"White men are getting in trouble for saying the wrong words," Chris Rock once famously observed. And most recently, for both white men and women, the "N" word will always be that inevitably wrong one in question. While the word itself has undeniably racist roots, the semantics of using the term are far from black and white, a fact that was once again raised when Gwyneth Paltrow used it in a tweet last week. "N****s In Paris for real," she tweeted, leaving the Internet talking heads to pick sides on the thorny issue.
The "N" word is a complex issue, even amongst the people who feel racially entitled to use it. While "context is everything" is the golden rule for similarly offensive words (though, we'd argue few hold the same historical weight), for the "N" word, context is only a small part of the story. Motivations for use aside, there's also the issue of who gets to use it (People of mixed race? People who live in certain neighborhoods?), when they get to use it (Are song titles a "pass"? Historical literature? Lyrics?), and, of course, whether the word should be used at all. Maya Angelou argues the word is "vulgar and dangerous" and contends it shouldn't be used by anyone, even black people.
Regardless of what the answer might be (if a definitive one even exists), we can assuredly state one thing: If you're white, and the word tumbles out of your mouth, the water you land in will be beyond tepid. Without further debate, we present to you: The History of White Celebrities Using the "N" Word.
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)