Renowned journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates is currently on a press tour promoting We Were Eight Years In Power, his new collection of essays. Taking questions at Evanston Township High School in Illinois, a white student described a memo sent by the school ahead of a Lil Uzi Vert concert held by the school, telling white students that they do not have a right to say the n-word at the show. The student, who agreed with the school, asked the National Book Award-winning author for his thoughts on addressing white people who feel entitled to saying the word as they're rapping along with the music.
"Words don't have meaning without context," Coates begins, as he compares the unique privilege his wife enjoys in calling him "honey," and certain words within different communities. “My wife, with her girlfriends, will use the word, ‘bitch' I do not join in,” Coates says. He also raises a proposed show title from sex columnist Dan Savage called "Hey F*ggot" as territory he has no desire or permission to enter. “I’m not going to yell ‘f*ggot’ at Dan Savage, that’s just not my relationship with the LGBT community. And I’m okay with that."
Coates uses these examples to draw broader social and political implications outside of hip-hop. “When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything. It’s conditioned this way,” he says. "The experience of being a hip-hop fan, and not being able to use the word ‘n*gga’ is just a little peek into what it means to be black. Because to be black is to walk through the world and watch people doing things that you cannot do.”