Mr. H.S. Key has kicked up a conversation on the word “nigger.” Regarding Michael Richards’ outburst:
Most offended Americans said it wasn’t necessarily the word that bothered them – since the word is used by rappers and even some crazy white people in somewhat less unacceptable ways (nigga and so forth). Rather, it was the manner, context and intent behind Richards’s usage that made the situation so bad. Or was it the word itself?
He describes another comedian who used the word clearly without malice and has apologized.
The word “nigger” is not one I plan to use when I’m not talking about the word itself, but I must say it doesn’t have the negative connotations for me that some people seem to give it, probably because it and other words like it carry more meaning in their usage than they do in the definition. For more on this, see Randall Kennedy’s 2003 book, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.