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Black America and the N Word

By Chico Norwood

I recently moved back to my hometown of Jackson, MS., and while listening to the conversations betweenc my sister and some of her friends I was amazed at how many times they said the word “nigger” or should I say “nigga.”  So, one day I secretly placed my tape recorder in a strategic position while my sister and her friends were watching a basketball game.  It recorded them using the word “nigger” (“nigga”) more than 25 times, in less than an hour.  Just about every sentence contained the word “nigger” (“nigga”).  “That ‘nigger’ (‘nigga’) can’t shoot,” “Shoot the ball ‘nigger’ (‘nigga’),” “Come on ‘nigger’ (‘nigga’) etc.”  Every other player was a “nigger” (“nigga”). After a while, it started to grate on my nerves.

Having lived in Los Angeles for so many years, I have become culturally sensitive.  My black L.A. friends and I have occasionally used the word “nigger” (“nigga”) among ourselves in conversation with no more than two or three of us present at a time or no more than once or twice during the entire conversation; but not to such an  extent that every other word leaving our mouths is “nigger” (“nigga”).  Maybe it’s a southern thing, but I doubt it. I noticed that while having a conversation with a highly educated, upscale elderly southern African American woman— her husband was a highly respected pharmacist and she a librarian—she used the word “nigger” (“nigga”) very freely in her description of her neighbor.

So, why am I writing about this?  To make a point, I guess, or maybe to get feedback or the opinion of others.  I don’t know, but I felt compelled to address the subject of the word “nigger” (“nigga”) and its use in the African American community and language. Let’s just say I think we, as a people, need to open dialogue to address the use of the word that we obviously hold so dear to our hearts.

How can we, African Americans/Blacks, get so up in arms when someone of another race, be it Caucasian, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, etc., uses the word “nigger” (“nigga) but find it okay to use when we speak among ourselves? Is that a dichotomy? When Dr. Laura said the word “nigger” (“nigga”) 11 times over the KABC airwaves in Los Angeles, the NAACP and the African American community, at large, called for the poor woman’s head on a platter. You would have thought she was John the Baptist. And it resulted in her losing her job.

So, I ask, why is the word “nigger” (“nigga”) our sacred word? Are we the only people who are allowed to use it? Or should I ask why are we the only race allowed to use it freely and in public? Of course we know other ethnic groups use it in private – that’s probably why Dr. Laura had her Freudian slip.  Maybe she was too comfortable and forgot she was on air and not in the comfort of her own home with her friends.

Why is it okay for us to use a word that when used by someone else is the ultimate in degradation for us as a people—a word that we consider to be so degrading when spoken by someone from another race?  Do Jews call each other “kike” in everyday conversation?  Do Chinese Americans refer to each other as “chink” in day to day conversation? Do Puerto Ricans refer to each other as “spik” as they watch soccer games? Do Italian-Americans call each other “wop” or “dago?  Please be advised that I am not anti-Semitic or anything like that, nor am I trying to insult anyone. I’m just trying to make a point. So please, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federation, Simon Wiesenthal Foundation, Asian and Italian American leaders don’t come after me. I apologize for the use of these words and I mean no harm.  I’m trying to get a message across to the African American community and hopefully, find some answers.

I would really like to hear from someone in the Jewish, Puerto Rican and Italian-American communities to find out if there is such a derogatory word in your communities that is used to describe people from your ethnic group that is bantered about so freely during day to day conversations.

“Nigger” (nigga”) is the slang for Negro; the term whites called us before we became black and then African Americans (my next article is going to be on the labeling of Black America). I remember as a child growing up in Jackson, MS., watching the late Senator John Stennis on television talking about the “niggras.”  We would get hopping mad and say he was too lazy to pronounce Negro or that he really wanted to say “nigger” or “nigga.”

If I’m not mistaken, didn’t slave owners refer to us as “niggers,” “niggas,” “niggras” and “darkies?”  So, why do we as a people have such self loathing and hatred that we would identify each other in the same way that the slave owner did?  Is this a subliminal carry over from the days of slavery?   If this is so, then this is proof positive that slavery is still impacting the African American community today and Willie Lynch is still alive and kicking in Black America.

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5 Responses to Black America and the N Word

  1. Elliott Reply

    June 2, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Being one of many in the sector of our society that has NEVER used that “reference”, I believe it is a “lack of awareness” by those that do use this word as to where it places the race as a whole in the eyes of others. They must think it is “cool” and have no idea how such a negative term adversely impacts them immediately and everyone in earshot.

    It is a parents responsibility to teach their children. I would surmise the lack of education by MOST parents, especially the single parent homes, is a major contributing factor. Additionally, this the term being used in a large percentage of the so called “music” being listened to in the hip-hop style of music gets to be imbedded in their vocabulary.

  2. Think about it! Reply

    June 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Some Black people sadly lack self respect. When I am around Blacks who freely and openly use that word, I remove myself immediately. Other derogatory terms once used to describe Italians, Polish, Asian and Jews have Ben purged from our vernacular. Our youth don’t even know of the EXISTENCE of those terms! As long as we was Blacks continue to disrespect self, the world will continue to do so. I just spent a week in Jamaica and never once heard that word out of the mouths of any of the Back Jamaicans. Let’s all raise the bar. And as a side note, do you believe for one moment a record company would let anyone record a record using a negative term or a derogatory term for a Jew? The answer is no. We don’t respect or protect our own image, so why would anyone else?

  3. Evette Reply

    June 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    I agree with everything you said. I will admit that the word “nigga” is in my vocabulary almost on a daily basis and the other day I was on a social network and saw a white girl who commented on her black friends page and used the word “nigga”…I was p*ssed and wanted to cuss her out, but it was none of my business to start drama on someone elses fb wall.

    So I see where you are coming from with your article. I’m going to make a point not to use that word anymore. I will say that I have never used it in front of a non-black person, because I don’t want them to think its ok for them to use it. Lastly, not only was I using that word..when white people would do something indirectly to p*ss me off, I would use the word “cracka” in describing them.
    So it seems like this generation of people don’t know what it was like in the slave days, but the slave days haven’t went to far, as far as derogatory terms are concerned. We all have to do better!!

  4. Sehar Peerzada Reply

    June 2, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    I think the term “nigger” and all of its forms was “official” language not slang. I may be wrong and it would be interesting to read a historical timeline account of the labeling of us.

    We often speak badly about things we hold dear, like our mothers, our husbands and children. But no one else can speak badly about them. I call this the “You can’t talk about my momma” rule. I can use a negative reference about myself but you can’t say the same thing to me. For me it is a simple equation for why we can use it but no one else can.

    However all that being said, I do not like the use of the term in everyday language by anyone.

  5. Shirley Hawkins Reply

    June 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Right on, Chico.
    I have often wondered about why we are so intent in using this word, especially among our young people. I have even heard Asians and Mexicans calling themselves “niggas”! I tried not to look and stare.

    We are denigrating ourselves with that word and most of us don’t even know it.

    We need to have respect for ourselves and totally eliminate that word from our vocabulary. Unfortunately, I think it might be too late–young people have embraced that word like it’s the golden ticket.

    Parents, if you have kids, teach them not to use it. We need to stop disparaging each other with that word. That’s all I can say.

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