Hip-hop and rap music is one of the best things to come out of the United States. Developed by inner city Black musicians in the 1970s, hip-hop and rap has been used by Black artists as an expression of the Black experience— the joy, the pain, the oppression, the hope. Of course, many non-Black people have come to love and even make their own hip-hop music. But there lies a problem among many non-black rap fans— too many of us use it as an excuse to use the n-word.
This is not a piece about why you shouldn’t use it.
Many talented Black writers and scholars have tackled the subject far better than I ever could, and if you were able to make it to this article, you’re likely able to make it to Google. Just… don’t. One argument that I’ve heard repeatedly from other non-Black people absolutely intent on finding a justification is that rappers often use the n-word in a context that means “friend” or “homie” or “people” rather than specifically Black people. And sometimes that’s true. But it’s still not okay for you to say it if you’re not Black.
My fellow South Asians are especially guilty of thinking they get a pass. So don’t. Take it from another non-Black person who deeply appreciates the work of black artists: it’s not that hard.
Any lover of rap music knows how easy it is to get really into it. When you listen, you want to rap along. So here’s a list of words that us non-Black rap fans can use in place of the n-word. Keep in mind, these aren’t for when the song actually does use the word in reference to a Black person, derogatorily or not.
I lied, this one is for those songs where you saying anything would just be a euphemism. I often just censor myself and skip over it, so that it sounds like someone muted the word out like they do on the radio.
Be cool about this one, though. “Gossip, gossip, homie just stop it” does not work at all.
This one just makes me laugh. Try it. It’s a good one for when you’re feeling a bit goofy.
I wish I could claim credit for this one but the Set Your Goals cover of Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’s “Put Yo Hood Up” uses Jedi as a replacement word (I have no idea what that video has to do with the song, so please disregard.) It’s equal parts awesome and hilarious with perhaps a bit of cringe.
There’s just something so wholesome about addressing someone as neighbor whether they live next to you or not. Love thy neighbor. Rap with thy neighbor.
Feeling a bit red? Let your favorite rap song bring out the socialist or communist in you (minus the corrupted powers part).
You’ve heard it before from people trying to justify why they insist on using the n-word. “It’s just a fun word to say!” Well, racism is never fun. What’s way more fun to say is the British terminology for a non-magical person (non-maj for us American folks). And this one, I can take credit for coming up with. There are very few rap songs where you can’t use the word ‘muggle’… and actually mean it as if you’re referring to a muggle. In fact, it works as such a fantastic replacement that even one of my friends who can use the n-word has started using it regularly.
Words are powerful. As a result, words can also be painful. It falls on all of us to make sure we don’t bring unnecessary pain to our fellow human beings, and if that means doing something as small as avoiding the use of a single word, it’s more than worth it.