The F – Word or the N – Word? Which word is okay for television?

With its two hour season finale last night, FOX has the first season of EMPIRE under it's belt, but not everything is final.  In the past week, FOX's forward and controversial show has helped to raise a thought provoking question.  Which word is okay for television?  The F- Word or the N – Word?  It seems EMPIRE has answered that question for now.

During the first episode of Empire, viewers received more than a taste as to where the show was planning on going, to push the barriers of hip hop, homophobia, and television.  At the end of every episode, most of us were left asking, “did that just happen?”  One of the best examples of this occurred in the Pilot Episode when Cookie Lyon said, “I’ll show you a faggot can run this company.”  Well FOX, you just went there.  And the quote was repeated last night on the season finale as well as adding the Jamaican phrase bati boy a couple of times to the mix.

Was there any backlash from the use of the f-word in the pilot?  Back in January, The Advocate reported:

Defending the word’s use to The New York Times, Daniels said that the character of Cookie, as a supporter of her son and a fellow victim of Lucious (he divorced her while she was in prison for stealing the startup money for his company), has an authority to say the f word.

Several news outlets did report on the use of the word. However, much of the reaction was positive. The media blog 2Paragraphs stated that Cookie employed it as “a badge of honor” that brought the network to “a place Fox hasn’t gone before.”

That “place” isn’t defined by 2Paragraphs, but Slate, which published a lengthy response to Empire’s use of the f word, said its use brought the show into a place of honesty about the struggles that gay entertainers and gay people in general face in homophobic environments.

In this context, Cookie did not intend the word as a slur, but rather as “a provocation, a declaration of fearlessness, a display of swagger,” according to

It seems that FOX and Daniels were prepared to justify the f-word usage.  FOX / Daniels spun a word that many of us dislike hearing, especially from someone outside of our "family," to a word okay for Cookie to use since she supports her son and she used it as a declaration of fearlessness.  I don't think I ever want to hear my mother say that word, supporting me or not.  But it seems the media was satisfied with the explanation and the moment passed with little to no waves.  Cookie also called her gay son "stupid sissy," which did not go unnoticed by Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, and How to Get Away With Murder creator Shonda Rhimes.  The next morning, she tweeted:

Now Terrence Howard is calling for the n-word to make an appearance in EMPIRE.  The entire interview below is worth watching, but at the 5:15 mark, Howard mentions how the show breaks the terms of being P.C. and showing P.C. as B.S.  He starts the conversation about the n-word at 6:45. 

Howard stated the n-word "could mean love.  Sometimes it’s a noun, sometimes it’s a verb, sometimes it’s an adjective … There’s a spirit attached to it.”  On, he added, “Why is TV showing something different from the reality of the world?  Why is there a thing called censorship that stops people from hearing everyday talk?  We use the n-word every day.  It’s become part of a conversation—why aren’t we using it in the show?”

Of course we have heard the n-word on television before, but that was years ago.  Like the shock when I heard the f-word on EMPIRE, my shock was repeated about a month ago when NBC aired an old episode of Saturday Night Live at the 10 o'clock hour.  NBC put on their normal warning that the following broadcast had originally aired at a later time, but they didn't mention it aired many many years ago.  In the episode was the infamous Chase / Pryor word association skit.  Here it is.

So the n-word was said and broadcast on television in 2015, but it was after 10 PM EST, when a lot of the sex and violence seems to occur on television. The earth didn't shatter, no one was sued, and it didn't make the news.  The skit first aired during the SNL's 7th episode of its first year.  To this day it is considered one of the best skits in SNL history as well as credited as the skit that truly launched Chevy Chase's career and it showed skeptics that SNL would make it through its first year and be a hit. – UPROXX.COM

In June of 2013, CNN did a report entitled "How does the N-word make you Feel?"  They compared the n-word to honkey and cracker, the latter two I remember hearing often on shows like The Jeffersons.  Here is what CNN aired.

In the clip, Professor Hill stated, "We shouldn't be censoring these words.  We hurt ourselves as a community and a country … by running from these words and by censoring these words and by simply throwing people away when they use them."   What if this report had used the f and n words in its comparison instead of using honkey and cracker? The CNN reporter ended the video by saying that "the n-word is probably the most offensive word in the English language."  Is that why we haven't heard it on television for years?

During my 10 years as a high school teacher, I was also a Civil Rights Team advisor.  At one state convention, I remember one training about word usage.  The moderator roughly stated, "we need to work on getting the n-word out of our school systems.  We need to work on getting the word faggot out of our school systems."  I waited a little while to see if anyone else heard what I heard.  None of the students spoke up so I did.  I asked, "Why did you say faggot and not nigger?  Aren't both words unacceptable?  Aren't both hurtful?  Why abbreviate one and not the other?"

This in no way means I support the use of the n-word since the f-word has already been used.  It is not like opening Pandora's swear jar and all the words fly out.  Or maybe it is like Pandora's swear jar, but instead of home, the n-word is left under lock and key.  I am not sure I support the f-word being used.  But I do see Howard's argument.  There are times where the word faggot slips out of my mouth or friends' mouths.  I also feel that what Howard said about the n-word is similar to the f-word.  It's a noun, verb, adjective and there is a spirit attached to it.

So what made EMPIRE run with the f-word, but has not used the n-word as of yet?  Because faggot / bati boy feeds into the plot / conflict?  Because it was a badge of honor?  Is that what it will take to have the n-word used on the show?  I think so.  FOX / Daniels were ready to defend their use of the f-word.  When and if they use the n-word, they will most likely be ready to defend again.

But I will ask the question again: Which word is okay for television?  The F- Word or the N – Word?

Your thoughts?



What do you think?