The Do's and Do Not's of the N Word (with Deesha Philyaw & Panama Jackson) | Crooked Media
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March 02, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
The Do's and Do Not's of the N Word (with Deesha Philyaw & Panama Jackson)

In This Episode

The athletic director of Albany State University, a Georgia-based HBCU, is resigning after offering a scholarship to a white football player who said the n-word on video.

 

Award winning author Deesha Philyaw joins Damon for a conversation to talk about the N-word, how they both learned how to use the n-word to use it, and how they use it today.

 

Then, writer and podcast host Panama Jackson, comes on to answer some uncomfortable truths around interracial relationships.

 

Send your questions, confessions and/or conundrums in for consideration to be responded to on the podcast at deardamon@crooked.com.

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Deesha Philyaw: So here’s the thing. I am loathe to say it, but I will text it. [laughter] I will. I will text it [laughter] just the word with three dots. [laughter] That is like— 

 

Damon Young: Like nigga. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Stop playing with me. 

 

Damon Young: Nigga. [laughter] Well, and again that in it’s a way it’s a way to cut through the bullshit. So when you text nigga, it’s like, oh—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: —this is serious. I’m for real now. Like, come on [laughter] nigga, nigga, please. Come on. What’s up? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: But yeah, and that’s so strange. I think it’s. It’s something about saying it. Even when I have said it in a rap song or otherwise, it just doesn’t feel right in my mouth. But texting it, no problem. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: Welcome back, everyone to Stuck with Damon Young, the show where some of you out there listening just can’t say my favorite word. I mean, you could say it, it’s a free country or whatever. But there might be consequences to repercussions. Some problems you just don’t want. So on today’s show, we touch on the absurd and dumb as all the fucks fallout from Albany State University, an HBCU in Georgia, offering a scholarship to a white high school quarterback dropped from his scholarship from the University of Florida for saying nigga. So joining me will be my friend, award winning author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw. She’s a linguistic genius and she’s from the South. And I know she has a very complex and nuanced relationship with that word. And so we talk about the rules, rhythms and regulations of it. And also, you know, answer some questions like, when did we first use it? Why do we use it? Is there a difference between using it over text or out loud? And how do we feel about the fact that some of us are still extremely uncomfortable with that were being a part of our lexicon, and then later a homie, a partner, my nigga, Panama Jackson, co-founder of VerySmartBrothas, a columnist at TheGrio, joins me to help prevent a white woman from scaring her son’s new Black girlfriend away. All right y’all. Let’s get it. [music plays] Deesha.

 

Deesha Philyaw: Damon. 

 

Damon Young: What’s going on. What’s good?

 

Deesha Philyaw: It’s all good here in Mississippi. Said no one ever. But. [laughter] 

 

Damon Young: Wow. So are you familiar with this Marcus Stokes situation? Do you know who that is? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: I didn’t until the story broke. But now I do. 

 

Damon Young: Now you do. So, quick refresh. He was a star quarterback out of Florida, was signed to the University of Florida. Right. And ended up getting the scholarship rescinded because he was caught on camera rapping the lyrics to a rap song that had nigga in it. Right. So they took away his scholarship. That was a big story. And then a few months ago, Albany State, an HBCU in Georgia, offered him a full ride. [laughter] Right. And then—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Twilight Zone music. 

 

Damon Young: And again, why niggas got to be like the janitors for white sloppiness. I don’t know why we got to volunteer to like, no, we will clean up your mess. We allow you to make another mess. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: That’s the choice. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: You know, so after a predictable social media uproar, the scholarship offer was rescinded. And then just last week, I think the athletic director, whose name was Tony Duckworth, was let go. So twists and turns. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And the athletic director— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: He’s white. 

 

Damon Young: Is white. And you have two of the Blackest named [laughter] white people because Marcus Stokes sounds like a nigga. [laughter] Tony Duckworth sounds like a nigga. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Yes. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: So this is just a completely. And Quinn Gray who is the Black coach [laughter] right sounds like a white man. So, again, you just, you just have just a circus of disconcerting racial linguistics happening right here. Deesha, what the fuck? What’s going on? Can you explain this to me? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: I’m from Florida, so first of all, I was shocked that the University of Florida took away a scholarship. I’m not saying that was the wrong thing to do. I’m just shocked that they did it. 

 

Damon Young: Agree. I don’t want this to be misconstrued as me giving carte blanche to white boys, white women, whatever repeating rap lyrics with that word in it. But honestly, I did not think that was enough to take away a scholarship, and it just made me think like there must have been. They wanted to get rid of this kid. They wanted to get rid of this kid because that just didn’t feel like enough for a school, like Florida, Florida State, Miami, Alabama, Texas to take away a scholarship. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: You know, I mean, for some white quarterback. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Absolutely. 

 

Damon Young: And so. Albany State comes through. [laughs]

 

Deesha Philyaw: Quinn Gray.

 

Damon Young: Wait is it the alias or alter ego? That’s his alter ego. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Alter ego. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. And he’s like, Captain Save A Wigger but his alter ego is Quinn Gray. Okay, we got it. All right. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, and his flag is just a picture of Ed Jones. Right. [laughter] I’m not playing—

 

Deesha Philyaw: I’m not playing. It really is a picture of Ed Jones. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: All right. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Perfect. 

