Common Discusses The N-Word On ESPN's 'Outside The Lines'

Common recently appeared on ESPN‘s Outside The Lines alongside Michael Wilbon and Jason Whitlock to discuss the use of the n-word in light of the NFL’s recent move to criminalize the term and penalize players for the use of the word. John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation which monitors diversity in the NFL, made a strong statement on the league’s lack of tolerance for the word:

We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.

The NFL’s competition committee is reportedly expected to enact an official rule banning the use of the word at an upcoming owner’s meeting in March.

Common’s commentary on the topic followed an OTL special on the unfortunate etymology of the word, which apparently pops up in the locker room and on the sidelines as much as it pervades in hip-hop and other avenues of pop culture. The panelists discussed their feelings on the word and its place (or lack thereof) in their personal lives. OTL dug a bit deeper, following the history of the word with a short piece on the continued evolution and current definition of the racial slur amongst high school students. The students profiled seemed content with dismissing the toxicity of the word, which is lobbed around their circles as a term of endearment even as it stands as a living testament to America’s continually tenuous and often violent relationship with people of African descent. Check the footage below to get Common’s take on the whole thing. Watch the full special on the n-word from Outside The Lines via ESPN.


  • Brien

    I am a huge fan of Common’s, however! I have to disagree. One cannot ask for help with an issue that one perpetuates. Especially from a race or races that “aren’t allowed to use the word”. The word’s connotation is simply ignorant regardless of the context and should be banned in ALL households.

    • CK

      The n-word is not a big deal, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I don’t like to hear it spoken casually, though I do it sometimes myself. I see Common’s point, but when he says that other people shouldn’t say ‘nigga’, I disagree, just like we can say it, they can say it as well, as no one can padlock any facet of language. The thing is that they should be taught the root of the term, the fact that they’d sound stupid, and more importantly, that they might get FUCKED UP for it. As long as they’re told, then they know better. Whatever else is up to them and the people within earshot.

    • hernan cortez

      The n-word is a big deal. Blacks shouldn’t be using the tool of white slave masters on themselves. And they shouldn’t be encouraging the descendants of those who enslaved them to be calling them the exact same racial slur their oppressors did call them just 40-50 years ago when they said no n-word at the fountain.

    • Muggsy B

      He wasn’t talking about help with the n-word issue. He was talking about help in general. He SPECIFICALLY said sure we want help from other ethnicities, BUT SOME OF THOSE ISSUES, WE HAVE TO SOLVE, OURSELVES. The n-word issue being one of them.

  • greg porte

    dumb dumb conversation that leads nowhere to resolving black people’s place in a society that can even manipulate black people into disagreement among themselves.
    the answer is, it resolves itself after. way after.
    the thing that keeps us connected to the mindstate of slavery is not the use of a word, but of the dynamics of a society controlled solely by the interests of a particular establishment. black people took that power away and now they can only whisper and as the years go by this morphs into yet another restriction against those who put forth those separating walls.
    yeah, maybe we should come back with our own version of blacks only.

  • voiceofreason

    Is it ever okay to say the “N” word…whether you’re Black, White or whatever? I don’t know. Is it okay to wear Blackface…whether you’re Black, White or whatever? How are these complicated questions for intelligent people in the 21st century?

  • Steve Rude

    Sorry Common .. This is some hypocritical Bulls**t. bottom line .. you and everybody else in Black media MUST stop using it and it will die , When near 70% of Rap sales are white . Who are you speaking to .. who is listening .. just the people you’re aiming at?? is it just the street allowed to hear your music ?? didn’t think so . for a rapper such as common who is gifted way above the talents of a 2 chainz I find it disheartening as a black guy that trying to justify the continuance of something that amounts to little more than sh*tting on yourself in public. We stop it all stops.

    • C Barr

      I disagree that if we stop it all stops. If this world were more idealistic, then maybe. But we have to face reality, and that is that this world isn’t and never will be idealistic. So we’re left to make the best of the situation that we’re in.

      The reason that we still use the word is because it’s a part of our vernacular. My grandmother is 90 years old and from South Carolina. She grew up being called the word and hearing people call each other the word. It’s the language she picked up and it became a part of how she spoke. She used to live in a rough part of Baltimore City and I can remember as a kid hearing her her describe the “little nigga’s running up and down the street.” While she doesn’t use it the same way that it’s used bin Hop Hop culture, it is still a part of how she speaks.

