s a word that constantly lurks in the crevices of conversations of all colors, itching to be typed out in a social media post as a “joke.”

It’s commonly seen in greeting.

It’s hurled out in a flurry of racist anger.

And nowadays, it’s heard when a person has received a pass to say it.

It’s the N-word. 

The common saying of “One step forward, two steps backwards” continues to represent humanity as society pushes the normalization of the N-word and its use. The N-word is a part of a disease that continues to infect some young people’s vocabulary.

Now a new strain of bacteria has developed and continues to fester in conversations. 

The “N-word pass.”  

According to the “N-Word Pass,” non-black students may ask permission of a black student to use a racially-charged word in a positive way when the word itself is generally associated with some of the more negative aspects of American history. Photo by Kennedy Keaton.

Non-black peers who have asked for permission to say the N-word and African-American teenagers who allow them to both use the same shell of an excuse — that it’s somehow okay because it’s a joke.

But it’s not a funny one.

You can spray all the perfume you want onto a pile of garbage, but the stench of the past will always remain. 

The decaying smell of the rotting flesh of my dead ancestors remains. 

The death of my people should not be part of any “joke.”  

The N-word pass began as a joke, the bacteria making its first appearance on a post called the “N-word Privileges” on the website TV Tropes. Instead of losing steam, the joke resurfaced on Urban Dictionary when a user defined the N-word pass as “an unwritten pass that allows you to say the N-word ONCE!”  

The joke gained further traction during 2019, when a Reddit user uploaded an edited picture of Barack Obama granting permission to say the N-word. 

Many online users began to litter the Internet with this trashy joke, and piles of it could be seen on Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter. Unfortunately, the sickness transferred from an online presence to a social one, infecting teenagers around the world. 

In a social context, a non-black student — when in the company of his or her black friends — will ask for a pass to say the N-word. Then, if one is permitted to, the word can only be said during gatherings with those specific people. Yet there are many who don’t follow this rule, and the word will get used around those who did not initially give out the pass. 

Not as if the pass permits it in the first place.

Some would argue that by turning the N-word into a joking matter, they have power over the word and the connotation of it magically becomes positive. 

A point can be made that when the N-word is pronounced without the hard R, it has new meaning for whoever’s saying it, but the pronunciation doesn’t matter — not in the context of this pass. 

The word has existed for far too long with its negative connotations that simply changing the slight pronunciation of it cannot give the word some beautiful, newly-recognized meaning.

Where’s the power that the pass is supposed to provide? 

Where’s the positive connotation that the pass is meant to invoke? 

Where’s the power in allowing someone who is not African-American say a word that is so historically associated with hate?

To what extent are you offended by the “N-word pass?”

Poll based on a cross-section of East students

Here we are in the present time, still trying to make a joke out of the experience so many African-Americans endured and through blood, sweat, and tears — some got to the other side. 

This is a “joke” that coincides with the downfall of my people and it’s shameful and troubling to see how indifferent many of my peers are about this topic.

 A single word that shot bullets into the ears of black people as they were being chased by dogs, pursued black people as whips intended to slice open their already tortured skin, and now continues to mow down young black men by authoritative officers of the law.

It’s shameful to see the African-Americans today allowing others permission to use a derogatory word when 100 years ago black people would certainly not be saying, “Sure, go ahead and call me the N-word! I’m giving you a free pass!”

Fifty-seven years ago in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a passionate letter that described how white people never referenced black people by their first name. Not seen as humans, black people became nameless entities to the eyes of white people. Labelled like cans of food, the first name of all black people became the N-word. Yet as a society, we’re regressing right back into the same hurtful habit of calling each other the N-word.

We are repeating history. 

In today’s day and age, every time the N-word pass is brought up, a knife gets stabbed into the remembrance and the importance of black history. 

Today, the halls of Oswego East thrive with diversity as black students intermingle with white students making their way to class, and cultural diversity such as this goes far beyond the black & white subject of this piece within the hallways of this school. Sixty-three years ago, the halls of Central High School in Little Rock boiled with hatred and segregation, where whites would pelt the N-word at African-American students.    

Stories like these and thousands more showcase the trials and tribulations blacks went through in dealing with the N-word constantly being thrown at them. 

And this is something that should never be forgotten — especially now — when the harsh power of this word is downplayed by non-black people with a sense of joy or laughter. 

Some would suggest that the now-somehow-positive use of the N-word demonstrates the need for black Americans to simply “get the joke.”

Laugh a little.

Move on.

What they fail to comprehend is that “moving on” is precisely what the use of the pass prohibits black Americans from doing.

The word is simply too entrenched in hatred in America’s past.

So I’ll pass.

Kennedy Keaton is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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