 

Damon Young: But I guess that this story just gets into a little trickier, a little messier politic about, you know, that word, particularly like the rules behind its use, you know, and Black artists use it frequently in rap songs and R&B songs also now, too. And so I will admit, I could see how like an 11 or 12 year old white person who isn’t schooled in the rules and in [indistinct] discourse might think as okay. But I think that by the time you’re like a senior in high school—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: —you should fucking know by the time you’re that age, you should fucking know. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: I’m sure he knew. And then recording it. That’s how they rebel. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah it’s like a way of being subversive and— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: You know, it reminds me of this time like fifteen years ago, I was hanging out with some boys. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And there’s, like, 15 of us, except for one white boy. Mm hmm. And we’re, like, telling stories, and then a white boy. It’s his turn for story time. And this is a white boy who hooped, he dated Black girls, he even looked like Jon B. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: He thought he had a pass. 

 

Damon Young: Right. We used to call this nigga Jon B. [laughter] And so he’s telling the story about. Yeah. So I went over to shorty’s house, you know, blasé, blasé, you know, whatever, whatever. [laughter] And I mean, then I get up in the morning and I mean. And she comes to the bedroom all like, upset, like, yo, there’s three dudes sitting on your truck. So I’m like, what? So I go and look out my window. Lo and behold, there are three niggas sitting on my truck. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Oh, shit. 

 

Damon Young: He’s telling the story, and everyone in the room is just like. [laughter] And then I think he just felt the heat from everybody. And the one of us was like, yo, story time is over. Shut the fuck up. Story time is fucking over. [laughter] Right.

 

Deesha Philyaw: First of all, that, lo and behold, it should have been. If he was really good at his job, it should have been come to find out. So he was already sus right there because he was a faker and he slipped up and. Yeah. So did y’all beat him? 

 

Damon Young: We didn’t kick his ass, nah that was the last time I kicked it with him in that space. We didn’t, like, beat him up or nothing like that, but it was like, yo, what the fuck dude you can’t do, and he was like, apologetic and I’m so sorry. My bad. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Did his regular voice come back when he was apologizing?

 

Damon Young: Well, that’s his voice. That was [laughter] his voice, right? He didn’t like, turn into Brad from accounting all of a sudden. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Oh, okay. Okay. All right. 

 

Damon Young: That was his voice. Yeah. So you know that word? It is my favorite word in English language, right? I feel like it is a Swiss Army knife that could be used for any purpose. I love the rhythm of it. I love the music of it. I love writing it, I love typing it. I use it as exclamation. I use it as like a butter knife to kind of get through the truth. I use it as a way to punctuate a joke. What is your relationship with nigga? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: It’s complicated, I have a complicated relationship with the word. For years I wouldn’t use it. I never had a problem with other people using it around me. Other Black people, of course. But it just never sat right in my spirit. But I was not somebody who was going around telling other Black people, you know, you’re this is a slap in the face to our ancestors. If you you know, I’ve never been down that path. And then in my writing in the last decade or so, it just came up very organically because, as you said, it’s just it’s music. It’s inherent in our language as Black folks. And I didn’t have a problem with my characters saying and I wrote it without worrying or thinking about, you know, maybe I don’t know if I wanted to read it, but I will read it now, but I gave it a lot of thought. Around the same time, my daughters, especially my younger one, she’s spicy. [laughter] They started using the word and I realized they they’ve been hearing like other, you know, family, friends and relatives using it. They had always heard it, but only once they became teenagers, older teens did I hear them using it themselves. And I was like, do I say something? And then it’s like with everything else with parenting, I’m like, you know, they’re going to be who they’re going to be. This is who they are. You know, I have kids that, you know, use the word nigga now, you know [laughter] how did that happen? You know, I did the best I could. [laughter] You know, you try to raise them, right, But it’s just it’s a thing, you know? 

 

Damon Young: But isn’t that proof that you did raise them right, though? [laughter] You know, they know how to say it. And I’m assuming that you know, that your kids are saying it with the proper inflection, with the proper rhythm in a proper context. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: With the A, not the ER. They went to private school. They don’t say in front of their friends, you know, that kind of thing. Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. With the A not the struggle— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Just osmosis. 

 

Damon Young: So again, this is proof. So good job. Kudos to you, Deesha. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Thank you. 

 

Damon Young: But they felt it by just being your daughter. They just felt that like, you know what? My mom is a genius with words and we’re Black. [laughs] Right? So we’re just going to learn how to say this word [laughter] that, you know, that, again, is our is what is one of the few privileges that we have. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: In the right way. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: That we are able to say this word and no one else can. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: One thing I will say, I’m a proud parent that my kids would never give a white friend permission to use that word, because— 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: —see, that’s how people get caught up. Well, my Black friends let me use it. But see, your Black friends are going to get you beat, you know, because you’re going to use it around the wrong person. So my kids will never be the Black friend that gives you permission as a white person to use nigga. So I feel like I’ve succeeded as a parent. 

 

Damon Young: You won. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: I won. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: And yeah, even you know, what makes this situation even more absurd is like, you know, the white AD was fired, but the brother kept his job. Right. Like, I feel like this is a win for Black History Month. At the very least, this is a win. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: This is a win. Absolute win, absolute win. When I read that, I thought, you know, first of all, you know, again, Florida cut this kid, but then it was the, you know, the white AD that lost his job. And I was like, is it the optics did they do it for the optics of the situation? What do you think the rationale was? 

 

Damon Young: I mean, I don’t give a shit. I’m just happy that a [laughter] white man got fired for a Black coach offering a white kid a scholarship because he got fired for saying nigga. Like, there’s so many levels here. [laughter] There are just so, so— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right.

 

Damon Young: —many levels. That I again, the rationale doesn’t matter to me. I’m so not happy or thrilled, but so fascinated by the result that this white man ended up losing his job over nigga. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: And then also and I guess this is an uncommon and you would know this because I’m not well versed in sports, but is it common for the athletic director at an HBCU to be white? 

