Photo credit: John Shearer

A brief, sordid history of why country music can’t use rap music’s “n-word.”

It’s been quite the trip from N.W.A.’s name to Morgan Wallen’s lips…but that trip’s over now.

“It is never, ever acceptable for a white man to use that word,” Martinez says. “This sort of overt racism works hand in hand with the daily systemic racism in the country music industry that has denied access to black artists for a century now.”

“The question isn’t, ‘Why can’t a white person say the n-word?’ Rather, it’s, ‘What do white people feel they gain by being able to say the word?’” says singer Rissi Palmer, the host of Color Me Country, a weekly radio show on Apple Country that showcases people of color and marginalized country artists throughout the genre’s history.

“Some black people took a word that had a very specific definition — it has been used to denigrate, degrade, and dehumanize us for hundreds of years — and decided to take it back to empower themselves. That’s their prerogative,” Palmer says of the “n-word” and how artists like N.W.A. used it. “White people are not able to change that meaning.”

Regarding the first of what should be many reparational steps, Rissi Palmer offers a concise yet definitive proclamation.

“White people lost the privilege to use the n-word the moment that they enslaved and hung Black people. They don’t get to say it. They don’t get to say it for fun or with an ‘a’ or ‘er’ at the end. It’s simple. White people just can’t say it anymore.”

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