The “N-word,” of which we have written often, as recently as a few days ago, is the subject of an interesting lawsuit concluding in NY – it was brought by a black employee who alleged that she was called the “N-word” by the company owner – who is also black.  Does that matter?  He said that he meant it as a term of love.

There is a book by Jabari Asim entitled “The N Word:  Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why.”  The Amazon blurb touting the book says that “The debate over the N word touches almost every aspect of American popular culture. Does it ever have an appropriate place in the media? Are rappers justified in using it? Should Huckleberry Finn, which repeats it 215 times, be taught in high school?   As the cultural critic Jabari Asim explains, none of these questions can be addressed effectively without a clear knowledge of the word’s bitter legacy. Here he draws on a wide range of examples from science, politics, the arts, and more to reveal how the slur has both reflected and spread the scourge of bigotry in America over the last four hundred years. He examines the contributions of such well-known figures as Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain, W.E.B. Du Bois and Margaret Mitchell, Dave Chappelle and NWA. Through this history, Asim shows how completely our national psyche is affected by the use of the word, and why it’s such a flashpoint today.”

In this NY federal lawsuit, “who can say it and who can’t” was seemingly the issue.

The AP has reported that the owner claimed that when he called Plaintiff the “N-word,” he meant it lovingly, since, he said, the word has “multiple contexts” in the black and Latino communities, sometimes indicating love.  For example, he testified that he might say “This is my nigger for 30 years. That means my boy, I love him, or whatever.”

Plaintiff didn’t see it that way, and claimed that he had created a hostile work environment. She testified that “I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed.”

Her attorney told the jury that the owner intended to offend her, not to show love:  “When you use the word nigger to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word nigger, that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male.”

The federal jury awarded Plaintiff $250,000 in compensatory damages, and is now considering awarding punitive damages.

So much for using the “N-word” in the workplace “lovingly.”