There was a debate when I was in high school over whether students should avoid reading that word when reading Huck Finn. Someone even released editions sanitized of it. Our school, thankfully, had a massive push back against that. Removing that part of history, and removing the struggle of black men in the story, and removing Mark Twain's harsh criticism of racism and that word not only completely misses the point, it's racist itself. It's harmful. I consider it akin to trying to hide the atrocities we committed against the Native Americans.
Yes, it's horrific. Yes, it's a heavy word that should not be used without purpose, but it's still unfortunately a word. It's a word deeply intertwined with our nation's horrible history.
The terrible thing is this polemic I'm writing is exactly the kind of thing that gets warped by internet white boys as a justification for using the word, and that we shouldn't have any restrictions on what we say in the form of judgement or consequences of choices of words, and they'll go on to say that judging them or calling their usage out as problematic is an offense on free speech. Which is not at all what I'm saying. Call out culture is extremely useful in educating, and is an active strategy in deconstructing the issues in our culture and society, many of which are unseen by the ruling class many times, and especially ending the silence on these things. And it doesn't have to be from a place of anger! Here's how this should go, first in the context of using the word in historical context like Huck Finn, and then in the larger:
"Reading Huck Finn includes many passages of hatred of people based on their skin color, including a vile word used to dehumanize and demean POC for centuries now. This is a very important word in our country, and should not be used lightly, but in respect for the people who went through these atrocities, we have to respect that it was there, it happened, and requires acknowledgement. Erasing the blood erases the conflict and the people who suffered."
Now in a casual setting with a friend:
"Hey sorry, you just used the word 'gypsy'. I know that's the term you've probably learned, but it's unfortunately a slur that's been used for a long time, including in genocides against Roma people. Generally the preferred term in Roma or Romani." and that can be more detailed or less. It can be as simple as "oh gypsy is a slur, by the way.", and you can continue education from there if they like. The problems arise when you say, "oh hey that's a slur" and they return with "what? No it's not. I've always used it. I'm not racist. What the fuck is wrong with you?" or "i don't give a fuck, that's the term I'm going to continue to use." and it becomes understandable why they things become escalated. Of course it's an issue when the starting point is "fuck you, you're a racist, I'm calling for your head" because our country is woefully terrible at teaching about the struggles of minority peoples the world over, but even of our own country. Education when you have it is great, and calling things out directly to people is a fantastic way of letting them know.
But it seems there's a rabid section of people completely opposed to the idea of confronting that they've been wrong, taught wrong, or know something wrong. Saying something racist unknowingly doesn't make you a racist, it just makes you ignorant of the history of a word. Knowing that it's wrong and being able to correct yourself is how you become a better person. We're going to say racist, or sexist, or transphobic things until we die because so much of it is ingrained in our society. Actively attempting to remove these things from your own vocabulary is important. Saying "I don't want them calling me out" or "I'm going to continue saying these things because free speech" is like saying "I know I'm saying the wrong thing, and I don't care that it's used for dehumanization", and that is a fucking problem.