Should we as writers censor our words? Or do we have a responsibility to our reading public to stay true to our characters?
In my opinion, I believe it is up to the writer and depends upon his own preferences.
As for me ... I would never use the N-word in one of my books; haven't and won't. The word isn't even in my vocabulary or my thoughts. It's offensive to me and offensive to some of my friends. But then I don't write the novels that contain the character who would use the word in his dialog. If you are writing a crime novel with drug dealers and murderers, or some red-neck SOB and the lot, a southern slave-period tale ... then most likely you will be writing someone who is ignorant and foul enough to use the word. So in that case, for authenticity, it'll be in your writing and rightly so.
Now I have written the F word and damn words, and most all the other vile words that low-level crass and evil people use (high-level, too, are just as offensive). But I use them only to show the type of character I'm writing. If a guy is beating the hell out of his wife or girlfriend, he certainly isn't saying nice things to her. He's calling her all types of names and using the worst of the worst words, as in real life.
I guess it's because I believe in writing real life that I will allow the character to be true to who he is and say the things I know he would say.
So, again, I feel it's up to the writer, and what he's trying to convey about the scene and the characters in the scene. I mean there's nothing worse than reading a murder mystery with no offensive language in today's time. It just doesn't ring true. You're saying who would even attempt writing such unreal characters? Well, believe it or not, one such manuscript came across my desk and the writer explained that her beliefs kept her from writing vile words or bloody scenes. This was a cop novel. I suggested she change her genre. It wasn't working.
And again, no matter what, I would never use the N-word. I can't think of any other word I would never use. Only that one, and maybe other slang insults against a race. And I will avoid and step away from any person who uses it within my hearing distance. Just not acceptable. This includes joke tellers.
But ... if a writer has a valid reason to use the offensive words in a character's dialog, well ... just as it's used in songs ... we must take it as it's meant to be taken and if we're to dislike someone, dislike the character rather than the writer.
Just my take on it ...