Switch to Desktop Site

N-word on trial: Should the law hold a double standard?

The N-word is unacceptable from whites, but some argue it is socially acceptable within the African-American community. A recent court case challenges that double standard, arguing that it is a degrading term regardless of the race of the speaker.


Brandi Johnson (l.) and her lawyer, Marjorie M. Sharpe, leave federal court in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, after a civil jury awarded $30,000 in punitive damages in addition to the $250,000 in compensatory damages that had been awarded last week. Johnson recorded her employer delivering an N-word laced tirade against her.

Larry Neumeister/AP

About these ads

In a case that gave a legal airing to the debate over use of the N-word within the African-American community, a federal jury has rejected the argument by an African-American manager that it was a term of love and endearment when he aimed it at an African-American employee.

Jurors awarded $30,000 in punitive damages Tuesday after finding last week that the manager's four-minute rant was hostile and discriminatory, and awarding $250,000 in compensatory damages.

The case against Rob Carmona and the employment agency he founded, STRIVE East Harlem, hinged on the what some see as a complex double standard surrounding the word: It's a degrading slur when uttered by whites but can be used at times with impunity between African-Americans.


But 38-year-old Brandi Johnson told jurors that his race didn't make it any less hurtful when Carmona repeatedly targeted her with the slur during a March 2012 tirade about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior.


Page 1 of 4