 

Damon Young: I don’t think so. I mean, I know that there are HBCUs that have white athletes, white coaches, maybe not a whole lot of white head coaches, but white assistants and, you know, team management and things of that nature. So, yeah, I would guess that he’s not the only white AD, but he’s probably one of the only—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: —white ADs. But again, maybe they saw his name in a resume as like, oh, this nigga’s last name was Duckworth. Duckworth is a Black name. Right it’s a Black sounding last name. That’s the first white Duckworth— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: That reverse, the reverse. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: —that I’ve ever heard of. The first white Duckworth and the first white Stokes. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: And then he showed up. 

 

Damon Young: And also it’s like there was a 99.999999% chance that this kid was never stepping foot on that campus. Right. Like, even if they offered him a scholarship, like—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. He didn’t accept, yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —he’s not, he’s not he wasn’t going to go there. And so this again, this was a publicity stunt, essentially, and a stunt where the only purpose was to show like a performance of forgiveness. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: A performance of allowing this white boy back into the bosom of Blackness. What he did wasn’t so egregious, and I’ll get into that a bit later. But at the same time, it’s like, yo, there are 300 other schools, 400 other schools, football programs that could offer him a scholarship. He could go to community college and play. He could go to like this the CF motherfucking L and play, but you at HBCU want to give this kid a chance of redemption. When no, and again, the haste part is the part that is really—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: —telling because again, no one no one was thinking about this kid anymore. What do you think was going through that coach’s head? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: So I don’t know what it is about some of us that it’s like, you know, the part of our DNA that’s like revolt and resist and run away. And then there’s the part that’s like coddle them and suckle their babies. You know, that’s still at war in some [laughs] Black folks, apparently, because to be hasty and to be even thinking about, woe is that kid, is to imagine, as we’ve heard about so many of, you know, white perpetrators of larger crimes, you know, this the myth of of white innocence and redemption and, you know, young white people just being young and boys being boys for Black folks, that’s never extended, you know, that we are always guilty. We are adultified, girls in particular, Black girls, ages 5 to 14 are adultified and sexualized by adults of all races. So that understanding, that sympathy, that seeing our children as children, it’s just not extended to us in the same way. And so for him to do that, I was disgusted. I’m not going to mince words, I just you know, I was really disgusted. Why are we caping for them? That’s I don’t I don’t get it. But I think there is that part that says that we are supposed to let white people know that we know they’re trying, that we know that there are some good ones, that whatever. I can only explain what I see happening. Why? I don’t know. I’ve never had that impulse in my life and I never will. [laughter] So I can’t explain where you know, why it persists in some people. Even I grew up in Florida. Being here in Mississippi, it’s a different kind of south. And I’ve definitely experienced here. Despite 18 years in the South. Growing up, I didn’t experience go along get along Negroes. Here in Oxford, that’s exactly what I’ve experienced. And it’s like watching a nature program. I don’t I don’t understand it, but it comes from that place of somehow it’s up to us to make things right, make things easy, to keep the peace to something. It’s like we didn’t create this problem. We didn’t create these dynamics. So I’m not going to be the first one to extend anything. So I can’t relate to that. But that’s what I see. 

 

Damon Young: And the thing is, you know, we know that many HBCU’s are in precarious financial situations. And so to offer a kid a scholarship when there may not be that much scholarship money to go around and you’re basically taking the scholarship away from another Black student to do this, because, again, this isn’t University of Florida. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: That can give 120 kids on a football team full rides. Right? They could probably give like 2000 kids. They have enough money to do that. This isn’t University of Florida. It isn’t Florida State it isn’t Miami. This is Albany State. And so you are directly removing money from a Black kid, from a Black family with that act and all just to prove that you are like the I don’t know. It’s the part that really gets me, I guess this the performance—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: —of forgiveness. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: You know. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: And for people who didn’t even ask for it. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. Yeah. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: He didn’t come to them and say, I would like to attend your institution. I’m really sorry that I did this. Could you please give me a chance? He didn’t even ask. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. So getting back to the word, to the, you know, my favorite word in English language, you know, the Black Swiss Army knife nigga, you know, and how he got in hot water repeating that word. I know that there are some of us who who feel like, you know what, if we don’t want them to say it, then we shouldn’t use it as much. We shouldn’t put it in our music. We shouldn’t have it as a part of our lexicon. And for people who think that way, I have two words for them, and that’s fuck and you. But [laughter] I do. But but at the same time, I don’t have the same, like, vehemence towards people who just feel like it shouldn’t be said. Like, if you feel like we shouldn’t say it because what white people might feel, then fuck you. But if you feel like we shouldn’t say it because you just think it’s a nasty word, I don’t agree, but I get what you’re coming from. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And so what was your entry to nigga? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: You know, it’s one of those things where I almost feel like I’ve never not known the word. 

