…life from my perspective
NIGGA. The inappropriate and unacceptable use of this word will forever be debated. The word “nigga” is as woven into America’s culture fabric as “freedom” and racism. And as I sit here contemplating the best angle to approach this controversial topic, I will admit I’m conflicted over the use of this word. As an avid hip-hop fan, I hear the word “nigga” tossed around as frequently as a dependent to be sold and filed on some stranger’s income tax return. Athletes use it. Comedians use it. Homey on the corner uses it. Bill Cosby is vehemently opposed to it. Richard Pryor stopped saying it. The NAACP wants to bury it. It’s difficult to offer up a blanket statement to describe the emotions the word “nigga” evokes, as it is seen as something different by every person who examines it. I said it before and I’ll say it again – the history and origin of a belief system and how it evolves has a huge impact on how it is communicated, interpreted and received. In order to have an intellectually engaging debate, the history of the word “nigga” needs to be studied. And since that is NOT my intention with this post, I WILL inform you that the word “nigga” is a form of the Latin word Niger and the French word Negre which both mean black. Mispronunciation and negative connotations born out of hatred and contempt by slavemasters for their slaves birthed the word “nigga”.
Images of my people as slaves being beaten and lynched, denigrated and dehumanized is more than enough reason for me to stop saying “nigga.” Remembering the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, sharecropping, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Revolutionary Movement forces me to take a closer look at the impact the “N word” has had on Black racial pride and on our esteem as a community. Because I see the devastation and hopelessness in our environment, I don’t need to be convinced that words have power and we as a people need to selectively choose what we say and how we say it. It is incumbent upon all of us to breathe life into one another by creating realities that we can exist and excel in and by becoming what you want to see more of in your community and in the world is how you make this happen. You want people to stop saying nigga? YOU stop saying nigga. Will this eliminate the ills plaguing the black community? Probably not. Will this reduce the crime rate? You can bet your bottom dollar it won’t. Will this make freedom ring? Hell naw. But it can serve to promote peaceful vibes that bring about positive spaces to encourage, motivate and uplift your brother or sister. Words are the springboards for thoughts as they influence our perception and dictate our actions, setting the stage for how we communicate with and engage one another. It’s no secret the word “nigga” was and still is used as a derogatory racial epithet to describe a lazy, shiftless, ignorant, heartless, callous, and stupid individual. And while we know the word nigga is used in a variety of different contexts to communicate a variety of different sentiments that range from love (my nigga), to disdain (bitch nigga), to mockery (cake ass nigga), no amount of debate or intellectualizing can take away the blatant disrespect we show our ancestors when we use this word so cavalierly. No amount of re-defining or mass acceptance of the word to minimize it’s power can eliminate the war scars worn valiantly on the hearts of our freedom fighters. The memory of slave lynchings and the bloodshed by our antislavery activists and warriors will not be erased by making the “N word” the new cool. The most important way for ALL Americans to pay homage to the African slaves for the sacrifices they made to build this country so we may enjoy the luxuries that we so easily take for granted, is to stop using the word nigga. Really? Negative. First, give the descendants of African slaves their 40 acres and a mule and THEN we can sit down and discuss this N word business. Until then…
What do you call the tenants who trash your condo forcing you to spend thousands in repairs before leasing it to new renters? Trifling Ass Niggas. What do you call the fools that busted out all your car door windows in an attempt to steal your car but ended up leaving it cause they couldn’t drive a stick shift? Dumb Niggas. What do you call J. Edgar Hoover? A Spineless Nigga. What do you call those Enron execs that stole the company’s investments and left their employees who held retirement plans broke and penniless? Dirty, Greedy, Treacherous Niggas. What do you call those that commit gangland, drive-by shootings taking the lives of the young and innocent EVERY TIME IT GETS HOT OUTSIDE? Hopeless Niggas. I don’t know how old I was when I first heard the word but it was used regularly in my home, in the homes of my family and friends and up and down the blocks of my neighborhood for as long as I could remember. I could always tell if it was being used as a “bad word” by the tone and body language of its user. But then I knew it could also be used as a “good word” whenever I saw my Daddy smiling as he one arm-hugged my uncle, giving him a pound and asking “whassup witcha nigga?” To me it’s extremely severe when a white person says it to a black person, be it casually or jokingly, in a conversation or while reciting the lyrics to a rap song; proper cause for that black person to go H.A.M. (hard as a mutha —–) I’m not quite sure how I feel about a white person saying it to another non-black person but a black person can use it as freely and as willingly as they choose, whenever and however they see fit. It’s akin to speaking negatively about a family member or loved one but putting an outsider in their place if they even think of talking bad about them. It boils down to you having made the necessary sacrifices to earn the right to discuss your loved one in this way while the outsider has not.
I personally believe WAY TOO MUCH attention is focused on whether to abolish the word and not enough emphasis is placed on changing mindsets. THAT’s where the REAL transformation begins. As I see it, language and communication evolve along with a society’s culture – chillax, bromance and frenemy were just added to the Oxford English Dictionary. This gives allowances for the changes we must make when communicating with each other, choosing words to be used in contexts that are time and space appropriate. I know what “nigga” meant then but what does “nigga” mean now? Just because it doesn’t sting me doesn’t mean I should dismiss your pain and ignore the bruise it left on you. To respect your leadership and acknowledge your sacrifices, though they’ve left you mentally and physically scarred, doesn’t mean you have ownership rights over the blueprint for advancing the lives of Black people in 21st century America. Look, at the end of the day, it boils down to what you identify with and what you answer to. Some think nigga is a derogatory term reserved only for blacks, others possess a more carefree attitude using it with any and everyone in their circle, while others use the word to describe BEHAVIORS, not a race of individuals, making EVERYONE fair game. We must dialogue. We have to build strong bridges that connect our elders to our youth. We must listen. We have to examine this from all sides being careful to not place more value on one belief system, dismissing all others. I’d rather see us be about it than speak about it. In the end, to N or not to N is totally up to you. Until tomorrow youngn’s.