OK, I was going to sit out the so-called “N-word” debate, but I feel compelled to speak-only because I’ve written about words and the misuse and misunderstanding of words in the past.
First off, let me say officially, the word “nigger,” “nigga,” “N-word,” or however you want to refer to it, should not-not-be banned. It should not be eliminated from the English language. It should not be put on moratorium. Rappers and anyone else should be allowed to use it.
What has caused all this uproar over the word “nigger”? Two ignorant white men-Michael Richards, who lost his mind at a comedy club, and Don Imus, who lost his mind and his job.
Yes, the word has a deplorable history of degradation and oppression. Yes, it’s painful because of that history. Yes, it was used by the KKK and other racists against blacks. And yes, it’s used as some kind of crazy greeting and badge of honor in the professional and non-professional world of hip-hop.
The way to address all of that is to openly address all of it, including how and why the word is used by some. Eliminating it won’t hold anyone accountable for using it in the first place.
Rappers aren’t the only ones who use it, mind you. The funniest bit Chris Rock ever did, I think, was his black people vs. niggers routine, discussing some of the bad behavior we engage in.
It was partly comedy, but also social commentary. Yes, the point can be made, and has been made, in another context. But using the word as an example to make the point is not without merit.
Nigger is used in spoken word and written poetry.
I just happened to run across this one online while working on this column. This excerpt is from a poem about depression called “A Nigger.”
Which crop? Which gin? What master? Where kin?/What dog with poisoned teeth? Chase and bite, perpetuating our grief?/When hell opened its gate, the white man ordained our fate/Why us who they choose to kill? To what do we owe their ill-will?/Nigger! Nigger! Cringing with fright. In the dark depths on board, no light.
Using racism and the word “nigger” as a kind of metaphor for depression-is that worth banning, or worth praise for originality? I’d put the pressure on some of the rappers to show that kind of creativity.
But the word has been used in some of the more thought-provoking hip-hop and rap music.
I wake up in the mornin, and ask myself/Is life worth livin, should I blast myself. I’m tired of being poor and even worse, I’m black/My stomach hurts, so I’m lookin for a purse to snatch.
Cops give a damn about a negro/Pull a trigga, kill a nigga, he’s a hero. Mo’ nigga, mo’ nigga, mo’ niggas/Rather be a dead than a po’ nigga.
If you don’t see the poetic social commentary in that and only see the nasty “N-word,” you’re missing the point. It’s gritty, it may offend, but banning it or parts of it would be a disservice to freedom of the mind as well as speech.
The point is: “nigger,” used in a certain context and forum-including in hip hop-can be more than appropriate.
That’s the real crime in the word-not that it’s used at all, but that it’s used so recklessly, so inappropriately at times, and so arrogantly by some in the hip-hop generation. The thought of referring to themselves as “black,” or “brotha” or “sista” instead of “nigger” is foreign to them. That’s a shame.
So, let’s stop with the anti-N-word crusades. Let’s instead talk about what it means, its history, its use and its misuse. Let’s educate young people about it. Let’s challenge their thinking and those of rappers who redefine it as something positive (I would say the same thing to women who turn bitch into an acronym for Being In Total Control of Herself-now ban that!).
Words do have power. “Refugee” vs. “evacuee” with respect to Hurricane Katrina showed that. But words have power because of the power we give them.
“Nigger” was given power by racists against blacks then, and now it’s been given power by young blacks today. Both views need to be corrected.