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N-Word, the world of Tik Tok and cancel culture

A forbidden but still overused word. The web is intransigent, but are there some margins?

By Francesca Parravicini

There is a word in the English language that has a particularly cursed history. A word with a profoundly and undeniably negative meaning, which, however, it seems impossible not to run into, especially if you are on social media. We are talking about the N-Word.

The N-Word is a euphemism for the derogatory term (which of course we will not write here) used to connote people of color. It’s a slur, a term that expresses a negative judgment towards certain categories of people, for example from a racial or sexual point of view (nothing new).

Now we go back through the annals of history to find its origins, in the mid-16th century: the etymology derives from a series of Spanish, Portuguese and French words that indicate the term “black” and initially had a neutral meaning; in the 17th century it began to be used as a synonym to define the slaves brought to the American colonies and took on a strongly racist undertone. Black = slave = less than human and literature is full of testimonies of the thousand derogatory uses  of this word.

Then there is the delicate question of who uses this word: some parts of the black community, in particular the one linked to the world of hip hop, have re-appropriated the term in its colloquial version, using it as a term of recognition, a a bit like LGBT + groups have taken up the term Queer: it’s about taking something negative and turning it around, with a sort of pride or more simply using it as a term of recognition, of definition of a category, to which it is necessary to belong in order to understand the situation.

Obviously, the N-Word can be found in an infinite amount of songs written by black artists, such as Cardi B, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, songs that then end up as the background for videos on Tik Tok. And here comes the problem: sometimes the Tik Tokers (white in this case) end up pronouncing it or mimicking it. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Barbie (@nickiminaj)

The phenomenon has become so “popular” that it is almost a meme: Youtube is just full of compilations of Tik Toker pronouncing the N-Word. If the phenomenon is closely linked to the American context, we can mention some Italian examples, such as those of Marta Losito and Elisa Maino, criticized for using the word in their videos.

Now we can make a couple of considerations. The fact that the N-Word is a word with an absolutely negative connotation (apart from the cases we have mentioned) and it should not be used is undeniable.

Regarding social media and in particular Tik Tok, the public is extremely receptive and ready to criticize and censor those who use this word. On the one hand, this certainly testifies to the profound sensitivity of the new generations to issues of inclusion and respect; sometimes, however, the so-called cancel culture, which undertakes to literally eliminate those who express potentially controversial concepts, takes on extremist tones, where it is no longer important to do a “good deed”, but to criticize a person, for the sake of demolishing it or obtaining a following.

Even those who claim to be the best activist are not spotless. Often due to ignorance, cultural conditioning, we run into offensive language. To give a contextual example, if in America the meaning of the word is very well-known, it is less known in Italy, for obvious linguistic and cultural reasons.

What matters is the intention. We must never stop creating activism, debate, bringing to light issues that often belong to minorities. But the mission must not become more important than the message. We are all wrong and it is inevitable, because it is part of being human.

There is always something to learn.

@alex.sless

#citygirls #fyp #LiftandSnatchBrow @by.ron7

♬ original sound - Alex