The 'N-Word' On Trial - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

From Anchor Tony McEwing

The 'N-Word' On Trial

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Use of the N-word has been an increasing source of controversy the past few years. The debate has not been so much about the use of the word against blacks by members of other ethnic groups. Such behavior is almost universally condemned as demeaning and offensive. Rather, much of the talk has surrounded use of the N-word by African Americans when directed toward or referencing other black people.

Personally, I don't use the N-word. I would not be comfortable using it when referring to myself or other African Americans, even in casual conversation with other black people. Obviously, other African Americans feel very differently. It's not unusual to hear black people using it as a term of endearment or sometimes out of frustration and even in anger in a derogatory manner. How the term is used among African Americans varies, depending on the situation and the context. A word created to make a race of people feel less than human has ironically become ingrained in black culture, speech and entertainment.

Many African Americans feel that by appropriating the N-word ourselves, we rob it of its power and take the sting out of its use. However, others believe it is the perpetuation of a hideous practice more indicative of self loathing than any strategy to eviscerate the term.

Whatever side of this issue you fall on, as far as I know, the use of the N-word by a black person toward another black person has never been put on trial, until now. In New York, a federal jury soundly rejected the argument that the use of the N-word among blacks is culturally acceptable when it is used in the workplace. The jury was clear. Using the word at work is hostile and discriminatory, even when its black-on-black. The case involved Rob Carmona, who is black, and the employment agency he founded in East Harlem. One of his employees, Brandi Johnson, who is also black, taped a conversation between the two of them where Carmona repeatedly used the N-word when referring to her workplace attire and unprofessional behavior. Johnson says she was so offended and upset that she later cried for 45 minutes in the restroom.

In a nutshell, Carmona's lawyer told jurors that any argument suggesting using the word in this black-on-black context is offensive is "simply ridiculous." But the jury didn't agree. Not only did the jurors award Johnson $250,000 in compensatory damages but another $30,000 in punitive damages.

Whatever your opinion, the fact is, the N-word is not a black and white issue ( no pun intended). It's rarely just a matter of using it or not using it, how much, when, where or by whom. It involves a wide array of emotions, intellectual and philosophical points of view, history and cultural experiences. It can get very complicated. That being said, what seems to be clear, at least to one jury, is that using the N-word in the workplace is at the very least inappropriate and could very well cost you in a court of law.

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