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  • Albert M. Carter, M.Ed.

Why I'm not using the N-Word: Social Identity Theory

Social identity theory deals with the way that people's self-concepts are based on their membership in social groups. The theory “considers how group membership is incorporated into our self-concept and how this affects our views of other members and nonmembers of our groups as well as members of rival groups.” (Social Identity Theory) As we should all very well know, the transatlantic slave trade mixed with past and present colonialism and neocolonialism have essentially recreated how race is defined within the global African community. We should also note that the language of race, in America, has been ingrained in everything from law and education, to art and culture. We must acknowledge and direct our focus to how significant this language is when it comes to what we identify with and how we identify with it. Which is why I will no longer use the N-word.



Throughout American history, simply being of African descent seemed to have automatically degraded us to a lower social-economic status that is reflected by systematic policies with racially charged undertones. These once openly racist policies, that excluded our full participation in society, continue to haunt us even after the language of these policies has changed. While we are seeing various social movements (Black Lives Matter, BAJI, Etc.) organized and executed by blacks across the globe, intending to disrupt and transform current racial and class inequalities, we still have a long way to go. 


With President 45 in office, we’ve seen a significant split between totalitarian white control and black communities, as white people continue to exercise their dominance over political and economic resources. African communities continue to suffer at the hands of negative representation within the media, education, politics, business, and culture, that help create a negative narrative of blacks. There has been one word that has been at the forefront of this negative narrative, and that's the word Nigger (or Nigga for all the so-called cool kids). Identifying with this word is consciously or unconsciously not only acknowledging the negative narrative but also accepting the narrative of a racial hierarchy. In black communities, this word has come to mean a term of endearment but also creates an unconscious belief in negative stereotypes within a racial classification system. 


It’s been shown through research that black people who strongly positively identify with their group, tend to have greater self-esteem and fewer depressive symptoms. However, when blacks who internalize the racism that is portrayed to them through negative representations (i.e. media, education, politics, business, and culture), tend to be more self-destructive and have higher depressive symptoms. The question here becomes which “we” do your “I” identify with, the negative or the positive. 


Research has shown that Africans in the Americas “who feel strongly connected to a broader African community are more likely than those who don’t to have engaged with organizations dedicated to improving the lives of African Americans by donating money, attending events or volunteering their time.” (www.pewresearch.org) To gain power and equal the playing field, we have to identify with a positive collective identity. Once a common positive identity is obtained, we increase favoritism and decrease discrimination. When social identities are a focal point, group stereotypes exist, and as we know intergroup differences can help to mitigate prejudices. So perhaps if we stop using the N-word, we can add to this ever-present reality of the current social justice movement. The pain, hurt and all around negative connotation around this word needs to end.

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