 

Damon Young: Uh huh. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Because I’ve been asked a version of this question before. I grew up, of course, hearing it at home. And I mean and I knew it was a terrible word. I knew the history of it and so forth. And I knew it meant something different if a white person said it versus if a Black person said it. That’s that’s without anybody ever telling me that. I just have always known. But my personal engagement with white people saying it, I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody say it to me. But I remember being in the gifted and talented class, which when I was in the fifth grade, it was a pull out once a week and they pulled the gifted and talented kids from different schools and took us to this one school where we spent one day a week there and it was fall and the teacher had a bowl of mixed nuts and there was a Brazil nut in the bowl. [laughter] And this kid, this white kid picked the Brazil nut up and said, look, a nigga toe. You know, with the ER— 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: —of course. And I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I know the teacher corrected him. She didn’t let it go. I think I would have remembered if she would have let it go. But because she didn’t, I don’t remember the specifics. Somehow she handled it. It never happened again. So surprisingly, I don’t have a lot of experience of hearing it coming from white people despite, you know, growing up in south. And then growing up, I didn’t use it. It just never sounded right in my mouth, like it just didn’t feel right to me. I never corrected other Black people from using it. I would sing it in rap lyrics, but I never wanted my kids to say it. So I was very, you know, like we weren’t typically around people who were using that word. But then as they got older, they were around some family members more frequently who, you know, used it real casually. And next thing I know, I hear, [laughs] especially my younger daughter, like, all the time [laughter] she’s just nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga. And I’m like, what happened? You know? So, you know, you try and raise them a certain way and, you know, shit happens. 

 

Damon Young: I’m a keep it a buck with you. I did not even know that those nuts were called Brazil nuts until [laughter] until, like, five years ago. Like, they were always nigg— I knew that that wasn’t, like, the actual name nigga toes. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: But that’s just what that’s what my dad would call them, and that’s what I call them. I don’t remember exactly when I recognize that there’s a distinction between nigga and nigga with the hard R or whatever I knew, well, let me put it this way. I. I knew that nigga was a slur and that it was used by by white people who are trying to, you know, degrade us or, you know, whatever. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: But in terms of nigga and in terms of that being like its own distinct thing. I don’t I don’t know if there is like an actual like epiphany, it was just more of like, oh, the old hits you know that I’m hooping with at Mellon Park and and my uncles in Newcastle and— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: —you know and rappers that I’m listening to are using the word this way. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And so I didn’t have like my parents sat me down and be like, oh, okay. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: So here’s nigga and here’s nigga and here’s the difference between the two. It’s just something that—

 

Deesha Philyaw: You just know. 

 

Damon Young: —an education that evolved, right? But I do I do remember the first time I was called a nigga. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Uh. How old were you? 

 

Damon Young: It’s only happened to me, like, twice. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right. And neither time was, like, face to face. The first time I was, like, 14 or 15. I was waiting for a bus in Penn Hills to take me back home, to East Liberty. And I was at St. Barts then, and— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: —you know, waiting for a bus, and it was nighttime. And this car, like a Ford F-150, came speeding past on Frankstown Ave and a person in the passenger seat screamed nigga at me it was like nigga in a car—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Like from his bowels. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, and the car just and the car just kept going. And what made it, like, even more surreal was that it looked like Ricky Schroder. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Show had been canceled, he relocated to Pittsburgh, he was mad. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: Yeah, yeah he some shit he had to get off his chest. [laughter] And so, you know, up to that point in my life, there had been like, an anxiety, I will admit to that I had been called one because I felt like it was a rite of passage that every Black person, you know, need to experience at one point so that you could so that you could have like the nigga fight story where a white boy calls you this, then whoop his ass, and then it is almost like some sort of Black bar mitzvah, right? But again, he was in a car and he drove past. So I didn’t get a chance to do that. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: That’s Pittsburgh. Because when you are living in a place where the Klan marched downtown, you know you’re not there’s no rite of passage [laughter] that’s like that doesn’t end with, you know, your next door neighbor’s you know, mother and father were lynched—

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: —like it’s a it’s a different, you know, like I was terrified when I was eight, when I was aware of the Klan marching on downtown Jacksonville. And I had seen movies. And all I know is that they had the hoods and the crosses and they were going to burn some shit. So I was just terrified. And so I had always assumed that somebody calling me that would also involve violence and fire and, you know, so that was a real fear of mine growing up. 

 

Damon Young: So you mentioned a little earlier with nigga, is that you never really felt you never felt quite comfortable saying it. Can you, you know, possibly explain why, particularly when you heard it in rap songs and, you know, you have family members, friends or whatever, who would say it. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Sure. I don’t know. It was just. It’s almost like I knew too much, you know, and, you know, knowing that how the word had been used and associating it with violence and my own fear, you know, I didn’t really want to to engage the word. But then, you know, I didn’t. I mean, you know, we’re contradictions. I didn’t skip those lyrics, you know, when rap songs had it in it. I do remember you talk about uncles like my uncle told this story of driving through some lily white area, driving back to Jacksonville with a friend, and they stopped somewhere at a McDonald’s or gas station somewhere. And this would have been late seventies, early eighties. And he tells the story as, the place went dead silent when he and his friend walked in and his friend turned around and said to everybody y’all ain’t never seen no niggas before? And I remember as a kid just cringing inside because it’s like, well, you don’t want them to call you that. So why are you calling yourself that? You know? But everybody thought the story was hilarious and I didn’t. It was scary to me and weird and strange and uncomfortable. So I was just grappling with that the whole time. But I’ve never felt like I needed to correct other Black people. I never felt like that was my place. Like you said, it’s like I know why I feel the way I do about it, but it’s never anything about let’s. You know, we we are being hypocrites because if a white person wants to say it, they’re not sitting around waiting for permission for us. Right? They’re saying it. They are saying it whether we say it or not. My thing is, if you’re white and you want to say it, I’ve got a problem with you. It doesn’t matter who else is saying, why do you want to say it? So, yeah. So that argument never held any any weight with me that like, we can’t expect better from them. We absolutely can. I need you to be a white person who says, I never want to say this word for any reason. That’s it.

