In defining the word ‘Nigger/Nigga’ I looked up both definitions from Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary and this is what I found:
The Urban Dictionary: Nigga is a word which evolved from the derogative term “nigger”. Tupac best defined the distinction between the two:
NIGGER– a black man with a slavery chain around his neck.
NIGGA– a black man with a gold chain on his neck.
Wikipedia: Nigga is a term used in Black English Vernacular that began as an eye dialect form of the word nigger (a word originated as a term used in a neutral context to refer to black people, as a variation of the Spanish/Portuguese noun negro, a descendant of the Latin adjective niger, meaning the color “black”).
There has been a lot of controversy over the use of the word over the years with each country/culture defining it slightly different. For instance in certain European countries the word ‘nigger’ or a variation of it still refers to a man/woman of African descent (basically a black man or woman).
The United States is a country/continent with the largest population of slave descendants. Yes, the use of slave descendants sounds harsh but it is a reality. Before you go off, I need you to read the article in full to better understand my use of certain verbs/nouns and terminology.
Being from Africa, the term slavery has a completely different meaning to me as it would an African American whose ancestors were forced into slavery.
You have to understand that even though a form of slavery still exists in Africa, we really don’t have the same views on the subject as our African American brothers and sisters.
An African views slavery as a rich man/woman who bought under-privileged people to work for them. This could also be a fellow African who happens to be more influential. Now ask an African American about slavery and they will give you a 20 page thesis on the suppression of the black race and the effects it has had on African descendants and how it has shaped society’s views on all people of color.
However, it amazes me that the same people who have fought for freedom and are still fighting for unity among all races are the ones who freely throw around the word ‘Nigger’, although the Urban dictionary gives its consent to using the word ‘Nigga’ since the legendary rapper Tupac Shakur (RIP) defined the distinction between the two.
In my personal opinion both terms are degrading and still ooze slavery and deprivation. I also don’t agree with Tupac Shakur’s definitions because it still depicts a form of bondage. What I fail to understand is how a group of people who have fought with their lives for freedom can go back to a form of enslavement in the way they live and/or portray themselves.
Considering our current era is all about being chic, modern, cool, sophisticated and trendsetting, why can’t we find a terminology that would incorporate all that this generation represents and use that term in place of ‘Nigger’/’nigga’.
I grew up with people calling me ‘Neggerin’ on a daily basis for 20 years. The worst part of it, was that it wasn’t a forbidden or derogatory term in Austria. It was a term people could use without suffering any consequences. I guess if the current African-American generation grew up the way I did, they would certainly think twice about glorifying slavery.
A few weeks ago, actress Gwyneth Paltrow was at a concert supporting her friends Jay-Z and Kanye West and during the performance of their hit single “Niggas in Paris“, she tweeted:
“Niggas in Paris indeed…”
This caused an uproar among African Americans and it made headlines on almost every blog and news outlet. You would have thought she committed murder. I was surprised people were so angry at her for using the word ‘Nigga’. Why you ask?
Because it obviously isn’t a derogatory term in the United States. If it were men and women whose grandparents/great-grandparents were born into slavery and never experienced happiness, joy or freedom wouldn’t be throwing the word around loosely like it were some form of praise or a representation of freedom!
And to think that two of the most influential rap artist’ titled their rap song “niggas in Paris” expecting the world to censor themselves depending on race. When Gwyneth tweeted her thoughts, a few African American artist’ in the entertainment industry stood up to defend her and stated that she was only referring to the rap title but it still didn’t sit well with with the masses.
However the term is viewed individually, I believe that organizations like the NAACP could start a movement to ban the use of the word completely. To continue to use it to describe a certain character trait that’s considered urban and cosmopolitan, and expect other ethnicities or races to abstain from the word is foolishness and unrealistic.
I am yet to witness anything like it in the world where a certain terminology is only applicable based on the level of melanin in your body. Just the other day The Grio reported a story with the following headline:
“Man finds ‘Hello Ni**er!’ message on TV in Motel 6 room”
According to Cincinnati’s Channel 9 WCPO, an Ohio man checked into a Sharonville Motel 6, only to be greeted with an unexpected and disturbing dose of racism. Dayton native, Joseph Ross turned on his room’s television only to see the words “Hello Ni**er!” appear on the center of the screen.
“I turned the TV on, laid back on the bed… I saw something on the screen and I was like ‘Ah, that ain’t there.’ So then I focused my eyes, and I couldn’t believe what was on there,” Ross commented.
