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Author Topic: Advice on using the "n word" in books  (Read 2025 times)  

Online Vaalingrade

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #50 on: December 06, 2017, 03:16:48 PM »
You know, for decades on broadcast TV where you can't use that word typically, there have been hundreds if not thousands of authentic-sounding and feeling 'street' characters who never used the word.

Anyone saying it's impossible to be authentic without it just really, REALLY wants to use that word or see others use it. It's the same for a lot of 'essential' elements people pretend is 'realistic' in stories.

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Offline Lisa Manifold

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #51 on: December 06, 2017, 03:53:08 PM »
I watch Bill Maher. If you watch him, you know he used the word in a conversation with a guest - another white guy - and the blowback was fierce. Ice Cube expressed his unhappiness really well the following week - when white people use the word, it's like a knife cutting through him. He wasn't the only one who had such a reaction. As someone who is not part of that culture - I listen.

IMO, that's as it should be. I am a middle-aged white woman. I write about characters different from me, but I do not...assume I know them. I do the best I can. If there is an area of being someone else that I am unsure of - I take the road that in my books, my genre - I'm not trying to make a statement. I'm telling a story meant to engage and entertain. I am not trying to challenge.

And that means I don't use the N word. Or the C word for women, or the H word for white people, or any of the racial slurs for other non-white races. Because it doesn't fit my characters, genre, or story.

I see the argument that it would fit the genre - but again, if you're not in that culture, and you don't truly understand it - is it a good idea to use a word that causes such reactions? Given the history of the word in the US, and how it was employed (still employed, unfortunately) by people who are not black?

To me, no. I agree with a poster upthread who says that it's one of those things we have to accept being white. We used the word for years, like a whip to maim and hurt. So...we don't get to use it anymore.

But this has been an interesting discussion to read.

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Offline ParkerAvrile

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #52 on: December 06, 2017, 05:51:01 PM »
I actually received several PMs telling me exactly that.  :(

TonyU, is there any evidence those people who sent you PMs have ever read urban fiction? Is there any evidence those people know more about how drug dealers talk among themselves than the man you interviewed? I don't believe I've ever met a street level dealer who was afraid to use transgressive language. (Doctors who run pill mills are another matter, and some of them are pretty sweary too.)

Everybody has an opinion. The opinion of people who don't read Urban isn't relevant if you're writing an Urban. The opinions of those who think Quentin Tarantino is not successful or the writers for The Wire are not successful are especially not relevant. Those folks would kill to earn the money from their creations Tarantino etc. has earned.

While it's true that The Hate U Give didn't use the word (or at least I don't remember seeing it either), THUG was a trad-pubbed YA novel, NOT an Urban! (Maybe it was a SUBurban, if you've read it, you'll know what I mean.) What she did isn't relevant what you should do.



« Last Edit: December 06, 2017, 05:52:38 PM by ParkerAvrile »
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Offline WHDean

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #53 on: December 07, 2017, 09:02:26 AM »
To the original question of the thread--I think you can either use it or not, and you're likely to get someone somewhere criticizing you either way. It's probably safer not to, but 'safe' may not be your priority. If you use it and are worried you'll offend someone, I'd try to get some beta readers from the culture you're writing about to see if they think you're using it correctly or not.

Beta readers and sensitivity readers can probably protect a writer from unintentionally insulting others because insults (e.g., racial epithets and gross stereotypes) are relatively easy to identify. After all, the people who coined racial epithets and spread gross stereotypes intended to disparage others, so it's usually (but not always) easy to tell a crude stereotype from a generalization. In practical terms, nine out of any ten beta readers are going to pick these out, especially if they've been on the receiving end.

But offense is different. It doesn't require an insult or intent, and it might be unprecedented, meaning someone can take offense to characters, dialogue, plots, or scenes that have been done a thousands of time before without anyone seeing a problem. Needless to say, beta readers will be useless in detecting offense.

Fortunately, there is one commonality in offense. All cases of offense arise from white writers writing about what's often called the "experience" of non-white people. Experience is pretty all-encompassing, but it's basically anything that such-and-such a group experiences as such-and-such a group. This doesn't mean you can't include non-white characters; it means you can't get into anything that might fall under the group experiences of the character. Using this criterion, the OP's black drug dealer with a heart of gold story will probably cross the line. I can't say for sure, of course, but it's hard to see how it could be written without getting into experience territory.

Now, I am not saying any of this is right or wrong or presuming to tell anyone what to write about. I am just sharing observations about the way things are. 



Offline Puddleduck

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #54 on: December 07, 2017, 11:51:19 AM »
Fortunately, there is one commonality in offense. All cases of offense arise from white writers writing about what's often called the "experience" of non-white people.

Sorry, but that statement, as broad as you've made it, is laughably incorrect. If you mean it in the case of white authors writing about non-white authors, say that. As stated, is presumes that A) white people can't be offended, B) non-white people cannot cause offense, and C) all offense is racially-based.

Not to mention, based on your own description as offense as something that entirely relies on the reader and not at all the intent of the author, I would say that's pretty good reason not to worry about offending others at all. Because, to a large extent, it's very true that people will or will not take offense based on their own perceptions and experiences, regardless of what the author does or intends. So why should an author even worry about it? I think you made one point while trying to make the exact opposite.

Online Vaalingrade

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #55 on: December 07, 2017, 02:48:10 PM »
So why should an author even worry about it?

Maybe they want to be a decent person?

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Offline D. Zollicoffer

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #56 on: December 07, 2017, 04:04:44 PM »
As a black male who grew up in the inner city, I can report that we used it often. Now, not all black men and women use it, but for some of us it's no big deal. I use it from time-to-time (with my buddies and family) because I like how it rolls off the tongue. There's pushback by some in the black community. They say no-one should use the word and I disagree. Using it with your friends doesn't automatically make you ignorant.

Use it if you want to, but don't go overboard. If you want to know what that sounds like listen to Kanye West's "All Day" on YouTube.

Offline WHDean

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Re: Advice on using the "n word" in books
« Reply #57 on: December 08, 2017, 09:01:09 AM »
Sorry, but that statement, as broad as you've made it, is laughably incorrect. If you mean it in the case of white authors writing about non-white authors, say that. As stated, is presumes that A) white people can't be offended, B) non-white people cannot cause offense, and C) all offense is racially-based.

No, it's not incorrect and I didn't presume those things. My statement was a straightforward inference from facts, no assumptions needed. Books that have been attacked by one-star reviews all involved white writers stepping into (what is perceived by some to be) non-white territory, and the reasons given for the attacks all align with what I said. Incidentally, most of the attackers (or at least the ringleaders) appear to me to be white people offended on behalf of minorities. You may be unaware of this trend, so I encourage you to search around "cultural appropriation."

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Not to mention, based on your own description as offense as something that entirely relies on the reader and not at all the intent of the author, I would say that's pretty good reason not to worry about offending others at all. Because, to a large extent, it's very true that people will or will not take offense based on their own perceptions and experiences, regardless of what the author does or intends. So why should an author even worry about it? I think you made one point while trying to make the exact opposite.

Again, you may not be aware of the recent trend. The problem isn't offending one or two readers, which is unavoidable. The problem is people taking offense on behalf of a group and encouraging others who are sympathetic to attack the author and their books. As I said above, it all surrounds white authors writing about non-white experiences.

I also said this above and I'll say it again: I am not taking a position on the rightness or wrongness of all this. I am just saying it happens and that writers ignore the trend at their peril.