I don’t care about trigger warnings: BBC presenters shouldn’t use the n-word, ever

It was unnecessary

CW: Offensive language

Yesterday, a BBC news segment went on air about a racist attack on an NHS nurse in Bristol. When describing what the victim went through, the journalist said the n-word, without it being bleeped out. The journalist threw out a content warning before saying the word. “Just to warn you,” she said. “You’re about to hear highly offensive language,” before reading: “Because as the men ran away, they hurled racial abuse, calling him a n*****”.”

Despite already having said “they hurled racial abuse”, the reporter continued to go into detail about what was said.

The reaction was swift and immediate. Viewers mainly asked: Why? Why did a white reporter say the n-word? Which superior at the BBC signed off on the language being used in the report? Why didn’t she just follow up her prior sentence by saying, “the attackers used the n-word”? People would have understood what she meant. No impact would have been lost.

But she did say the word and now he BBC has had to defend itself. A spokesperson said: “This was a story about a shocking unprovoked attack on a young Black man. His family told the BBC about the racist language used by the attackers and wanted to see the full facts made public. A warning was given before this was reported. We are no longer running this version of the report but are continuing to pursue the story.”

It’s a slap in the face for those who’ve clearly worked very hard covering racism sensitively elsewhere in the BBC. On BBC Three a recent documentary from reporter Daniel Henry delves into the protests which took place in Britain, and shows that the UK is far from innocent when it comes to racism. It’s maddening, therefore, that this was allowed.

In 2016, Ofcom reported that public perceptions of this type of language is deemed as “highly unacceptable at all times”, but if it is to be be used then “strong contextualisation [is] required”. Despite the BBC giving a warning before that piece was aired, it still should not have been said with the hard “r” on national television.

It’s 2020, we shouldn’t still have to be having this conversation

The n-word was used to oppress Black people and it holds a history of institutionalised racism against Black people that has not yet been eliminated from society. To say the n-word in today’s society, you a reducing Black people to be less than human. Despite years of fighting for civil rights and having reclaimed the word.

Regardless of the context of where you are referring to the n-word, you should never say the word. Black people are tired of having to explain why you shouldn’t be saying it. It isn’t that hard.

Let’s go back to the BBC report. She’s not calling anyone an n-word herself, she’s just reporting what someone else said. This is the same defence made by lecturers and English teachers – that they are just reading words off a page or referring to a word “out of context” and are not using it with the intent to hurt anyone.

But with a word like that, there is no such thing as taking it out of context. This word has hundreds of years of racial abuse and slavery of Black people attached to it. For a white person to use it, it starts to begin the normalisation of saying the n-word. In any context, white people need to learn to censor themselves when relaying racial abuse, because even if it wasn’t intended to offend anyone, it can be particularly harmful to Black people who have experienced racism in their lifetime.


Everyone has the right to free speech, however, when your speech is directly harmful to the Black community, you should begin to realise that you need to change your vocabulary. The N-word is an offensive and racist word and white people should never say it, even if you think it’s being done in a non-offensive matter.

Why do you want to repeat a word that holds a history of the suffering of Black people, it’s time to educate yourself and stop fighting for a word that isn’t yours to reclaim and start listening to Black people when we tell you what you say is harmful.

With the racist connotations attached to the n-word, there is no need to repeat it. The millions of Black people that have died at the hands of white people who once used that word should be reason enough to not repeat that word.

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