 

Damon Young: You know, and I think that even, you know, that that whole like why can’t we say it sort of thing is it’s just extremely bad faith and disingenuous—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: —understanding of language and understanding of how we speak to each other and how we speak to each other within community. Again, I went to a Catholic school from six to eighth grade. It’s my first time in a predominately white school, first time around, like all these Italian and Polish, Irish kids, Catholic kids who had their own slurs for each other, who would say, you know, I’m not going to repeat the words, but there’s a slur for Italian. It starts with a D, and they would call each other that. There’s a slur for Irish kids that starts with an M. They would call each other that, there’s a word for Polish kids, that starts with a P. They would call each other that. And so I would hear it and I was fascinated with it because language always fascinates me. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: But at no point did I think I could or even want to use any of their words. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: That’s right. 

 

Damon Young: Right. Because those were their words that they had ownership of. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: You know what I mean? That they have their own relationship, that they had their own, you know, I guess rules with, too. And that’s a whole another thing. Is that— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right if you say it like this, I’m a swing on you. If you say it like that, I’m not going to— 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. Yeah.

 

Deesha Philyaw: —swing on you. Nuance, right? [laughs] 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. You know, and it’s a it’s a word for me that doesn’t just create intimacy. It it articulates the presence of intimacy to me. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Where, you know, okay, if someone is my nigga then if I refer to someone as my nigga that means that they are like that’s someone that I care about a lot. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: That’s someone that, that’s my boy. That’s, that’s my girl. That’s my homie. That’s my nigga. Even using it in regular discourse because I don’t use it all the time. And it’s not even necessarily me like not using it because I’m in this white space or whatever, but it’s more of when I am comfortable with a person. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right then, then the niggas will come out a bit more. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: —fly. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, the niggas will fly. And also, too, it is, you know, as I joked earlier, it’s a Swiss Army knife because it could be an exclamation. It could be like a like a butter knife, just very subtly slicing through the butter, slicing through and getting to the truth. Because when I use it, mostly it is to communicate sincerity. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. Or, you know, depending it can also communicate like, stop fucking with me. So here’s the thing. I am loathe to say it, but I will text it. [laughter] I will I will text it [laughs] just the word with three dots. That is like— [laughter]

 

Damon Young: Like nigga. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Stop playing with me. 

 

Damon Young: Nigga. [laughter] Well, and again. That and it’s a way, it’s a way to cut through the bullshit. So when you text nigga, it’s like, oh—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: This is serious. I’m for real now. Like, ni— come on. Nigga, nigga please. Come on. What’s up.

 

Deesha Philyaw: But yeah, and that’s so strange. I think it’s just it’s something about saying it. Even when I have said it in a rap song or otherwise, it just doesn’t feel right in my mouth. But texting it, no problem. 

 

Damon Young: How often do you use it in your work when you’re writing? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Very rarely. I’m trying to think in my collection in Church Ladies off the top of my head. I don’t think I have women characters referring to men using the word, but I’m pretty sure I have in a story called Dear Sister. Uncle Bird, he was, you know, clowning his younger brother and says something like, you know, you the only nigga I know that can describe his kids like a spade’s hand, you know, four and a possible or something like that. [laughter] And so—

 

Damon Young: That’s a great line. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: [laughs] That’s one of my favorite lines— 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, that’s a great line. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: —In all of, in all of literature. So yeah, it’s used in different, you know, in those contexts, and I wasn’t self-conscious about that at all. It’s just something about me saying it is weird. 

 

Damon Young: Well, you know, as someone who, you know, obviously is very intentional with language. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: You know, you have these two characters who say it. And so can you articulate the process, you know, with putting it in the mouths of these two characters and not the other characters in your book. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: You know? So a lot of the dialogue in my book, I would read it out loud as I was writing it after I wrote it. And it just it’s just a rhythm like no other word would do [laughs] you know? And so I just I didn’t think about it after that, but I think it was just those particular characters, whereas the other characters, they mostly spoke like me. So they didn’t really say it. But I remember, what I remember thinking was not so much putting it in the book, but I was looking ahead like, oh gosh, if I ever read this, aloud, you know, if I do readings and stuff, am I going to say n-word? That sounds corny to me, right? And I told myself I was like, If I ever read these passages aloud, I’m just going to say the word. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: I’m just going to say the word. But I, I remember having that conversation with myself before the book went to the publisher. I decided that I would stand by it. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. In my, in two of my first four book events, I had someone from the crowd challenge my use of the word. And both times it was it was an older Black man. It might even be the same, it wasn’t the same man, but it could have been who just followed me. [laughter]

 

Deesha Philyaw: He’s following you around. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: Like, I didn’t like your answer in Brooklyn. So you know, and and both of them said, you know what would my parents think of me saying, well, my mother specifically think, you know, and I was thinking to myself motherfucker, that’s how I learned how to say it. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. [laughs] 

 

Damon Young: You know, like I my parents wouldn’t use it in front of me or whatever, but I would he— Like if I would be upstairs at night and they would still be up downstairs. I would hear them talk to each other. And I mean, again, it’s not like I had nigga tutorials or nigga tutoring sessions [laughter] but it was just more of me just listening to them and listening to the rhythm of it and how to use it. And just the music behind that word, because I think it’s a very musical word. And so I was like, you know what I want to use it too, now I didn’t use it a lot when I was younger. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: And again, I don’t know if it was me not necessarily feeling comfortable or me not feeling like I was in the right environment. I’ve used it probably more in the last 15 years than I had in the first 25—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Or I don’t know how old I am, however old I am. [laughter] I’m 44. Yeah. So the first 29 years, right? I guess what I’m saying, all that being said, you know, it is a word that, you know, there are so many different rules and there are so many different like, I guess, complications and histories and nuances behind it that I can I, I get it. If a Black person is like, you know what? I would just rather not say it. And I would prefer if no one else did it. Like, again, I don’t agree, but I understand where they’re coming from with that. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Yeah, I think it’s what you said, the musicality of it and in language in that it felt so natural for my characters, even though it doesn’t feel natural in my own mouth. You know, I think it kind of speaks to that. I will be screaming that line in Bodak Yellow at the top of my lungs like it [laughs] like spoke to my soul, you know. But that’s the musicality of it. 

