More than sticks and stones

Charles Barkley/Michael Wilbon

It's impossible to pinpoint when the N-word became black America's most cherished possession. But that fact is now impossible to deny.

We have reached the point where it wouldn't surprise me to see Jay Z or another prominent black celebrity call for a Million N-word March on Washington to stop the tepid, informal debate regarding the appropriateness of black people using the slur. Black people's right to call each other the N-word is now akin to protecting our rights to vote and to sit anywhere on a bus.

"This national debate that's going on right now makes me uncomfortable," Charles Barkley said Thursday night on TNT during a segment discussing Clippers guard Matt Barnes angrily tweeting the N-word after being ejected from a game. "I'm a black man. I use the N-word. I will continue to use the N-word among my black friends, with my white friends."

ESPN's Michael Wilbon actually kicked off the nationally televised defense of the N-word.

"People can be upset with me if they want," he said on "Pardon the Interruption." "I, like a whole lot of people, use the N-word all day every day my whole life. ... I have a problem with white people framing the discussion for the use of the N-word."

Barkley, who has written two books with Wilbon, praised Wilbon's perspective.

"White America don't get to dictate how me and Shaq talk to each other," Barkley said.

This is what I was referring to last week when I wrote that black American culture has been turned upside down and corrupted by mass incarceration, the destruction of the traditional family unit and commercial hip-hop music. The impact of these corrosive forces can be seen in the values and perspective of African-Americans across economic and class lines. We have a new normal. As it relates to the N-word, Barkley and Wilbon, like many African-Americans, have adapted to the new normal. The N-word is a cherished possession.

We have bought the false narrative promoted by rappers and the corporations that pay rappers to make black-denigration music that the N-word has been stripped of its power to denigrate. We foolishly believe that religiously using the slur given to us by enslavers who saw us as subhuman is a righteous act of defiance against The Man.

Think about it. Imagine Kunta Kinte in "Roots" hanging from a tree being beaten by the overseer for refusing to take the name Toby. Fast-forward 200 years and imagine a well-intentioned white person counseling a young black man to avoid adopting the slur given to him by a white bigot. A fight would break out.

"Give me the N-word, or give me death!"

The N-word is a not a generational issue. The N-word was never a fad. It was a primary tool in the enslavement, disenfranchisement and cultural destruction of a race of people.

That is the battle cry being sounded out of fear that Roger Goodell and David Stern might make the appropriate choice to define their workplaces as slur-free zones.

"What I do with my black friends is not up to white America to dictate to me," Barkley said. "The language we use in the locker room, sometimes it's sexist, sometimes it's homophobic, and a lot of times it's racist. We do that when we're joking with our teammates, and it's nothing personal."

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