Entertainment & Arts

Should white people ever sing the N-word?

Kendrick Lamar Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kendrick Lamar was performing a show in Alabama

The controversy over the use of the N-word has hit the headlines again after a white woman was booed at a Kendrick Lamar gig for singing it on stage.

The rapper invited the woman to sing M.A.A.D City during his set at the Hangout Festival in Alabama.

But Lamar stopped her after she repeatedly used the N-word - which is heard multiple times in his song.

As the crowd reacted angrily, Kendrick told the fan: "You gotta bleep one single word."

The N-word is a derogatory term; a racial slur which was used to refer to and insult black slaves, but today it is used prominently in hip-hop.

The reaction to the Kendrick footage on social media was mixed - with some defending the woman and others saying Lamar did the right thing by cutting her off.

South London grime artist Yizzy, who recently released his EP SOS, points out that Lamar had already had a couple of fans up on the stage who sang along with him without using the N-word.

"The word shouldn't have been used at all [by the female fan] - it would have been very easy for her not to use it," he tells BBC News.

"It's a choice when you use that word, whatever race [you are]. Kendrick dealt with it in a very good way. She could have avoided the whole situation herself and she put herself in that position."

He explains that he uses the word sparingly himself to add impact when necessary.

Image caption Yizzy performed at a celebration of 10 years of BBC Introducing in Brixton last year

"I use it in several different ways, as a way to refer to another person of that ethnicity or to explain the word as a metaphor, for example.

"I use it when I feel I need to. I try to avoid swearing in my songs... but my lyrics flow naturally, when that word fits and makes a lot of sense, I'll put it in there."

Yizzy adds: "Every person can say what they want, there's freedom of speech, but you have a responsibility.

"If you use the word... and you're not of any black heritage, in this modern day world, be prepared to face a backlash."

And if a white artist used it "and it had no relation to what you're saying, you're just saying it to be controversial, you're completely unacceptable", he says.

This issue also came up last year, when footage of a group of students at the University of New Hampshire was posted online, attracting national attention.

The group, which included white students, were seen singing along to Kanye West's 2006 hit Gold Digger, which features the word prominently.

They were widely criticised and their university said the students had displayed "poor judgement", but some came forward to defend them.

"[The students] didn't write the song, Kanye West did," wrote Piers Morgan in The Daily Mail.

"They didn't make millions of dollars from that song, Kanye West did.

"They're young, free and partying and it would have just seemed like any other very popular rap song. So they sang along to it."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chris Rock dealt with the issue in one of his famous stand-up routines

Chris Rock touched on the subject in a famous stand-up routine when he joked about his white friends not being "able to enjoy a Dr Dre song around me. So they start taking out the word or mumbling... it's a sad sight to see".

He also appeared to suggest it was all right for white people to dance or sing along to songs which included the word, but never for them to use it in their own speech.

"Don't worry white people. Get your Dre on, get your Jay-Z on, get your Kanye on. It's all good, it's okay. But it's got to be in the song. Got to be in the song."

But, he added: "So the question remains the same. Can white people say the [N-word]? And the answer remains the same: Not really."

While you'd be hard pushed to find someone who would think it appropriate for a white artist to use the N-word, some think that nobody should use it at all, regardless of race.

Broadcaster and writer Edward Adoo says: "It seems it's become acceptable now to use [the N-word].

"There's more reluctance to call people out: 'Let's let it lie and let people do what they want.'

"When my black friends use it I feel uncomfortable, it feels rude, and if a white person says it, it's degrading."

'Fuelled the fire'

He adds: "I think the N-word should be treated in the same context as anti-Semitic speak. Any derogatory term should be classed in the same category."

And he criticises those from within the industry.

"People in hip-hop and in the black community have fuelled the fire and don't admit the word is wrong. It's down to education, it's ignorance, people who don't seem to care."

And he has no truck with black artists who say they are reclaiming the word.

"You know, people suffered, so how are you reclaiming it? It's a matter of stupidity."

"In terms of reaching out to the next generation, it doesn't bode well because if Kendrick says it [then people think] 'I can say it.'"

Image copyright PA
Image caption Students were criticised for singing along to Gold Digger by Kanye West

He adds that he's been criticised by his own community for his stance.

"People have called me out for being a sell-out," he says.

Journalist and blogger Jessica Noah Morley agrees with Adoo.

"If you don't want people to sing an offensive word, it should not be sung or included in the song in the first place," she says.

"If you are in a position of power, or in this case, a position whereby fans are likely to repeat the words you put out, don't put them out if you don't want them repeated. I believe that the N-word shouldn't be used by anyone point blank."

She added: "I think it is hypocritical to sing a word and berate a white person who has repeated the very words in the context in which they were sung.

"We, myself included, have to be careful about being hypocritical and implementing a double standard when it comes to race relations. The N-word is, and will always be, offensive, no matter who says it."

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