Hayley Serpa/Staff Writer
Last week, on September 15, a viral TikTok of two FIU softball players cheerfully singing the N-word circulated Twitter after various black students called the irresponsible students out. The disrespectful video, now removed from Tik Tok by the owner, has created a discussion on social media about the usage of the N-word, why it should or shouldn’t be used, and most importantly, who can use the slur.
The posting of the video coincides with the recent reigniting of the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide. The primary goal of BLM is to bring further awareness of the plight of black people in the United States and demonstrate how systematic racism in our government has disproportionately affected African Americans, as seen in the killing of George Floyd in late May of this year.
Yet, the two main women who appear in the video seemed to have been completely unaware of the current political climate we find ourselves in and the longtime problems that black people have consistently faced in the U.S. Instead, they post a “cute” and “funny” video saying a slur that has historically been always used to denigrate black people and that has only recently been reclaimed by African-Americans and added into popular culture and music.
Now, for most privileged white people, including myself as a white Hispanic, it can be quite difficult to grasp the true extent of how harmful slurs are, as well as the power of the individual speaking it. What really put it into perspective for me was the common Peruvian slur of “cholo,” or “serrano.”
Much like the N-word, these terms had historically been used by the conquering Spaniards to refer to the indigenous groups in a discriminatory manner. Nowadays, they are commonly used between Peruvians in the same way that one in Miami would call their friend “bro,” or “dude.” It has been completely reclaimed to empower the indigenous victims of European colonizers.
Yet, whenever a lighter-skinned Peruvian like me tries to call a darker-skinned Peruvian by the reclaimed slur, the shared blood is forgotten. I am reminded of my privilege as a white person, and can see how much more power the same words have when I say them. This has taught me that words can be very powerful, especially when the power of the word itself is supported by years of white privilege.
This realization of the power my voice holds as a white person has led me to believe in the—some would say ridiculous—notion that non-black people should not say the N-word at all. Just because the slur has been reclaimed by the victims of the usage of that slur does not mean that the slur’s status has been somehow sickly promoted to that of an acceptable word.
The N-word continues being a slur when coming out of the mouths of non-black people and continues being offensive even when used in a song. It is even more racist insensitive, and offensive when it is proudly posted on a social media platform as a joke, with no thought of the very real situation black people find themselves in.
Too many people have the misguided idea that a word can only have one definition or can only be used in a certain way. If you are a student, you know that this is far from the truth. Not only can words have several meanings, but when used by different individuals, they can mean different things and hold different connotations.
When a black person sings or raps the N-word, that is their right as the victim of the slur form of that word. They have taken that word back from their oppressors, hence the term “reclaimed slur.” When a white person sings or raps the N-word, they are completely ignoring the very real history that exists behind non-black people using that word to discriminate against suffering African-Americans.
Not only has the N-word been used in the past to discriminate against black people; it is still used today as a slur. Many individuals forget that it was only in the 1960’s, the years some of our parents and grandparents were born, that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal civil rights between white people and black people. Racism against black people is still prevalent both inside the U.S. and internationally.
The viral TikTok video showing members of FIU’s softball team, official representations of the university, singing along to a slur is a shame for the entire university community. Even worse was FIU’s response in only sanctioning the two primary antagonizers to completing a social justice course. This does little to protect the large, multiracial, multiethnic community of students at FIU.
At the very least, the two students who participated should not be allowed to continue on the softball team due to their inability to represent the diversity and inclusion our community should strive to be known for.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Featured image from Victor Rosen on Flickr.