There is no consensus on the use of the N-word within the Black community (or the white one, for that matter). Generally speaking, younger generations tend to think that Black people can reclaim the word for themselves in an act of linguistic empowerment. There are just as many individuals who think the racial slur's toxic history — one of being wielded by white people to degrade and dehumanize Black people for centuries — is something that can't be undone. Oprah Winfrey falls in the latter camp — a belief she is staunchly standing by in the wake of the controversy sparked by Bill Maher's recent use of the word on his HBO show Real Time. (Maher issued an apology of sorts and revisited the issue with guests including Ice Cube on Friday's episode.)
Winfrey sat down with The Hollywood Reporter for an in-depth podcast interview, and broached the topic during a rapid-fire series of questions at the end of the hour. THR posed the issue to Winfrey point-blank: "Should Black people and white people be held to a different standard as far as that word?" The 63-year-old didn't hesitate for a beat. "I think the word should be eliminated from the lexicon. I think it should be eliminated for everybody," she said, adding that she has had an ongoing conversation about the usage of the word with her friends, including Gayle King. "I have been on record being anti-the word, period," she added. "Nobody should be allowed to say it."
Winfrey made a similar statement last week during an interview with Access Hollywood in which she rehashed her dispute about the word with Jay Z. "I believe that it should not be a part of the language and the lexicon," she said. Winfrey spoke about a coffee table book she owns that contains a searing image of a Black family witnessing a lynching while a white mob cheers on. "I always think of that family," the mogul explained. "I actually had this conversation with Jay Z, when he was saying, 'We can take the power back, we can take the power out of the word. We're changing the power.' I go, 'You will never change it for that family. You will never change it for whom it was the last word they heard when they were hung or they were dismembered or they were degraded.'"
Indeed, Winfrey and the rapper publicly discussed whether the term could be reclaimed on her show back in 2009. Eight years later, Winfrey still stands by her belief, but has conceded the culture war. "I now know it's an argument I'm not going to win," she said on Access Hollywood. "I'm not going to win it, not in my lifetime. And that's okay."