Originally Posted by Natalie_ca
Historically the "N" word was used to describe an ignorant person, not a race. When and how it became a racial slur where blacks are concerned I do not know.
Here's a little history on the word:
Etymology and history
Main article: Negro
Earlier variants (such as neger or negar) derive from the Spanish/Portuguese word negro, meaning "black", and probably also the French nÃ¨gre, which has also been used pejoratively (but also positively as in NÃ©gritude), derived from negro (the ordinary French word for "black" being noir). Both negro and noir (and therefore also nÃ¨gre and) ultimately come from nigrum, the accusative form of the Latin word niger, meaning "black".
In Colonial America, negars was used in 1619 by John Rolfe, describing slaves shipped to Virginia colony. Neger (sometimes spelled "neggar") also prevailed in northern New York under the Dutch and also in Philadelphia, in its Moravian and Pennsylvania Dutch communities. For example, the African Burial Ground in New York City was originally known as "Begraafplaats van de Neger" (Dutch phrase meaning "Cemetery of the negro" in English).
In the United States, the word was not always considered derogatory, but was instead used by some as merely denotative of black skin, as it was in other parts of the English-speaking world. In nineteenth-century literature, there are many uses of the word
with no intended negative connotation. Charles Dickens, and Joseph Conrad (who published The of the 'Narcissus' in 1897) used the word without racist intent. Mark Twain often put the word into the mouths of his Southern characters, white and black, but did not use the word when speaking in his own voice in his autobiographical Life on the Mississippi.
In the United Kingdom and other parts of the English-speaking world, the word was often used to refer to people of Pakistani or Indian descent, or merely to darker-skinned foreigners in general; in his 1926 Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler observed that when the word was applied to "others than full or partial negroes," it was "felt as an insult by the person described, & betrays in the speaker, if not deliberate insolence, at least a very arrogant inhumanity." The note was excised from later editions of the book.
In the 1800s, as began to acquire the pejorative connotation it holds today, the term "Colored" gained popularity as a kinder alternative to negro and associated terms. For example, abolitionists in Boston, Massachusetts posted warnings to "Colored People of Boston and vicinity." The name of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reflects the preference for this term at the time of the NAACP's founding in 1909.
Southern dialect in many parts of the southern United States changes the pronunciation of "Negro" to "nigra" (used most famously by Lyndon B. Johnson, a proponent of civil rights). In North American English, the transition from negro represented a formerly widespread sound shift. In the early editions of his dictionary, Noah Webster suggested the new spellings of zeber for "zebra", as well as neger for "Negro".