 

Damon Young: It’s funny you mention Bodak and and Cardi, because is she allowed to say it? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: See, that’s the other thing. [laughter] Is it like a one drop rule you know— [both speaking] 

 

Damon Young: And that, that’s the thing that confuse the fuck out of me when I got to college and I would see—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: These like Dominican kids and Puerto Ricans who skin was the same complexion of all the white people I knew in Pittsburgh. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Using that word freely. And no one was like, calling them on it. And I was like, oh, I guess this is just what they do in New York State. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Not in, not in Kansas anymore. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: [laughter] Yep. So I guess to this question of who says it, I have a friend who is biracial, Black parent, white parent, and she never says it, ever, ever. We’ve never talked about it, but I notice that she never says it. I guess I you know, I was waiting for her to say it, but then I have another friend who has two Black parents, but they’re both so fair that people assume he’s white. And we actually had a conversation about it because we were talking about something and he was nigga this nigga that, and I was like, I don’t know how I feel about this [laughter] because you look like a whole white man. And and and he said, you know, he says, but publicly, he said, I would never he said, I will never do this in public. And that was like, I wish you wouldn’t do it in private, because [laughter] I’m having all kinds of feelings, because the visual is still troubling for me, you know, because it looks like an Italian man is just real comfortable using this word around me. And I while I know that’s not true, there’s just this dissonance that happens. But he was like, I’m just never going to do this publicly because the optics are awful. He’s like, I get it. I know what I look like. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. And that that part it is a little tricky because and again, I think this is something that I’m not going to say is specific to the mid-Atlantic, but it seems specific to the mid-Atlantic. Where you have people who are not Black, but who grew up around Black people. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: Who say the word. And maybe, you know, my perspective is skewed because that’s just all I have experienced. I don’t know if you have, like Latinos out West or in the Southeast or whatever, who say it and not just say it, but feel like they’re allowed, quote unquote, “allowed” to say it. And don’t get called on saying it by the people in the community. But again, I saw this a lot when I was in school in Buffalo. There were a lot of people from New York City at Canisius College who, you know, a lot of Latinos who who just said that word like, again, like like like they were Black. Right. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. Well, maybe that because they were Black and Latinx. That’s possible. 

 

Damon Young: Well. It’s one of them things that that goes back to your point, though, where someone who is so light skinned—

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right. 

 

Damon Young: —saying it. It just becomes this disconcerting. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: It’s almost like a reverse paper bag test. Right. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Right— [laughter] 

 

Damon Young: —allowed to say it. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Are you, are you dark enough to say this word? [laughter]

 

Damon Young: Are you dark enough to say nigga? [laughter] So Deesha. Where can we find you? 

 

Deesha Philyaw: I’m at deeshaphilyaw.com and I’m Officially dot com, and I’m Deesha Philyaw on all the social platforms. 

 

Damon Young: Okay, this has been great. And please, please, please, if you haven’t, buy and read Deesha’s amazing book, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. It is. You know, it’s funny. I think I described the book on IG as as church ladies, be fucking. [laughter] Should’ve been the alternative— 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Best review ever. 

 

Damon Young: Should have been the alternative title. Church ladies be fucking. [laughter] 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Thank you. 

 

Damon Young: But again, if you’re. If you’re into that. [laughs]

 

Deesha Philyaw: And who isn’t?

 

Damon Young: And who isn’t? Who isn’t? Who isn’t into it? Yeah, please. You know, amazing writer, good friend. Thank you. 

 

Deesha Philyaw: Thank you. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: Up next, Damon hates. The point in the show where I get to talk about all the shit that I hate because I hate a lot of shit. I should probably hate less things, and I think that I would. Okay, so a couple weeks ago, I was in D.C., I was visiting a friend. I had a great time, I always do when I’m there. And so on my last day there, a friend of mine got access to a community center where we were going to go and play basketball like off the clock. I drive a half hour in rush hour traffic to get there, we’re on the court, we’re about to hoop, I put on my shoes. I go to tie them and I throw my back out. And I couldn’t play. So I am not one of those people who is mad about aging, right? Because I feel like getting older is better than alternative because either you get old or you die. But I just wish that we had options. There are certain things that, you know, maybe I don’t need to use the same way. So for instance, I still have my appendix. I don’t need my appendix. I would much rather have a working back and a non arthritic left knew than a motherfucking appendix. And I feel like that should be an option, you know what I mean? I don’t need like my left pinky all the time. Anyway, I hate that we don’t have any decisions. We don’t have any choice on which parts of our bodies are going to just fucking go away and give up. And I feel like we should at least have the option, be able to choose, be able to select. We should have a pamphlet. With all of the choices available to us. Like, you know, I want to keep my knees I want to keep my back. I want to keep my abs. And, you know, maybe I don’t need that appendix. Maybe one of my molars can just go because no one’s going to see it. No, one gives a shit. So someone out there make that happen. [music plays] Coming up, my homie, my partner, my nigga, Panama Jackson, co-founder of VSB, columnist at TheGrio, joins me to help prevent a white woman from scaring her son’s new Black girlfriend the fuck away. 

