Casual Racism and the “N Word”: Can We Blame Music for Desensitizing Us?

 Image Credit: Ryersonian.ca

According to a recent survey conducted by BBCNewsbeat, over a quarter of young people think that it is acceptable to use the “N Word” in certain circumstances. What circumstances, exactly, remains unclear.

Swiss from So Solid explained to Newsbeat that he uses the term in his lyrics so that his songs would be

“Hard hitting and tackling the issues.”

The rapper who named a song after the controversial word, goes on to argue that the word is used among the Black community in order to “deflect the stigma” of it as it was once used to segregate people. He does agree; however, that the use of the “N Word” has “Got out of hand” as people don’t fully appreciate it’s history or the meaning behind it.

Swiss’ single not only broke the internet, but stopped it completely; forcing people into tackling an issue that most of us would rather just sweep under the carpet. The track itself references black slavery, quotes Django Unchained and references cases of when the media has reported the term being used in a negative way.

Some artists such as Kanye West appear to thoughtlessly drop the “N-Word” wherever possible in an attempt to “own” it – encouraging all fans, no matter what race, to sing it back to him. Swiss, on the other hand, has put in some serious thought when it comes to his new single and is determined to educate those who may have been using the word without thought.

“It can be a term of endearment or an emotional trigger.

“It can be the difference between jovial and bitter. It depends on how it’s presented, said, spoken delivered. But the expression presents a social dilemma.

“Everybody should understand the historical picture before we ever choose to use the word nigger.”

Radio1 Xtra Rapper, Semtex points out that the context of the word can be confusing when used in Hip Hop, and asked Swiss if he thought that Hip Hop was to blame for the confusion:

“I don’t think hip-hop’s at fault,” replied the rapper. “A lot of negative things are celebrated in our society.I think the word’s got a strange journey. The way our language works if that it can change over time. It has no sort of loyalty to any gender, any race or any time period. Words can change and this is an example. When you speak about people using it today who are ignorant from where it comes from… I don’t think you can just put the blame of hip-hop.”

Despite this, not everyone is comfortable with the over-use of the word. Kanye West used the N Word countless times at The Brits this year; and given the amount of complaints he received, it is safe to say that it made people uncomfortable – though ITV managed to mute most of it’s usage.

It is clear, therefore, that while context has a huge part to play in whether many people find the term offensive – for some the stigma is just too far ingrained. With 13% of young people surveyed being unsure of whether or not the term was offensive, many people don’t know what is acceptable and what is not.

Interestingly over a quarter of young people also said that they thought it was acceptable to hear the word on the radio, even though according to BBC1 Xtra’s Head of Music, Austin Doboh;

“We last played a record that contained the n-word unedited, at 11 o’clock at night on Semtex’s show, who is our hip-hop DJ. On that show, at that time of night, with an audience who would expect to hear that type of language, we felt it was right, on that show, with appropriate warnings around it, to play it.”

Sky, who produced Swiss’ controversial track, went on to add that: “It’s not a race debate. It’s about the word.”