Ross initially called Motel 6′s corporate offices, who said that they would get back to him within 30 days. He then contacted the Dayton chapter of the NAACP. The chapter’s president, Derrick Forward, who can also collaborate the message, did not think it was a coincidence that this racist message appeared around the time of the predominantly black Macy’s Music Festival.
Christopher Smitherman, President of the Cincinnati NAACP recently posted to their website, “This behavior is despicable and un-American.”
Motel 6 release this statement in response to the incident:
At Motel 6, we are proud of the great diversity of the guests that we serve, and we are completely appalled by the offensive slur that appeared on our guest’s television screen Friday. We are investigating to determine how this mishap occurred, and after inspecting other rooms this appears to be an isolated incident.
Huffington Post even published an article written by a Caucasian man married to an African American woman on the subject. Read it below:
The ‘N’ and Me:
I’m a 50 year-old White Anglo Saxon Protestant, but that’s where the similarity ends, because by marriage I’ve been a member of a large black family for more than half my life. And I’m not talking about black people who have a place in Sag Harbor and season tickets to the Opera. I’m talking about a huge raucous family from Oklahoma and Texas, some of whom use the word nigger when addressing me.
I love, and am loved, by my in-laws who, when exasperated or skeptical, or amused, have called me, to be precise, “niggah”. It always pleases me, and no, I have never reciprocated, but like a growing number of people who have a deep personal stake in undermining racism, I don’t simply hate the N word.
The first time my wife called me her nigger I felt a particular thrill. It was the kind of moment when the blood rushes to certain places, even as your mind recoils from its’ lustful thoughts. It was like she’d said, “If you want me to kill somebody for you, I will.” She said it real soft, with a hand on her hip. Half her mouth was smiling, the other half wasn’t. That was twenty-five years ago. We’d known each other for a few months and were wildly smitten.
“You my niggah,” she said.
I remember the sensation like it was yesterday. My wife is not what one would describe as ‘ghetto.’ She can ‘go there’ to be sure, but in her heart, her demeanor, and her upbringing, my wife is an elegant and refined black woman. She was raised by parents who abhorred the N-word, and did not allow it spoken in their home.
Nevertheless, it remains an everyday greeting, admonition and punchline among the politically aware, college educated children and children’s children. The word has legs. It wasn’t stamped out by the civil rights movement, it was redefined and, somewhat, taken over, by a generation of black Americans that inherited it. But it remains uniquely inflammatory, because, as an increasingly desegregated culture, we still don’t seem to be able to talk intelligently about it. The word has the power to make us stupid. The best we can do is talk about what it has meant, instead of what it means now. And we’re not even very good at that.
Case in point: Whoopi Goldberg and Elizabeth Hasselback demonstrated the peril a few years ago, and pointlessness, of debating whether this word should be spoken anymore by anyone, of any color.
I submit that it’s not a matter of ‘should’ because the meaning of pivotal, incendiary language always evolves more quickly than the arguments for or against. Words cannot be wiped out. They can only be replaced due to obsolescence or transformation.
Neither is likely to happen to the word ‘nigger’ anytime soon. My brother in-law, a man who has raised five successful, educated, and socially aware black children, is a particularly eloquent user of the N-word, and when he says:
“That niggah’s crazy!” it’s almost always, well, appropriate.
I am not defending the self-demeaning, nihilistic, ‘niggerization’ that is so called Gangsta, or Thug Life culture. That would be like defending the symptoms of a disease. I don’t like that shit, and I cringe when I hear my son follow along, word for word, with those dumb-ass, ignorant lyrics. To which he replies, “Dad, it’s gangsta rap. Of course it’s ignorant!” and he goes right on rapping. And damned if I’m not bobbing my head along with him by the time we park the car.
Like him, I’ve learned not to take it too seriously, but I remain deeply disappointed that so many hip hop “artists” appear comfortable being buffoons, who may as well have been created by racist overlords to make black people look bad. But the word nigger isn’t the problem; the problem is the lack of other words. Ignorance contributes to the problem. Amy brother in-law would say,
“If them niggah’s didn’t have the words nigger and fuck, they’d be a bunch of goddamn mutes!”
Wouldn’t that be a relief. “But what about The Black Community?” cry the hand wringing white liberals, and impatient white conservatives, and uneasy white moderates. “Why do they keep saying that terrible word that we’re not allowed to say!?”