 

Listener Question: Hi, Damon. My youngest son is dating the most beautiful and kind Black woman whom I love dearly. The problem I have is that she’s 21 and I’m 62, and I don’t want to accidentally insult her based on her age and or color of her skin. Also, how do I broach the subject that I wish all my boys would date women of color? And while we’re on the subject, I grew up in an extremely white suburb of Chicago, watching Nichelle Nichols and Diahann Carroll on television and wanted to have darker skin. What the fuck is wrong with me? Thank you for reading my dreck. Nancy, an old white lady. 

 

Damon Young: Panama. What up? 

 

Panama Jackson: What’s going on? That was something. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Panama Jackson: That was something. 

 

Damon Young: Yes. I felt like this question existed in two parts. Like the first part. My son is dating someone. I want to make sure to not have any microaggressions. What do I do? Okay, that is that’s a common and like a standard—

 

Panama Jackson: That’s a good question. 

 

Damon Young: That’s a good question. That that’s the sort of thing like, you know what, ask Damon exists for not just for questions like that because I don’t want it to be ask a Black guy, but I know how to respond to shit like that. That’s a good expectation, but I want to have darker skin. [laughter] I wish all of my kids dated Black women. Women of color. I’m sorry, women of color. I mean, it took a left. 

 

Panama Jackson: Well, one. She ended it with the most appropriate ending ever. What the fuck is wrong with me? So there’s self-awareness there. She understands that she’s got some issues. 

 

Damon Young: Yes. 

 

Panama Jackson: But secondly, I don’t appreciate Rachel Dolezal hopping up in your ask Damon thing and trying to change the parameters of her, you know, trying not to out herself. The [?] has made it so we don’t have to even go anywhere. And we could just put it all on the table. 

 

Damon Young: That is true. And she is definitely putting it on the table. And, you know, and coming up here pretending like she’s 62. 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. 

 

Damon Young: Like come on Rachel. 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. 

 

Damon Young: Rachel we see you. 

 

Panama Jackson: So let me ask you, though, when you get questions like this. Which I’m excited to answer the first part like you said, is a good question, but the second part is so nonsensical. Like, do you really try to help or do you just try to point out how ridiculous that. Like what? What is the goal here? 

 

Damon Young: You know what that’s a good question. And I feel like I try to do a combination of both, like when I write these out, I could write the answer in like a sentence, right? You know what I mean? Two sentences. 

 

Panama Jackson: Right. 

 

Damon Young: But I have to make it readable. I have to make it a column. And so I build some stuff out. I add some like some, some like socio political contexts. I maybe add a joke or two. I do what you just did where I question whether this is Rachel Dolezal under a pen name. And so, yeah, I mean, I do sincerely want to give the person good advice, but I also want to make it fun for me and fun for the listener. 

 

Panama Jackson: Okay. 

 

Damon Young: Like, even here you answered two questions she had and the answers are somewhat obvious. It’s like the first part is like, you know what? The way to not perform any microaggressions is don’t perform any microaggressions. 

 

Panama Jackson: Just don’t be racist. 

 

Damon Young: Don’t be racist. It’s weird because I feel like it’s always terrible advice to tell white people to act like they’re colorblind. But there’s a nuance to that where you don’t want to fucking start wearing kente cloth. [laughter] And start celebrating Juneteenth for the first time just because you have a Black daughter in law and maybe you’ll do the Juneteenth. 

 

Panama Jackson: You don’t want to overdo it, right? There’s an extreme version— 

 

Damon Young: You don’t want to overdo it. 

 

Panama Jackson: —that people lean into. 

 

Damon Young: You don’t want to like go out and just buy all the watermelon, get a lot of fried chicken [laughter] you know, start subscribing to BET+ like, you don’t want to do that, right? You want to ease into it. You want to just act like this person is just another person, which they are. But you do have to have some awareness that your relative is not white. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: And so how do you do that? How do you find that balance of of not coming with the fried chicken and watermelon. [laughter] Right. But also acknowledging, that, you know what, this person’s existence is a little bit different than mine. 

 

Panama Jackson: Well, you know, my honest advice to this not quite as old is she’s purporting to be person because a person who’s 62 was born in the sixties, which means that they came of age with hip hop. And, you know, she knows Luther Vandross, because if she was, you know, even if she was invested in people of a darker hue, she got to witness it all in real time with the advent of hip hop and all that stuff. So there’s been a lot of studying that she’s probably done. Unawares that she was actually studying like we’re throwing Diahann Carroll and all them in there. But she probably watched, you know, Fab 5 Freddy on Yo! MTV Raps, you know what I’m saying? She might have been watching Big Tigger on the Basement. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: She might know who Ananda Lewis is. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: You know what I’m saying? And she definitely knows who Rachel was from Video Soul cause she definitely loved Donnie Simpson. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Panama Jackson: She’s in her thirties when all this stuff is on now. So the problem here is probably that she’s really excited that her son is dating a Black woman and she wants to let this woman know that she can be comfortable with her Blackness around her because she used to watch Rap City and Caribbean rhythms. 

 

Damon Young: [laughter] Wow. 

 

Panama Jackson: She finally has somebody she can share and unload all of this that she’s been holding on to for all these years. That’s the problem that I think she’s having. That’s the real issue. 

 

Damon Young: You’re right. She finally has an opportunity to unload all this that she’s been carrying around with her. And so I guess to your point, I think that white people have to be careful not to unload all of their built up years of like a racial studying, not even racial trauma, but just like racial studying and like racial learning into, like, one person. 

