To Conversate | Ta-Nehisi Coates
Damn, the motherfucker is spot on!
A significant part of understanding language, is understanding the context it’s used in. The chair of a meeting, is not the same as the chair in your living room. Moreover, “You motherfucker!” is not “You’re a motherfucker,” is not “He called you a motherfucker,” is not “That’s my motherfucker, right there.” The last is collegial and complementary, and works, at least in part, by irony. The same is true when black people use nigger, as a positive descriptive. It works because of a kind of intra-group irony.
I would not lobby for white people using such irony, anymore than I’d lobby for my right to positively describe a gay man as a faggot, or compliment a woman by calling her a bitch. I can’t justify that by pointing out that gay men and women use those words, anymore than I can justify calling some a woman on the street “honey” because her husband calls her that. Words depend on relationships. My departed grandmother used to call my father “Billy.” I would sooner call the coroner than call my Pops “Billy.”
But that’s about how words are used, and not a total ban. At some point we have to start accepting that black people have the critical faculties to distinguish between someone trying to insult us (“Niggers go home!”) and someone trying to describe something to us (“The sign said “Niggers go home!”) I actually believe that a lot of black people are already there.