Black Student Union hosts forum on the use of the N-word

Jacquelyn C. Hampton

Students listen at the Black Student Union's (BSU) "N-Word" forum Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Hampton / Staff Reporter
Students listen at the Black Student Union's (BSU) "N-Word" forum Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Hampton / Staff Reporter

The thought of terminating the use of N-word left some students and panelists doubtful Nov. 3 at the Black Student Union’s (BSU) “N-Word” Forum held in the Black House.

Terrence Stewart, president of the BSU, said the purpose of the forum was to create consciousness and question the use of the N-word in black communities.

Dr. Anthony Ratcliff, a panelist and professor in the Pan African Studies (PAS) department, admits to the struggle he has with the use of the N-word.

“I’m extremely ambivalent about the term. Growing up, it’s definitely a term utilized a lot in the communities I ran with. I think I still catch myself sometimes saying it,” Ratcliff said.

He believes language has the ability to construct a person’s perception. It’s important for people to recognize this, and the best way to do that is through dialogue, Ratcliff said, after almost half the room admitted to using the N-word.

Ratcliff said n—er was a term primarily used during slavery to regulate Black people. Despite today’s Black youth having flipped the term to n—a, which some feel is positive, it’s still one of those words, when spoken, that creates discomfort, he said.

“If you’re going to use it as a term of endearment, how do you take it away from that historical meaning,” Ratcliff said.

Josh Thompson, a junior business law major, said that as a child he was taught, “it’s not what you’re called, it’s what you answer to.” Thompson said he would not answer to either n—a or n—er.

“No matter what suffix is on the end of that word, the connotation is still the same,” he said.

Thompson acknowledged he doesn’t use the N-word. He also focused on comedians who use the term in their shows. He said if they repeatedly say the N-word, as if it is OK, he just turns the channel.

“We are now in the state of mind where we justify the word, and we are quick to forget that our ancestors, and people who came before us, were beaten, they were lynched; they did this so we would not be called (the N-word), and now we use (the N-word) as a term of endearment. It’s like their struggle, so that now we can progress in life, is in vain,” Thompson said.

BSU secretary, Justin Marks, stressed the importance of educating people on the word.

One student, Frances Rosenberg, a sophomore cultural anthropology major, said she is Latina and is in disbelief whenever she hears other Latinos say the N-word.

A lot of people didn’t understand the history of African-Americans and the N-word until they took a PAS class at CSUN, Romica Silas, junior political science major and panelist, said.

“Education is why we are here, and it’s up to us to disseminate this information to the rest…” Marks said.

The BSU created a written N-word contract for their members to sign. BSU vice-president Ebony Conley encouraged those in attendance to sign the contract. While this contract does not deliberately ask the individual signing it to refrain from using the N-word, it does cover some historical context. It mainly focuses on consciousness and accountability.

Ratcliff said it might be unrealistic to expect people to stop using the N-word completely. By having an open discussion, it creates awareness of the word and its history in America, specifically with black people.

The BSU plans to display the signed N-Word contracts in the Black House.