Posted on November 15, 2019

If the N-word Were a Crime

Frank Harris III, The Hartford Courant, November 14, 2019

The 'N' Word

In America, it’s not a crime to say the N-word. If it were, the free would be few, and America would be a nation of inmates.

The First Amendment protects hate speech — slurs and names of all kinds, be they racial or religious, ethnic or national, gender or sexual orientation.

In the 20-plus years I have taught my course on freedom of expression in America, this information never fails to shock most students who consider any form of hate speech as a hate crime.


This brings to mind the two UConn students arrested after being caught on video yelling the N-word.


Considering the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 50 years ago in Brandenburg v. Ohio that the First Amendment protected a Ku Klux Klan member in uttering racial slurs and threats against black and Jews, I doubt whether the arrest of two white UConn students for yelling the N-word while walking through a campus parking lot will stand in a higher court of law.


Which leads to a further issue — the censoring of the N-word.


It’s as if the use of the word itself in their reporting equates with the person or persons who used the word in what many would say was an unacceptable manner.

This censorship or zero-tolerance policy is set with good intentions. But in too many instances with the N-word, it goes off track.

At a high school in Madison, Wis., a black security guard was fired in October for violating the school’s zero-tolerance policy with regard to the N-word. In responding to a black student who was repeatedly calling him the N-word, he reportedly said: “I’m not your nigger.”

A public outcry and a walkout from students led to his getting his job back.


It would be interesting to have a survey on Americans’ use of the word.

It would also be interesting to know if my use of the word in this column equates with the most virulent racist or the most current hip-hop artist.