I think you’re right about Morgan. Anyone who knows him knows he’s not racist, not by 10,000 country miles. There’s no way he’d still be here if it was more than a stupid mistake. If he doesn’t have the solid support of his players, he would have been gone.
My 101 year old mother in law has used the word to me, explaining why her brother wasn’t arrested and put in prison for slashing her other brother with a knife. “lol, back then didn’t nobody care if a N-word fought another N-word”. (She’s 101 years old, talking with her is a unique view into the past, in Kentucky.)
The Gansta rap & young people using it I think is a case of “embracing the pejorative”, owning it, using it exclusively, a parody on institutionalized racism. It’s used in an affectionate or joking manner, I think this is the context Morgan got caught up in… but it’s an ugly word, and we can’t use it. (Maybe this “exclusivity” gives it cache within the community.)
I’ve heard African Americans use it regarding other AAs in a detrimental way, but not very often. In that situation it’s clearly a put down.
(Historically there’s some stratification within the African American community, based on skin tone. “Colorism” exists in some Latin countries, in India, among Polynesians. The common theme is if you’re really dark, you probably work in the fields. If you’re lighter skinned, you work in doors. We think it’s crazy… but it exists, though I think over time it’s becoming less prevalent, is frowned upon.)
Mostly I’ve heard a lot of mothers telling their kids “why are you using the word the slave owners used for us!?!? You’re giving permission to racists to keep putting us down!”
I’ve heard a similar use of slang among Navajos, who use the word “John” to describe other Navajos. “Those stupid Johns, why don’t they get a new truck?” or “We saw some Johns up at the casino in Tawaoc” (on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in Colorado). I have no idea where this word originated.
EDIT - if you think about it, there’s a lot of words we use to put down other folks who look like us. “rednecks”, “elites”, “farmers”, “liberals”, “flyover country”. Way too many to list… but given the history and their smaller numbers, pejorative slang toward minority groups stands out much more conspicuously. When I was a little kid, I couldn’t keep track of all the words used by grown ups to describe “others”. I’m glad that stuff is frowned upon now.