I've often heard people make the following argument about the n-word. It is self-defeating to insist that it is offensive for people, especially white people, to use the n-word. This taboo is precisely what empowers the word and makes it harmful; if we let people say it freely, it will lose its effect, which is what those concerned about racial invective should really want. I was wondering if the panelists are convinced by this theory of the meaning of the n-word and slurs more generally.

I am in my sixties, and I used to hear the N-word uttered quite freely and frequently by whites. The term still retained its poisonous power, which comes from a bloody history of oppression. It is true that some words like "sucks" lose their potency and connection with their original meaning as they come into common usage, but I see no reason to believe that this would hold for racial slurs. Moreover, I suspect that some taboos, some limits on expression are healthy. It would not be salutary for the psyche for people to feel relaxed in the use of terms that landed like stones on some people's ears. Thanks for your question.