The so-called ‘Black Community’ is neither completely comfortable, nor unanimously horrified, by the continued presence of the word nigger in the American vernacular, because the ‘Black Community’ is as varied, divided, and dynamic as any other community. We keep trying to define each other in these unhelpful, monolithic terms. It’s a symptom of intellectual laziness. Hey, maybe we should make improving public education a higher priority. Just a thought.
In our household, when talking to our black children, we try to point out that awareness of context and nuance does not remove the singular status from the word nigger. It is still unique in it’s power to wound and incite. When used as a bludgeon by non-black people or repeated as nauseum by black people, it reverts to the vile obscenity it’s been since slavery. No one we admonish, should forget or downplay, its hateful origins.
But the truth also is that in our household, nigger is just another dirty word. We are not a family that can neatly divide the people with permission to say it, from those who aren’t allowed. As I occasionally point out to my children, It’s kind of hard for me, twenty six years into being part of a black community, to differentiate nigger from fuck, suck, shit, bitch, ho, motherfucker, cunt, and all the other trash language that we hear on the street, and on radio, TV and the internet twenty four hours a goddamn day.
The liberalizing of the airwaves is not, in my opinion (in case you missed my note of weary exasperation) what I’d call progress. For me and a growing number of white men and women in mixed families, ‘nigger’, when used without self-awareness and context, is just one more piece of the ever growing cultural crassness that sloshes around like floodwater these days.
To fixate on whether or not it’s okay to say it, as the ladies on The View were doing the other day, is to miss this larger point. At such a crucial moment in our history, when a black man who literally embodies the idea that we are all ultimately one race, could become the next president, our ability to put things into context, observe subtleties, and notice our common humanity with as much awareness as we notice the things that divide us, has never been more important.
We need to shake off the last eight spirit-crushing years of willful ignorance, brazen hypocrisy, and cynical politicization, and stop wasting our breath with facile pronouncements about what we’re allowed to say. Ignorance and intolerance are the root of obscenity. Not the other way around. The word nigger isn’t going away anytime soon. Let’s figure out what that’s about, instead of arguing about whether it’s too awful to say aloud.
In order to do this, we need to understand ourselves better. As a white man in a black family, I can say with some authority, the word ‘nigger’ has a lot of different meanings, and context is crucial to understanding why it persists in our language.
Talking heads from Elizabeth Hasselback to Jesse Jackson can bloviate all they want about how nobody should be allowed to say it, but they both know they are grossly oversimplifying, precisely in order to keep the argument on the Jerry Springer level. That, after all, is how they make their living. People who have achieved brand status on TV don’t get paid to really listen, because what if, God forbid, they blurt out something like:
“Wow, I never thought of it that way before.”
Rather, they get paid to present market-tested attitudes that audiences and sponsors can comfortably endorse or dismiss, without having to think too hard: Righteous Indignation, Holier-than-thou Dismay, or the ever reliable, Snarky Cynicism. But the cost of all this willful bullshit is very high. We lose any sense of context. Every issue becomes a shouting match. Self-righteousness and moral outrage overwhelm any chance for thoughtful discussion.
Yes, Reverend Jackson said the N-word the other day, but why? Was he being ironic? Was he kidding? Did we get a glimpse of an old lion’s understandable bitterness that this upstart, Obama, has passed him on the way to a new paradigm?
Now, that conversation — had anyone on TV dared to have it — might have put the dreaded N-word into fascinating context. But all we got was,
“Civil rights leader says the N-word! How could he, of all people? Oh the hypocrisy!”
Oh, put a sock in it! Of course Jesse Jackson is guilty of hypocrisy, but not just because he got careless in front of a hot microphone.
Who among us hasn’t muttered an uncouth aside before warmly greeting someone we don’t like? Rather, it’s because, as gifted and courageous as he has been, he no longer bothers to differentiate speaking truth to power from opportunistic grandstanding. Like I said, the man’s got to make a living.
And once again the N-word proved it’s usefulness as a hot topic for another exercise in insight avoidance, and keeps it’s role as the only word in our language that is perceived as a villain by some, and strangely irreplaceable, by others. What a word.
It’s interesting to note that the Caucasian man who wrote the article above described himself as being a part of the Black family. I’m almost inclined to believe he thinks he’s a light skin black man.
What do you think? His viewpoints, although he raised some very valid ones, could almost be labeled ‘opinions of a black man‘. This man seems to be of the opinion that as long as it’s used in the right circles, it’s alright.
I personally don’t care what social circle I’m in, if you are unable to express yourself without the use of the word ‘nigger/nigga’, you must have underlying issues that need to be addressed and treated immediately!
What are your thoughts on this topic: when other races say the “N” word?