Who owns a word?

They call it, the N-word.  It is the scarlet letter of modern culture in the English-speaking world.  Everyone in colonial New England knew what the "A" stood for, and we all know what the "N" signifies: nigger.  Saying it out loud, even behind closed doors, has gotten people fired, has ruined careers and, in doing so, has adversely affected innocent people – for example, employees of the offender, whose jobs disappeared when the offending employer lost his contract.

What makes this even more surreal is the fact that black people themselves, against whom the N-word is considered to be an unforgivable pejorative, use it prolifically, and without penalty.

When challenged on this point, racialist speakers often declare that black people can use the N-word because they "own it."  They insist that non-black people do not own the N-word and therefore are not allowed to appropriate it.

This state of affairs is surreal on many levels. 

To be sure, there are other forbidden words, in various degrees.  Italians, Jews, Irish, Asians, Hispanics, and Indigenous Americans (among others!) are all sometimes referred to by words that are considered offensive, bigoted, and even oppressive.  Black Americans are considered a special case because they have a history in America of being enslaved and unfairly discriminated against.  Finally, there are words that begin with "F," "C," and "B" that offend all race, and are (by degrees) forbidden to everyone equally.

But the N-word stands alone.  For non-blacks, its use, no matter how innocent, how academic, how well intentioned, brings down the wrath not only of the radical left, but even of those in more moderate circles.  It seems to be the only word that is forbidden to some but is widely and approvingly used by others.

(I should point out that I do not use this word at any time.  As a general rule, I wish never to avoidably offend anyone.  It is spelled out here only for purposes of illustration.)

No one owns the N-word.  Nobody owns any word unless he can show me the copyright.  It is a violation of the First Amendment to use government resources to punish its use, and that includes its censorship by private groups whose funding is substantially governmental (for example, most universities).

If you believe otherwise, then I shall be free to call you what radical leftists call us, the other N-word: a Nazi.

They call it, the N-word.  It is the scarlet letter of modern culture in the English-speaking world.  Everyone in colonial New England knew what the "A" stood for, and we all know what the "N" signifies: nigger.  Saying it out loud, even behind closed doors, has gotten people fired, has ruined careers and, in doing so, has adversely affected innocent people – for example, employees of the offender, whose jobs disappeared when the offending employer lost his contract.

What makes this even more surreal is the fact that black people themselves, against whom the N-word is considered to be an unforgivable pejorative, use it prolifically, and without penalty.

When challenged on this point, racialist speakers often declare that black people can use the N-word because they "own it."  They insist that non-black people do not own the N-word and therefore are not allowed to appropriate it.

This state of affairs is surreal on many levels. 

To be sure, there are other forbidden words, in various degrees.  Italians, Jews, Irish, Asians, Hispanics, and Indigenous Americans (among others!) are all sometimes referred to by words that are considered offensive, bigoted, and even oppressive.  Black Americans are considered a special case because they have a history in America of being enslaved and unfairly discriminated against.  Finally, there are words that begin with "F," "C," and "B" that offend all race, and are (by degrees) forbidden to everyone equally.

But the N-word stands alone.  For non-blacks, its use, no matter how innocent, how academic, how well intentioned, brings down the wrath not only of the radical left, but even of those in more moderate circles.  It seems to be the only word that is forbidden to some but is widely and approvingly used by others.

(I should point out that I do not use this word at any time.  As a general rule, I wish never to avoidably offend anyone.  It is spelled out here only for purposes of illustration.)

No one owns the N-word.  Nobody owns any word unless he can show me the copyright.  It is a violation of the First Amendment to use government resources to punish its use, and that includes its censorship by private groups whose funding is substantially governmental (for example, most universities).

If you believe otherwise, then I shall be free to call you what radical leftists call us, the other N-word: a Nazi.