      Which is party of what Common was saying during this interview and I agree with him that if he’s going to really influence a kid from Chicago then he can’t go in saying “this is wrong, you need to change, you’re not smart, this is bad.” No he has to meet them halfway, understand where they’re coming from, and speak their language before he can make a meaningful change in their lives.

      How many times can you remember your parents telling you not to do something and sneaking and doing it anyway? I’m sure there are plenty of us who are guilty of that. It’s not until we get older and wiser that we see the guidance for what it was. When someone tells you that what you’re doing is stupid or speaks down to you, it doesn’t usually do much to deter your actions. If anything you get defensive and do it even more so.

      So what are we left to do? Make the best of this world that we live in. A part of that is saying, you know what I’m going to reclaim that term and change it’s meaning to something that helps me cope with the fact that it’s a part of my vocabulary. I see it as more of a defense mechanism than anything else. Similar things have been done with the word “Bitch” (feminist movement) and interestingly the term “Hoosier.” “Hoosier.” Which is connected to a black Methodist minister named Rev. Harry Hosier who evangelized the American frontier at the beginning of the 19th century as part of the Second Great Awakening. (paraphrased from wiki)

      My cousin, who is a minister, put me on to the story of Rev. Harry Hosier and I won’t get into all of the details here, but basically his congregation was referred to as the “Hosier’s” as a way of degrading them because they followed a black minister. But what they did was reclaimed the term and now it’s used as the mascot for a prominent university.

      Nigga will never reach that status (hopefully). But the point that Common is trying to make is that, use of the word Nigga is only a small issue that the Black Community faces. Once we start dealing with other issues like; why the Black family structure has been completely destroyed and why there’s so much violence in our communities, then we will see the vernacular start to change.

      IMO, For the NFL to be focusing on the use of this word and allow other offensive language is strange to me. I think if you’re going to say that players can’t use that word, then as an reputable organization you have to ban other offensive terms like fag, homo, bitch, pussy, and the list goes on. I see the singling out this word as more of a publicity stunt than anything else.

    • Steve Rude

      Well stated, I can’t agree. The use of the word is a choice. to me that word will never be positive . why now after all these years aren’t more people CHOOSING not to use it. On a Larger scale America’s black culture is widely accessible on a global scale therefore a part of people lives that aren’t even American. You have British kids using n**ga. a white guy got let off in court for using it over here claiming that he listens to hiphop so it’s ok. That defence is going to get a lot of people out of trouble. A term to devalue a minister and his followers which is NOT internationally known , yeah sure reclaim that but this issue is steeped in history and the and will never be positive . So many people have died trying to elevate black people. If people can fight to eat and be educated where ever they choose and be seen as equals to anybody else in society why not choose to continue to strive to maintain and improve that equality. they earned it. I’ve never understood why they’d would want to perpetuate such self hate by trying to hide it as something else. What’s next ?? letting the word f**k be used by kids in school ???.

      You want to reclaim the word?? reclaim the “er” suffix — don’t spell it differently with an “a” or “ah” — don’t tell other races they cant say it and only you can you’re already showing the world you are comfortable with it .. that’d be that hypocrisy . why not reclaim coon or porch monkey .. the argument for reclaiming this is moot .. it wont die till we stop saying its cool with us.. you don’t see Jewish people , Chinese people or any other types of people cause so much confusion among themselves and others as black people on this issue.Jadakiss cant even use the words Hebrews and money in the same sentence but can use n**ga all day. it’s not logical . it’s nonsense. it a nonsense choice. it’s a “because we said so” reasoning that i find redundant.

      People say to me don’t let the word bother you..when it’s gone, I won’t. When white people make it legal .. I’ll say I told you so but it’ll be too late to be bothered.

      ( i agree with you on the NFL thing.. can really say “no ignorance” but have a team in the league called the “Redskins”.. it’s a bit fucking stupid and hella Hypocritical.

    • C Barr

      I agree with a lot of your points. I think it’s an issue that deserves empathy on both sides of the argument.

