NY Case of Johnson vs. Carmona Takes Blacks’ Use of the N-word to Trial

What's Going On

Rob Carmona

By  John “Hennry” Harris

The N-word is one of the most controversial and polarizing words in the English language.  Some say there is a double standard with the word because its a degrading, racist slur if whites say it, but can be used without reproach among blacks.  The N-word, and its use, has been debated across all news markets and now it has made its way to the courtroom.

A federal judge has declared that use of the N-word, regardless of who uses it, is discriminatory in the workplace.

Brandi Johnson, a Black employment agency worker, was awarded $250,000 in punitive and compensatory damages after her boss, Rob Carmona, who is also Black,  directed an N-word filled tirade towards her about inappropriate workplace attire and unprofessional behavior.

Rob Carmona, founder of the Harlem employment agency STRIVE, says he used the N-word towards Johnson to convey love, not hate towards her.

In his testimony, Carmona said he used the N-word to convey that she was “too emotional, wrapped up in her, at least the negative aspects of human nature.” Carmona also went on to defend his use of the word by explaining that the word has “multiple contexts” in the Black and Latino communities and could indicate both love and anger.

Brandi Johnson was not feeling the love from the N-word.

“I was offended. I was hurt. I felt degraded. I felt disrespected. I was embarrassed,” Johnson testified.

After the tirade, Johnson said she went to a restroom and cried for 45 minutes.

Carmona, a Black man of Puerto Rican descent, does not view the N-word the same was Johnson.  His story sheds light on how people of the same color can have different tolerances for the word.

Carmona was raised by a single mother in a New York City housing project and found himself addicted to heroin in his teens.  Carmona was able to kick the drug habit, with the help of drug counselors who gave him “tough love and tough language”, and went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University.

Carmona founded STRIVE built on an employment model designed to help people with troubled backgrounds get into the workforce.  In a CBS “60 Minutes” news piece, the agency was described as “part boot camp, part group therapy” and claims to have helped nearly 50,000 people find work since 1984.

Johnson’s attorney, Marjorie M. Sharpe contended the use of the word was intended to offend.

“When you use the word ni**er to an African-American, no matter how many alternative definitions that you may try to substitute with the word ni**er, that is no different than calling a Hispanic by the worst possible word you can call a Hispanic, calling a homosexual male the worst possible word that you can call a homosexual male,”  Sharpe told jurors.

What is your take on the N-word?  Does context make a difference when the N-word is used ?



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