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Can you say the N-word?

Ronnette Moore, a resident of the University Lofts, filed a complaint after her roomate, a resident assistant, used the N-word in front of her. Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

THE STUDENT’S STORY

Georgia State student Ronnette Moore filed an incident report on April 4, 2018, to express her concerns regarding her roommate’s use of the N-word.

“The thing that drew me to Georgia State was diversity and inclusion. I decided this is where I wanted to be, and I drove 3,000 miles to get here,” Moore said. She is a black transfer student from California.

Moore lived with her roommate who is a resident assistant (RA), whose name will be withheld here, at the University Lofts during the spring semester of 2018.

The incident report documented Moore’s issues with her roommate’s lack of cleanliness and the presence of cockroaches in their dorm. In the report, she also mentioned that her roommate used the N-word when referring to her boyfriend during an argument the couple had.

“She said something along the lines of [this to her boyfriend]: ‘N—-, you are bigger than me. At the end of the day, you’re a n—- and I look like a little kid compared to you,’” Moore said.

Initially, Moore spoke to Ashley Brown, the housing assistant director for equity, diversity and inclusion, about the issue. Brown then spoke with the RA shortly after and recommended that the two roommates take part in mediation.

Moore said the RA wasn’t present for the mediation meeting. In a later conversation with her roommate, Moore discovered that the RA was confused as to why she couldn’t say the word because Moore herself had used the word around her.

According to Moore, the RA, being a minority herself, felt she was justified in using the word since she had used it in the past with her other black friends. However, Moore remained rigid in her stance and recalled that in high school she dealt with discrimination and the unsolicited use of the word by other non-black people of color.

Moore said she thinks being an RA put her in a position of power, and because of this, her use of the word was a representation of the school.

According to Moore, the RA said Moore had no control over her words. She said the RA also claimed Brown said she could use the word.

THE UNIVERSITY’S RESPONSE

LaRhonda Brewer, the dean of students, responded to Moore’s initial report.

“The reported conduct is not a violation of the Student Code of Conduct,” Brewer said in an email.

Moore said she wants a derogatory language policy implemented in the Student Code of Conduct, which was enforced at her previous university, College of the Desert.

Moore said that ultimately, after going through both housing and university administration, nothing was done to fix her situation. She said that social awareness training would be beneficial not only to teach tolerance but respect for other people.

“This school promotes diversity and utilizes it as a marketing tool but doesn’t have anything to back it up. Instead, we should be upholding the standard,” Moore said.

Randy Brown, director of university housing, said that the university does not comment on protected student records, private interactions between its students or actions relating to student employees, per federal law.

AN EXPERT’S OPINION

“In a very informal situation after a couple beers, I may hear the word being used toward me,” Oscar Moreno, the senior lecturer and coordinator of the lower division Spanish department at Georgia State. But, he has never been confident in whether or not he should say the word in return.

Moreno’s research includes social networks, language behavior and Spanish dialectology.

There are two clear uses of the N-word: as an insult and as a form of endearment, according to Moreno.

Moreno classified Hispanics according to their generation. First-generation Hispanics are those who are originally from a Spanish-speaking country and immigrate to the U.S., whereas second-generation Hispanics are those born in the U.S. as a result of their parent’s immigration.

He said that immigrating to a new country or community can lead to a lack of awareness of social norms in that new community.

“Their first reaction, in order to identify themselves with the group, may be to use the word as they hear it,” Moreno said. “But they may over-do it or there may be a mismatch between use, context and people.”

He said Hispanics who are born in the U.S. are normally familiar with the two uses of the word and are less likely to mismatch the words’ intentions.

“In my particular case, even if I do want to express endearment, I’m not used to expressing endearment by a form that is foreign to me,” Moreno said. “I express endearment with a different word, maybe a Spanish word. Perhaps I’d say ‘compadre’ to my African-American friends.”

Moreno said that because of the normalization of the N-word, he has considered the possibility of one day using it in a casual setting with his friends, under the condition that they use the word first and give him permission.

Gladys M. Francis, a French and francophone studies professor at Georgia State, moved from the island of Guadeloupe 20 years ago.

Francis said that when Europeans arrived in Africa, they referred to Africans as “blacks.” Through the transition to slavery, Africans were seen as having lost their body and humanity and thus were referred to derogatorily as the N-word.

“We know why we allow ourselves to be called this. We have reclaimed the word. But it does not belong to you,” Francis said. “You are invited into my culture, but you are a guest.”

Francis said that even though Hispanics are a minority, the same rule regarding the use of the word applies to them as it does white people.

“Why would they have to use that word? It’s important not to put all minorities into one group,” Francis said.

She said using the word is about reclaiming your body and reclaiming your culture, and she likes to believe the same can be said for the use of the word in America.

“I’m a descendant of slavery. I know that, I know what the word means,” she said. “It’s OK, you are not hurting me with this word, but you are not allowed to use it. I’m black, I’m beautiful.”

In response to Moore’s situation, she said that if a black person gives someone else permission to use the word around them, that is a contract solely between those two individuals.

“If I allow the word between the two of us, that is OK. But you cannot take it and use it with the entire community,” Francis said.

Moore said this situation is about students having a voice to the administration.

“Instead of dismissing me, you should hear me. I won’t say I regret coming here, but I will say I regret not speaking up about these issues earlier,” Moore said. “Hopefully I can give other people a voice to talk about their own experiences.”

2 Comments

  1. I’m a Black Woman with 3 children and 13 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. We all have a very diverse social backgrounds, my children are taught boundaries all the way across the board. If someone cross those boundaries they show you who they really are. Believe them when they show up!!!!!

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