There are always radioactive words in any society. Some are mostly forbidden, some are completely forbidden, some are conditionally forbidden, and some are secretly encouraged, so that people can show what brave rebels they are. At the moment the n-word is both conditionally forbidden, in that black people can say it, but otherwise absolutely forbidden, in that no others can say it under any circumstances. There is protest over this, that the rules have gone entirely outside any sense of reason, in that it cannot be quoted in a context and cannot be uttered even to condemn it. This is why I use the word radioactive, rather than sticking with the more usual term forbidden. One cannot even approach the word or handle it in any way unless one has the proper protections. If this seems unreasonable, remember that it was ever thus. Of course it’s unreasonable. So what? Live with the unreasonableness, because that is what language does, everywhere, at all times.
Those whose objections are unreasonable, who declare we cannot even quote from Huckleberry Finn, however important the book was in improving the way the culture thought about black people, might have bad reasons for the insistence. It may indicate an imbalance in them that suggests they will always be miserable unless they have a change of attitude. Yet this is not new. They are responding emotively that if we do not follow the rule, it is evidence that we just don’t understand how serious this is. If we protest that we indeed do, they will shake their heads. If you really understood, you would not do this. They are always among us, and keeping some words radioactive might be good for us, however ridiculous each individual case might be.