The National Association of Black Journalists sponsored a panel discussion titled “The N-Word in Sports and Hip Hop: Fair or Foul" for students at the University of Memphis on Thursday night in the UC Bluff Room.
Otis Sanford, the panel moderator and a journalism professor, strived to raise awareness of how the use of the N-word continues to spread throughout generations and what affects it has on black people.
An expert panel, comprised of Ron Tillery, Memphis Grizzlies beat writer, Knowledge Nick, local rapper, Martin Ifedi, U of M football player, and Tatianna Ingram, an active student, to elaborate on their perspectives of the N-word in black culture and to talk about personal experiences within society.
Sanford decided that the best place to have this discussion was among the faculty and students at the U of M because of the diversity on campus. It was a way for all cultures to come together and discuss a word that has been linked to hate and racism throughout history.
“I was very pleased with the outcome,” Sanford said , “and with the N-word being a topical issue, this was a great place to have this discussion. This campus is so diverse and the conversation was good and productive.”
The N-word has been a trending topic within the news, an issue in pro sports, and hip hop culture. In his article, “N-word is wrong for anyone,” written for The Commercial Appeal, he discussed the issues in pro sports, which have sparked feuds in the locker room and even coaches who have penalized players for the usage of the word.
Tillery explained a discussion that Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins had with “only” his black players. In his article “Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins puts focus on life, not just basketball,” he talked about the lecture Hollins had with his players about their use of the N-word and how he felt it was used recklessly on and off the court.
Ifedi, whose parents are from Africa, also shared his experiences with the N-word. He spoke about how his coach did the same by having a discussion with all the players regarding this matter.
“He called us in the locker room and told us how it made him uncomfortable, and he did not want us to us to use the word any longer among each other," Ifedi said. "He was very upset and tired of hearing it even if we were just conversing loosely.”
Sanford addressed how the word is inappropriate and the history behind its context, highlighting the double standards of how African Americans use the word toward one another but get offended when it is used by another race.
“It’s OK for friends to say it," he said. "It's OK for rappers to use in lyrics, but where is the fairness?”
Ingram continued with how she believes that black people are not educated about the truth behind the word and how history is becoming just a reminder of why blacks should continue to be inferior.
“The N-word is used as a distraction just to hide the real truth and using that word to makes us hate one another," Ingram said.
Students also got a chance to participate in the discussion by expressing their feelings and personal experiences with the use of the N-word. Blacks and whites alike had been affected by the word and the comparisons it had with other negative terms, like ignorance or being illiterate. They stood before others and gave scenarios and even reasons why they believed the word should be eradicated from the English language.
Rapper Knowledge Nick addressed this concern because he admits to using the word in some of his lyrics. However, he researched the term and informed the audience how the term was not meant to be offensive, but also derives from African cultures.
He believes people should have confidence and stop answering to a word that makes them inferior. Although he agrees words can hurt, he encourages people to be more secure and not give the word any power.
“Some people answer to the N-word like it is their name," he said. “But get mad when it is used in the negative context. We have to stop giving this word emphasis and be secure with ourselves.”
Sanford feels the problem will never be solved and the continuance of the use of the N-word comes from the younger generation not understanding because they did not live during the times where the word was highly offensive. He hopes more students seek the knowledge of the history behind the word and understand how the word should not be a part of anyone’s vocabulary.
“Because of the generation gap, this destructive word will continue unless we educate those by having more seminars like this and raise awareness of its context,” Sanford said.