Op-Ed: I’m Puerto Rican And I Never Say The N-Word

I don't want to debate who gets a ‘N-Word Pass,’ but this is how I feel.

I’m Puerto Rican. If we’re getting technical, I like to say I'm Nuyorican—of Puerto Rican heritage, but born and raised in New York. I don’t speak Spanish, a casualty of being a third generation Boricua growing up on the mainland. I didn’t visit the island till I was a junior in high school when my grandparents retired and decided to return to their childhood home. I also grew up eating relleno de papas and alcapurrias from the cuchifrito spot near me in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and wearing my PR flag proudly each year at the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC with my family.

I say all this because this is my story; who I am. My surroundings were always diverse and rich with all types of culture from my early childhood in Brooklyn to my adolescent years in Staten Island, living around the corner where the Wu-Tang Clan got their start. But when I started working at BET, nearly seven years ago now, I did not use it as an opportunity to say the N-word, simply because it’s not part of my story. Although, I’ve always acknowledged my African descent (by default you have African roots being Puerto Rican, or any type of LatinX, unless you’re purely Spaniard), the circumstances that come with being Black are not something I’ve personally ever had to deal with. Being Brown, yes. But Black, although I know is true of my genealogy, is not how the world views me.

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The discussion of who has the right to use the N-word always seems to circle around, and most recently in the media we’ve seen Puerto Rican stars Gina Rodriguez and Evelyn Lozada come under fire for their usage of the word. Now, folks on the internet are divided on whether these Puerto Rican women have the right to say "n----". But let’s not forget Tekashi 69 and Fat Joe, plus the entire Terror Squad have been throwing the N-word around left and right without worry of being canceled. Obviously, there’s a disconnect on who has the right to use it. And yet, people continue to give them a pass. 

Because the N-word carries so much history and hurt, I’ve never been comfortable with saying it. Period. I don’t feel that being a woman of color automatically grants me a pass, either, even with an acute awareness of my distant African heritage. And just because I’m Latina doesn’t mean I can just slap “Afro” ahead of that. As the writers of Black-ish put it, I skew more Jennifer Lopez than Rosie Perez when I walk into a room. Being Afro-Latina is just not my plight, and I’m very aware of that.

Do you identify as Black? Or Afro-LatinX? Have you ever once acknowledged your African heritage? Have you dealt with all that being Black comes with? Or did you conveniently “become” Black when it suited you? I don't presume to pass judgment on anyone, and while this is a complicated issue, I feel genuinely compelled to explain why I would never use the N-word and that I think it has been abused by other racial and ethnic identities for a long time. 

These are the questions that I think anyone should ask themselves the next time they open up their mouth to say the N-word. Language and our choice of words are representation of who we are. Choose your words wisely.

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