BSO Roundtable Discussion: Riley Cooper’s Use of the Word N*gger


As sports fans it has been impossible to turn on your television or surf the web without viewing a story about the Eagle’s Riley Cooper and him saying n*gger during a concert in Philadelphia.

As journalist for BSO we have the obligation to dig deeper than just the overlying story and open the dialogue regarding the hurt behind the word n*gger in sports and society as a whole.

Our panel for this discussion consist of myself (Kel Dansby), Greg Smith, Patrick Sicher, Phil Jackson, Terrance “TJ” Llewellyn, Vashti Hurt, Natasha Paul, and Ashley Nicole. Hopefully our discussion provides our readers with just how different a group of peers can interpret a word and the power that such a historically deviant word still holds.

Topic 1: Does the context in which Riley used the word make a difference?

Greg: I feel that it makes a difference but in a negative way. I am not sure how context could work in his favor but this sounded malicious and that it was NOT the first time that word came out of his mouth.

TJ: The fact that he used the word with that aggressive tone while getting into a confrontation with a Black dude, to me, makes a difference for sure. Had a somewhat similar feel to those movies you watch that depict racism and how outwardly vile white folks were to African Americans back in the day. He used it in a threatening way, not as a term of endearment (which doesn’t make it ok), and to me that’s foul.

Natasha: Even if he was in a different environment, and there was no anger involved, the word should not be used…Period. Not by him or any other person.

Kel: It seems as though you are both put off by the word itself. I can see how the context in which he said it doesn’t matter as much in your eyes. Vashti How do you feel about the context surrounding Riley’s statement?

Vashti: I do think the context in which Riley Cooper used the n word makes a difference. Having just attended a country music concert there’s a slight rebel undertone that makes a group of people feel more vocal and show their true colors. It’s important to realize that many of the African Americans in attendance were there in a work capacity and Riley’s comments were said where he felt the use of the word would be more acceptable.

Patrick: Obviously, I have a little different perspective on the issue being white, but I do have some strong opinions on the use of the word. I think the “we use it to take the word back and minimize its effect” argument is silly. If the o.k.o.c. and Jay Z stop doing it, then it wont be cool. Especially, when a huge segment of the rap fan base is suburban white kids.

Ashley: Personally, I have no problem with anyone of any color saying ‘nigga’ in the same non-offensive context as a black person. ‘Nigga’ meaning friend, or people–the colloquial usage I’m totally fine with anyone using.BUT Riley did not use it in that context, as the story was revealed in detail it was clear he meant it in that racist hick way that apparently he’s been taught–by nature or nurture to use.

Topic 2: The word is now often used by all minorities (Spanish,Poly,Asian) so do you feel it’s wrong for Riley & white athletes to be held to a different standard?

Vashti: No it is not wrong to hold white athletes to another standard. That word was used for hundreds of years as a derogatory term to oppress African Americas. No White, Asian, Hispanic, or Indian American knows how it feels to be a black person in America and the hurtful history that comes with our treatment and that word. So the standard was set historically.

TJ: I don’t like the word, I try my best not to use it, but other minorities didn’t enslave my ancestors, humiliate them, deny them equality, burn, lynch, and rape them in mass numbers, so yea, White athletes can go find another word from the infinite selection that is in the dictionary or they can even make up a new one (I mean they did it once) that doesn’t have the historical baggage that the “N” word has. At the end of the day I don’t think that’s too much to ask of our White brethren.

Greg: It is wrong for white people in general to be held to a standard of not saying it. The whole “I’m a minority so I can say it too” line is a bunch of bs. It makes me uncomfortable to see anyone use the word including other minorities. The big question I have for everyone who uses the word or wants to argue that they should be able to is, “why do you want to use it?”

Kel: I can try to explain that. Being half Puerto Rican I grew up in a predominantly Spanish environment. Even within those circles ‘nigga’ was used to greet each other and I felt no harm deep inside when the word was mentioned. Since then I’ve felt that ‘nigga’ was less of a racial term and now more of a social term. It’s used by the have-nots, the lower class, to identify each other and as a subtle reminder of a past group being at the bottom and fighting to rise up. So, I would be hypocritical to say that a poor Italian kid from the projects couldn’t use it or an Irish kid that has less money than most blacks in the suburbs couldn’t say the word.

Phil: I’d say no, but simply because I don’t agree with other minorities using it either. I personally would react the same way had it been any other race. Riley being white may have escalated the situation because of where the word originates, but it is wrong when used by any race just not whites.

Topic 3: Do you feel that Riley is being treated unfairly and do you think his apology/fine is enough?