 

Panama Jackson: Yeah. And that’s hard to do because most likely your opportunity is going to unfold on that one person because the opportunity doesn’t come around that often, more than likely. What I want to tell this lady is, look, just listen, welcome her into your home and treat her like you have to withstand your desire to let her know that you know what you know. Any time she says something that you have some insight on, right. So what you have to do actually is convince your son to marry her so that over the long term, you have a lot more opportunities to have these conversations. And over time, you can do this without scaring her off, because if they’re married, then she’s not going anywhere. She’s going to talk about you to her son at home, but she’ll always be there. She might not come over as often because you’re going to out racialize her every time. Because we don’t like that either. Like you don’t know who this young lady is. You might scare her away from your son because you’re going to over Black her. And we don’t like— 

 

Damon Young: We don’t like to be over Blacked. And so, you know, what you’re saying basically is to ration that out, ration out the Blackness, you know, increments, baby steps. 

 

Panama Jackson: You know, she just got to chill out. That’s the problem. When people are really excited. Zealots. She’s a racial zealot and she’s excited. And now she got an opportunity to, like, beat somebody over the head with the thing that’s been giving. Because here’s the thing. She hasn’t shared this with her kids because she wants her sons to date Black women. But she’s clearly never said it. Right. She’s never told them, I want y’all to date like Black or colored or colored, which you might have called them colored women, I want y’all to date women of color like Benetton, like, because I want all this culture that I’ve been [laughter] paying attention to, I want y’all to get it too. I want y’all to feel what I feel. 

 

Damon Young: And I think that’s good advice. I think that’s good advice for her. I think that the first part just be a cool mom to the girl that the guy’s dating. Like, you don’t have to release all of this backed up [laughs] Blackness studies that you’ve been participating all this, all this critical race theory that you’ve learned you know [laughter] throughout these years, you don’t have to you know, you don’t have to let her know about that. And the second part about, you know, her wanting to be Black and her wanting her other sons to date Black women like. I think you need therapy. Like like that’s definitely something that you should not I’m glad you’re just sharing it with me, with us, because you should not share that with anyone else unless they’re a paid professional and they can help you unpack some of that. 

 

Panama Jackson: What does racial therapy look like? 

 

Damon Young: I don’t know— 

 

Panama Jackson: Is that a thing? Are there racial therapists? 

 

Damon Young: You buy a bunch of Ibram Kendi [laughter] maybe buy my book, maybe listen to your podcast. Some Imani Perry. 

 

Panama Jackson: Well, I kind of wonder you remember how there was like a drop squad. You remember the movie like the Drop Squad? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Panama Jackson: I think you’re right on that you need therapy. But I also think that’s just like being really invested and interested in something that’s that’s natural. Like in, you know, we’re Black people. So I get it. Like, I understand why you would enjoy the things that innately we are able to have agency and and run roughshod through and enjoy. And you know, like I understand all the lingo in The Shade Room and stuff like that. Like I could I can understand why you are excited about that type of stuff, but the wanting to be and like really wanting to like bring your family into that fold, that is interesting. Like, I don’t even know what kind of therapy that is because, like, is that self-hate? I don’t even know if that’s self-hate, it’s on the line between over admiration, wanting to be Black or whatever. That’s, that’s the self-hate part but like the wanting your, your son’s to like that’s kind of like overly ad— Like this is appropriation. She’s trying to appropriate use appropriation to get her her son’s into a I just don’t know to me appropriation sticks here. I don’t know exactly why. 

 

Damon Young: And is it because she wants, like, these cute little curly haired grandbabies. Is that what she wants? You know what I mean? And then we go to fetishization, right? Because—

 

Panama Jackson: Well, that’s clearly top of mind. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Panama Jackson: You can go to the spaces that encompass the thing that you’re looking for without it being aggressive, without it being a problem, without it being something that’s going to make other people or you uncomfortable are you can just like you’re not going to change like it’s not going to change, but you can enjoy, as you have been doing in a more active space perhaps you’re from Chicago? Go to Harold’s, you know what I’m saying? Go get you some some chicken. [laughter] You know, there’s an active jazz scene in Chicago, like go, you know, get you a Bulls jersey and stay out of certain neighborhoods. But, you know, just go be present. 

 

Damon Young: Panama Jackson. Where can they find you, where you be at? 

 

Panama Jackson: I be at thegrio.com and on social media and that’s T H E G R I O dot com. Because if you know how to spell griot, you might be looking for the T. But we didn’t we didn’t put the T in there. And on social media I’m @PanamaJackson everywhere you can just Google Panama Jackson and that’s me at this point. So yeah but don’t I don’t want this lady to find me because I don’t want her to ask any more questions like this. She needs to ask you because you literally are the platform for this. I don’t want that anymore, I don’t want personal questions about how to like I don’t want I can’t. I got no recommendations for you to go, I don’t know Chicago that well. 

 

Damon Young: All right man I appreciate it. Thank you.

 

Panama Jackson: Thank you for having me. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: Again, I just want to thank our guests. Deesha Philyaw, Panama Jackson, for coming through. Also, thank you all for coming in again to Stuck with Damon Young. Remember, listen and subscribe for free on Spotify. Hit that button. Also, if you have any messes, any questions, anything you need help with. Hit me up at askdamon@crooked.com. All right y’all. See you next week. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. Our executive producers are Kendra James and Sandy Girard. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing and mastering from Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Gimlet and Spotify our executive producers are Krystal Hawes-Dressler, Lauren Silverman and Neil Drumming. Gimlet’s managing director is Nicole Beemsterboer. Also special thanks to Lesley Gwam. Follow and subscribe to Stuck on Spotify. Tap the follow button and hit the bell icon to be notified when a new episode drops.