Is it true that in US you can be jailed if you will say the N-word to some black person?

Because I heard some stories from some people and I really doubt but still I really not know much about the U.S. laws (and about it's states laws, of course).

  • 3
    No, you can't get arrested for that. Check out: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_free_speech_exceptions
    – Shahar
    Apr 1, 2014 at 21:47
  • It's just very non-PC. Unrelated but similar words will also get you into trouble - en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… gives an example of Stephanie Bell in trouble for apparently not changing her use of language based on the races present.
    – Phil Lello
    Apr 7, 2016 at 12:59
  • @PhilLello It should probably be noted in the context of the question "In Trouble" is not the same as "Sufficiently in trouble to be jailed" or even "In legal trouble". There is a taboo around the word, people don't like it and might treat you different if you use it, and private institutions can punish you in whatever legal matter they want, but you cannot be punished by the government. The controversy around Stephanie Bell of course is that she is a government employee and was punished by a government institution, that said, we put extra restrictions on teachers, so this isnt much different.
    – Sidney
    Jul 1, 2019 at 19:28

3 Answers 3


No, it's not technically true. Though going up to a person and insulting them might be considered threatening or menacing behavior, precipitating into a conflict. You can't pick a fight with somebody and then claim free speech, especially if you choose fighting words. And verbally assaulting people on private property is going to be handled by the property owner (e.g. kicked out by security guards).

However, it's incredibly disrespectful and rude. It may result in the loss of jobs and even friends.

But it is not akin to Holocaust denial in Europe or blasphemy in the Middle East. You are free to say the word, privately or publicly, without fear of arrest (or at least the First Amendment ought to have protected your expression). But you can't incite a brawl with a racial slur and point to the First Amendment.

  • 1
    You might want to specify that the n-word directed at an individual would be considered "fighting words," and wouldn't be covered by free speech. If you just say the word, but don't direct it at someone you are probably ok.
    – user1873
    Apr 2, 2014 at 0:45
  • 3
    @user1873 I think that's heavily dependent on the context. In the 90s, the Supreme Court ruled that hate speech does not itself constitute fighting words.
    – Publius
    Apr 2, 2014 at 2:00
  • 1
    "But it is not akin to Holocaust denial in Europe..." Care to clarify that? AFAIK there's no law prohibiting denying the Holocaust in any EU country.
    – yannis
    Apr 2, 2014 at 8:22
  • 9
    @YannisRizos For example, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_against_Holocaust_denial#France - I seem to recall from media some recent trials according to that law.
    – Peteris
    Apr 2, 2014 at 9:39
  • 2
    @user1873 You cannot cite Chaplinsky anymore as its holding was significantly narrowed and modified by Terminiello v. City of Chicago which held that you cannot even apply the "fighting words" test without first making findings that you cannot make in the type of case we're talking about here. "The ordinance as construed by the trial court seriously invaded this province. It permitted conviction of petitioner if his speech stirred people to anger, invited public dispute, or brought about a condition of unrest. A conviction resting on any of those grounds may not stand." Jul 4, 2019 at 2:01

In the US?

Jail no.

Freedom of speech, the first amendment, only means you are protected by law from legal prosecution/persecution for saying disagreeable things.

You can certainly deny the Holocaust, or 9-11 or say the N-word (as a non-black person), but it doesn't mean you can say that stuff without consequences.

But the rules are far more complicated than a foreigner might imagine.

The consequences of anything you say depend on who you are and when you say it.

The rules actually change from day to day. What is acceptable yesterday, may not be acceptable tomorrow.

And what is unacceptable today MAY be acceptable tomorrow. It is really hard to say for sure.

This is why even professional pundits get into trouble ALL the time.

Usually, saying the wrong things often means getting fired from one's job, and becoming unemployable (for an arbitrary amount of time. For example, Bill O'reilly is still unemployable. As in Megyn Kelly. They have to wait until the internet has forgotten them... ).

These rules are very complicated, and basically anything can offend someone.

If you are afraid of running afoul of these rules, it is best to say nothing at all.

Here are a few examples of what can happen...

His first protest ever cost him his career, reputation and sense of self

Megyn Kelly’s Blackface Comment Killed Her NBC Show.

This stuff happens to regular people too, some times over comments made long ago.

20 Tales of Employees Who Were Fired Because of Social Media Posts

These Social Media Fails Got People Fired

This one I believe is an example of the n-word... that was just in the news a few weeks ago

Harvard Rescinds Parkland Student’s Admissions Offer Over Racist Comments in 2017

If you are an independently wealthy recluse, you can say almost anything without any consequences. The government still observes the first amendment. and if you can withstand the societal backlash, you have nearly total free speech freedom. (you still can't shout fire in a theater)

  • Please support your answer with sources.
    – JJJ
    Jul 1, 2019 at 19:44
  • 1
    Bill O'Reilly doesn't fit in here. He was fired after it came out that he'd had numerous sexual harassment lawsuits settled for millions of dollars. This wasn't simply "he said the wrong thing".
    – Geobits
    Jul 19, 2019 at 16:36

No, but you might get punched out, and the person doing the punching might not get charged with assault... the reason being extreme provocation.

There is expressing one's opinion, and then there is insulting purely for the sake of insult. Freedom of speech does not relieve one from the responsibility for what has been said.

Ironically, there are a number of racially charged terms with origins in the US that aren't said any more because they've been forgotten or no longer have any meaning. One example is 'chinaman'... once considered to have the same connotations as other racial insults: labeling a person as inferior or subhuman.

That term isn't used any more because Asians have thoroughly disproven the implication.

It's a pity that all racial insults can't expire like that.

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