What Being Called The ‘N-Word’ Does To Your Body

Living within a racist society deteriorates the bodies of Black people, particularly Black women.

How does being called the
How does being called the "N-Word" affect your body Black woman?

Instances of the N-word on Twitter increased by almost 500% in a 12-hour period over the previous average following Musk’s closing on the $44 billion acquisitionaccording to the Princeton-based Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks “cyber-social threats.”

How does being called the “N-word,” whether directly or indirectly, affect your body? Experience will show that your body pays the toll.

For years, you can feel the impact of that one word in your body. Sometimes you just can’t shake it. This is revealing. Although the venom of that word had not been oriented directly at me personally, I experienced the debris of this language daily sometimes by my own friends, family and associates. When hearing the word, it literally turns my stomach and make my skin crawl. Similar to the feeling experienced when in the presence of police officers, uneasy and uncomfortable lingering feeling of doubt and fear that takes over.

Responding to the increase in N-word occurrences, Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of safety and integrity, on Saturday evening posted a thread blaming the hateful conduct on a “trolling campaign.” According to Roth, over the previous 48 hours, Twitter had seen “a small number of accounts post a ton of tweets that include slurs and other derogatory terms.” He said more than 50,000 tweets repeatedly using “a particular slur” — an evident reference to the N-word — had come from just 300 accounts, nearly all of which are “inauthentic.”

Earlier Saturday, NBA legend LeBron James tweeted that he had serious concerns about the spike in hate speech on Twitter.


“I don’t know Elon Musk and, tbh, I could care less who owns twitter. But I will say that if this is true, I hope he and his people take this very seriously because this is scary AF. So many damn unfit people saying hate speech is free speech.”

Lebron James

We’ve been here before, particularly over the past three years watching viral videos of Black people being harassed, assaulted, and murdered by police in public spaces. The triggers are familiar—not just the sinking of my self-worth, but the tightness in my chest and the lump in my throat, unable to speak or express my frustrations.

In recent years we have, necessarily, been paying more attention in our public displays of racism. We have a more sophisticated understanding than ever of how our landscape of racial inequality is shaped by historical policy decisions in social equity, housing, zoning, incarceration, immigration, and health care. I write about it everyday in my work. But I’m constantly reminded that this moment of interpersonal racism—is different, it’s more intimate, more direct, and more focused racism— and it is still affecting my body and my mind.

The term ‘weathering’ is used to describe how living within a racist society deteriorates the bodies of Black people, particularly Black women.

You don’t have to be the target of a racist act to experience its harmful impacts. Arline Geronimus, a professor in the department of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the author of the forthcoming book Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society, created the term weathering to describe how living within a racist society deteriorates the bodies of Black people, particularly Black women. What’s more, she finds that this is the case across socioeconomic status, revealing that there is something specific about racism itself that chips away at Black women’s health over decades. The journalist Linda Villarosa, the author of Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation, has built on Geronimus’s work. She outlines how weathering leads pregnant Black women to suffer disproportionately high rates of infant mortality.

When I hear the word I’m saddened because I think of my grandfather hearing the words, “You’re not wanted here [N-word]!” while being working as a factory worker at General Motors back in the 1950s and it still makes me sick to my stomach.

Facebook Comments