When White or Asian People Use The N Word


This post will depart from the NBA theme. It’s a rant.

The other day I was shooting hoops in Po Hing Fong when a group of white teens, probably ages 14 to 16, walked onto the courts and shot hoops on the other end.

In between the loud sounds of their ball clanking off the rim — a sound with which I am unfamiliar because my J is money — I kept hearing the word “n*gger.”

Though I am not black, hearing that word come out of a non-black person’s mouth still evoke very uncomfortable feelings for me. It’s an ineffable, discordant sensation — I am less angry or insulted than incredulous and annoyed.

When I used to hear idiots of Asian, white, or hispanic heritage drop the N-word back when I lived in the US, I’d look at them with disdain while I envision a scenario in my head in which they’re being punched by a black man. And I’d then point and laugh.

But in Hong Kong, it’s a different situation. Those kids, for example, were probably international school kids who have grown up mostly in Hong Kong. They are unfamiliar with American life, and American social norms.

They are expats in a privileged, tiny, cushy expat bubble, in a city that places them on a pedestal. They don’t know better.

And so I began to wonder the degree to which people like Jay Z or Kanye should be held accountable.

In the opening track of Jay’s much hyped Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay drops the N word something like 5 times in the first 45 seconds of his opening verse. Even for a big Jay fan like myself, it was jarring. And of course, Jay and Kanye teamed up to make the mega hit N***** in Paris two years ago.

The latter has become something of a social experiment. For example, when white people hear the song at a club and they’re singing along to every word, do they also scream the N word? How are radio stations going to title the song? (Gwyneth Paltrow caused a bit of a stir when she tweeted the full title of the song last year).

Again, a non-black person using the N word is considered a grave offense only in America — because that’s where you’d get the shit kicked out of you if you’re white or Asian and use that word¹. In Asia and parts of Europe, where there isn’t a big black population, nor a history of slavery and racial tension (and where you can say the N word in public and not get the fuck punched out), people are simply ignorant of the history of the word.

There’s a popular food blog in Hong Kong, and the Chinese chick who runs the blog openly references the In Paris song, titles in full, as inspiration for her blog name. On Hong Kong movie channels, words like “fuck” and “ass” are censored but the N word is not. Same with music — the gym I go to, uncensored songs with the N word blare over speakers (I wouldn’t mind as much if the gym was playing legit good music, like Illmatic, but no, they play shitty music like Drake).

I know that Jay has, on several occasions, defended his heavy usage of the N word, but people like him — a trendsetter with global influence and popularity — should be partly accountable for the ill usage of the word in the rest of the world. I’m not saying he should be spending all his resources fighting the usage of the N word, but someone of his influence and power shouldn’t be actively promoting it either. To make a catchy POP song with the N word in the title is at best misguided and at worst reckless. He gave rich white kids and skinny Asian chicks and fobby Asian dudes every reason to say the N word daily, for fun.

Come on, Jay, with great power comes great responsibility. A fellow poor New Yorker from Queens learned that lesson at a young age.


¹ When my family and I first migrated in the US (San Francisco, to be exact), my grandfather, who had already been living in the US for decades, said to us (in Canto), “there are a lot of black people in Oakland, so don’t say the word ‘hak gwei’* out loud, they know what that means, they might kick your asses”. It’s not like my parents had a history of being racist, it’s just, my grandfather assumed, coming from Hong Kong, we probably wouldn’t know better, you know?

*“hak gwei” is Cantonese for “black ghost”, the black version of the term “gweilo” that’s used for white folks. most HK locals use the term freely, and I’m always annoyed. And yes, this is a FOOTNOTE TO A FOOTNOTE, Inception style, Tracebusta-busta-busta, sucka.


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