Natasha: No I don’t. In the George Zimmerman trial, it was a huge point of contention that Martin called Zimmerman a cracker while speaking to his friend. Just the same, anything a minority athlete does is amplified to the point of ridiculousness, so Riley is being treated as he should and maybe not even being punished harshly enough. To add insult to injury, I feel the Riley is trying to insult our intelligence by saying that’s the first time he’s ever used the word. Let’s all be real. It doesn’t take us 20+ years to incorporate vulgar language into our vocabularies.

Ashley: He (Riley) made his own bed with the constant excuses and backtracking and now this fake ‘outside help’ BS…Nonsense.

Vashti: I don’t think his apology was sincere. Riley let that word roll off his tongue with ease. I’m sure this isn’t the first or last time he will use it.

Phil: Anytime you use a word with the dark history of the n-word, I think the consequences/backlash are all deserved. Speaking as a black man myself, anyone who says it isn’t a big deal simply doesn’t understand the historical context of the slur.

As far as whether apology & fine are enough I raised this point on Twitter recently. I wonder would the league have felt the need to step in had Riley used a certain gay slur as opposed to this one. Could be just me, but seems the receiver got off extremely light.

Topic 4: Does the word hold any hurtful connotations to you personally or are we now past it’s historically ugly past?

Phil: It holds hurtful connotations to me personally just when I think about my ancestors who were subject to being called this on the daily. I think as a society we have made strides, but to hear such a disheartening insult hurled so easily in 2013, it shows we still have a ways to go.

Greg: I doubt we will ever be past its historical ugly past because it will continue to be used to belittle black people in this country. I choose to personally not say the word (in any form) and my reasoning is simple: my grandparents are from Mississippi and went through all of the struggles of the civil rights movement. The amount of times combined they had the word hurled at them is probably unreal so yes it holds hurtlful connotations to me. I can’t imagine the reaction I would get from them if they knew I used that word in anyway, shape, or form. I don’t crusade against those in our community who use it, but I don’t have to like it either.

Vashti: It most definitely holds hurtful connotations because of it’s use historically and my history is a part of me.

Natasha: I grew up in a minority ruled country where the leaders oppressed their own people. I think it would be sad for minorities to become complacent and think that this is the absolute and the lifestyle should be accepted.

Ashley: To me, I’ve never been called it to my face but as a black person the threat of someone using the word to harrass or threaten me is always at the back of my mind.

TJ: I won’t be past the whole issue of White folks using the “N” word until I can watch a movie like Mississippi Burning and not want to throw stuff, and I don’t see that happening in my lifetime. The devastation of centuries of slavery, inequality, and mistreatment, can’t just be erased in such a short time not when the effects are still palpable.

Kel: Well, I’m in the minority on this subject because I feel no hurt when I hear the word; whether it’s a greeting or aimed maliciously towards me. It may not be the popular opinion but I am not and will never be a slave. I appreciate everything my ancestors suffered through to provide me the opportunities that I have today but I refuse to give a word a power over my emotions. If someone doesn’t like me I can judge that by tone or their actions, the specific spelling or phonetics of a word doesn’t tell me anything. I can gauge if someone is a racist or not, hates me or not, by their treatment; regardless if they say the N-word or not.

Topic 5: There are reports that many athletes, both white & minorities, use the word freely in the locker rooms. What are your personal feelings towards the word being used in racially mixed environments? (Without malice of course)

Ashley: As stated previously, I don’t mind all races using it conversationally. But I can understand how someone could take issue with whites saying it. But for me, I have no issue as long as that thin line isn’t crossed.

Vashti: As someone who has used the word I make a conscience effort to not use it around other races. I don’t want to give anyone an excuse to thing it’s ok. So, I do not think it should be used by ANY race in a mixed environment.

TJ: I mean I can see why people want to use it, ironically, there’s a certain twisted charm to it because rappers have made it “cool.” I would prefer we just bury that word where we buried slavery and about 80% of inequality.

Phil: I think the use of the word between African-Americans is a whole mother topic entirely, but for me personally I don’t believe anyone outside of the African-American race should be using it, let alone in a mixed environment. But, I think the fact that there are other races using it comfortably, shows some blacks have made them feel comfortable enough to do it.

Kel: I lean towards your point of view on this topic, but I’m sure we have opinions that differ…

Greg: I don’t believe in using it in any environment, mixed or not. The locker room is a different animal where typical social norms are not always followed to say the least. I just don’t see how you can to try justify using the word with or without malice.

Natasha: Like I said earlier, the word is ugly. There is no other racial slur that I can think of that can be used interchangeably as a term of endearment. How did minorities even get convinced that this word is ok to use as long as we say it to each other? So no the word shouldn’t be used in any environment.

Well our Roundtable discussion must come to an end, but I feel that we have all gained a better understanding for just how powerful the N-Word still is in our community. Opening discussions and learning others point of view is truly the only way to move on from the horrible past associated with the word and uplift everyone so that the word itself will become as underutilized as Latin or  Old-English.

Remember, our past is already written but our future is ours to control.