Although White is Black, authorities believe his actions did not reflect their code of conduct. The Tampa Police Department also released a statement saying usage of the n-word constituted “violations of policy that prohibit discriminatory conduct”.
But White did not use the word only while he was working. According to material sourced from his body camera, although he used it on November 30, 2020, while arresting a trespasser, White also said the n-word off duty, once while driving home and on the phone, and another time, also on the phone, with his wife.
When questioned, White reportedly told his supervisor his intention was not to derogate but rather in line with how the word is “commonly used in today’s society as a means of shared culture and experiences among the African American community”.
But Tampa Police are not buying that. Chief Brian Dugan said language as White used “jeopardize the trust that our department works to establish with our community”. But the issue is not the first to prompt a debate about who can say the word that is mostly used among Black people for the reasons White elucidated.
America has grappled with, for the last few decades, the question of restrictions in language based on race and ethnicity. Only Black people are generally expected to use the word even though the spaces in which they can exercise this privilege outside of in-group conversations, are not that many. For instance, it is rare to see Black people use the words in primetime new media and on many TV programs, even among themselves.
Professional bodies like police departments have regulations that prohibit the use of the n-word. White’s incident will however re-ignite questions back and forth, especially owing to how he claimed to have used it.