Back when my son first started senior school at 12 i got called in by the headteacher because of an alleged racist comment he had made, i was shocked at this because i havent raised him to be racist but im also not naive enough to think he is this perfect well behaved child all of the time either.
We live in a small village, pretty much everyone knows everyone, he has to travel via a bus to get to school and the school takes pupils from a fairly large catchement area so for a lot of children its their first experiences of mixing with a wide diversity of children, different ethnics, religions.
So the incident in question was my son had called this other boy nigger, when the headteacher told me this i was sat in his office and i think it was probably a good job i was..it shocked me! My son was there and i asked him why, his reasoning was that he had made friends with this boy they had a lot of classes together, had a lot in common etc. This other boy had a friend who was also coloured and they would refer to each other as nigger so my son in the playground had said to his new mate "hey nigger, want to go play some football".
His friend whom he called this by the way took no offence, it was a teacher in the playground that heard this and called my son out on it and hence me getting the phone call. My son had called his mate this not in the context of it being a racist slur, he assummed it was ok because his mate and the other boy called each other it, it was simply on my sons part naivety and lack of understanding.
On getting home i sat down with my son and explained to him why it was not generally seen as an acceptable term and he questioned why then it was ok for his mate to call his other mate nigger then? which i thought was a fair response, he also added how come a lot of rappers refer to themselves and others as niggers and thats ok? To be honest that stumped me for a bit. His mate didnt have a problem with it, he thought it was kind of funny because my son was clearly confused about why what he had said was so wrong when his mate refers to himself as it.
However i did insist that it was not a word that i liked him using and the school made it clear that it was not accceptable either for anyone and i support them in that, my boy and his mate are still friends to this day, 3 years later and still have a laugh about it.
Some words have definite meanings, some words also are open to interpretation, words can offend some people but others can see no harm, some words have numerous meanings dependent on where you live, slang terms, different cultures etc etc..i guess its what the word means to you that matters.