      But think about this; is is too radical for both choices to exist? The word still pierces the hearts and minds of those of us who have a problem with it. But It also allows those of us who use it, to cope with the fact that it’s a part of the way we communicate. I can assure you that we will continue to fight against the people outside of our culture who try to infiltrate our circles and make it OK for them to use it too.

      Words have a lot of power and the context in which we use them should also be taken into consideration. Some would argue that accepting to be called “black” is another issue that we need to deal with. If we take into consideration all of the negative things that are given the label of “black.” why do we still accept that word as one that describes our race? When i look at my skin i don’t see; i see brown.

      What we are experiencing is a psychological warfare that’s been waged against us for centuries, and it will take centuries more for us to completely rid the world of these negative associations. As a sort of band-aid we levy campaigns like “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” or “Black is Beautiful.” or reclaiming the the word Nigga as a term of endearment. These campaigns help us to combat an image and perception that is constantly thrust upon our race. They also help for us to cope with the ways of the world.

  • nexzeus4g

    Forget about the N-word for a minute. What if we took another word like “sphincter” — a dirty word by its own nature and accepted usage — and tried to coopt its meaning and transform it into a term of endearment instead. No matter how many times you use it in its new form, it’s still a reminder of what a “sphincter” really is. Just because you think you changed its meaning doesn’t really mean you changed it. Sphincter will always be a word that means butthole, just as much as the N-word (even in its new form) will always carry its awful history and meaning wherever it goes. Stop fooling yourself otherwise. What if instead of calling each other my N**ga, we called each other my brother to lift each other up instead of using a word that was used to put us down. We could leave the old language and meaning behind and build a better language and meaning for ourselves and future generations, giving each other the dignity and respect that we all deserve.

    • hernan cortez

      Uplift each other, you mean instead of bashing each other’s brains out and calling our women n-word, c-word and b-word? No way. Black americans must degrade themselves to the world and shit on their own ancestry otherwise racist whites, latinos and asians who are 98% of the market won’t buy it.

  • Greg

    How about stop saying the N word than yourself and than whites may stop saying it period. I mean just go to a Common show and see how many whites there are in the crowd look at how many whites or other races listen to hip hop and are the majority of it’s consumers, if theses rappers stop using it and realise no its not cool to say it than i’m sure a lot of whites will otherwise stop complaining when whites do say it because i’m sure a lot of the time there not even saying it in a derogatory way like you whatsup my N**** or as a way of expressing themselves or these white kids thinking its cool to say it because it sounds cool or because there fave rappers say it all the time because they hear it in movies and songs NO its not ok you simply cannot expect others not to say it whether its intentionally or a slip of the tongue because they her it all the time in everyday raps or even r&b or some movies in everyday forms of entertainment I for one think there’s just way to much controversy surrounding the word and its history e.c.t and i’m tired of seeing these debates all the time and think you need to stop saying it first i.e rappers because that’s were i hear it at its most prevelant and than whites and others will follow I don’t think it will ever go away but I do think firstly no one can copyright a word, and I think because of the background and the nature either we should all allow it and try to break down its stereo typical nature and ugly heritage or no one says it at all period. (Just my opinion)

    • hernan cortez

      Don’t blame blacks, even common’s mother told him to stop and he said no. Blacks have no control over idiotic rappers. Why would blacks push a genre of music about killing each other and calling each other n-word, b-word, c-word. Does that make sense in your mind? Only the black rappers do it because they are getting well paid.

  • GBraw

    one group of people have been told all their lives that they can’t do something by another group of people. when this one group who have been doing the telling is told that they can’t do something, the group who has been getting told what to do or what not to do once again is getting told that they can’t do something. wow! once more the people who have been told all their lives that they can’t do something are starting to tell their own kind that they have to conform to gain respect from the controlling group.FOH!! Barrack Obama has graduated from some of their finest institutions, he dresses like them, he speaks like them, he abides by their rules! I would say he is respectable, non threatening, and educated all according to their standards. HE HAS CONFORMED!! They STILL treat him like shit! STOP letting someone else tell you what’s acceptable in your own culture! They don’t let us do it to them! LOVE who WE are,LOVE what WE look like and maybe WE can solve some of the wrong that’s going on in OUR communities.Freedom of speech is always good until the wrong person or people say what someone don’t want them to say.