I've got a 10-year-old daughter. She gets very good grades in school (sometimes even A+, rarely Bs). She already has quite a healthy knowledge of sexual education (the Birds and The Bees).

She came back from school the other day and asked "Dad, what does n***** mean? I heard someone at school say it". Now, I'm very relaxed on bad language and she doesn't swear in the house or at her elders. Her vocabulary for swearing is quite basic and doesn't contain racial slurs.

Now, how do I explain racial slurs with her? It's very historic and quite a complex subject IMHO. Should I explain to her about slavery of African-Americans? I have very little concern about her age for it. Should I just discuss the meaning that it means a black person and that it's very (extremely) bad and discriminating?

I will never get mad over what she knows.

  • 1
    I would have thought by the middle grades children would have at least learned about the existence of slavery. Are you sure she doesn't already know?
    – Aravis
    Dec 16, 2018 at 18:57
  • She has probably heard things on the Internet, like we all do of course. She already knows about WW2 and the Holocaust. I'm surprised at her not knowing what the N-word means. I'm going to explain it to her.
    – mike1024
    Dec 18, 2018 at 11:54

3 Answers 3


Should I explain to her about slavery of African-Americans?

Should I just discuss the meaning that it means a black person and that it's very (extremely) bad and discriminating?

Both. Focus on explaining its meaning, that it's extremely offensive and shouldn't be used. However, it's best if you also explain its origin, so she understands why it's offensive.

A history lesson is helpful in itself, but it will also widen her horizon and deepen her understanding about the topic. This is a more effective way of educating her, because you cover not just that insult's standing today, but also why and how it got it. She will benefit more, because she'll - not just know she shouldn't use it (that people feel offended by it) - know the reason why people feel that way about it - know what is actually being said if that insult is used.

A useful resource is this article from the African American Registry by Phil Middleton and David Pilgrim. I will quote a part (I will obfuscate the insult):

N*****, like the false impressions it incorporates and means, puts down Blacks, and rationalizes their abuse. The use of the word or its alternatives by Blacks has not lessened its hurt. This is not surprising in a racial hierarchy four centuries old, shaping the historical relationship between European Americans and African Americans. Anti-Black attitudes, motives, values, and behavior continue. Historically, n*****, more than any other word, captures the personal hatred and institutionalized racism directed toward Blacks.

  • Thank you. Upvoted. I agree with that point about giving reasons for why people find it offensive. Are you supposed to use 'Blacks' anymore btw?
    – mike1024
    Dec 18, 2018 at 11:51
  • I guess it's acceptable, but being "white" myself, I can't really answer that question. There are many nuances to consider (e. g. that also differentiate "Black American" from "African American"). Dec 18, 2018 at 18:47

Be literal. It's derived from the word for black in several romance ( Spanish, French, Portuguese) languages. In US English it has become a derogatory form of addressing a person with African ancestry.


Perhaps if you let her know that it is a historical term that is (thankfully) losing it's place in our language among educated people. (Educated indicating more enlightened in this instance.) Some people are taught to be tolerant of the differnces between us, some are not; it has a lot to do with how we are brought up by our parents and environment.

I think it's important for her to know that it's sad when someone judges a book by it's cover and that there are people (of every color) who think like that in every town and every country. Part of it is because people want to believe the things they are taught as children are true. We look up to our parents, they are our role models. If your family is racist, untrusting, or afraid of things they don't understand -- if that's the environment you have grown up in, you generally carry those attitudes into adulthood. Which is sad, because it means that you never learned to understand a better way.

I hope your daughter learns that better way. Don't be angry with someone who says something like that, it's sad that they haven't been taught any better.

  • 1
    That particular word is not being replaced by anything. Its always been derogatory and offensive. You might be confusing the so-called "N" word for "negro".
    – user20343
    Dec 17, 2018 at 19:06
  • No, I am not confused at all. I meant that it is being used less often and should not of used the word "replaced"... just a brain fart.
    – elbrant
    Dec 17, 2018 at 19:22

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