“Nas’ 8th Album / the 14th Letter”
Chink. Kike. Wetback. Faggot. Paki. Even Bitch! And the list of derogatory and insulting titles goes on. These words used for hate, harm and hurt. All words with a vast and horrid history behind their “definitions”. All words created by evil, racist, ignorant, misogynists, with nothing but ill intent in their hearts. All of these words are widely considered forbidden. Taboos that should have long been tossed in a time capsule and buried. Something that has been long forgotten, only remembered in conversation about history and how far we have come as human beings from the time of that archaic way to speak. And yet they still exist and are still used by many. Maybe not so much publicly, but definitely uttered under breaths, in cars, and directed at someone with a different color skin, or appearance than you. Who can fathom such words being deemed as everyday vernacular, and even worse, as cool. But then there is the N word. Yes, yes the infamous and perhaps famous N word. Nigger. A word that, as a black man is even hard to type or write, never mind to utter. Yet it seems to be the one derogatory term that has been able to circumvent the simple security of probably the most basic of human rights. The right to not be called offensive names based on who you are, or what you look like. And yet it’s nigger that has seemed to obtain this level of social acceptance by some. My question is why? Why has it, the most historically negative title, become so desirable to use in everyday vernacular?
I guess Hip hop music shares some of the blame. With its growth in popularity came a rise in the normalcy applied to some of the culturally specific language. Especially the negative ones, bitch, hoe, and of course Nigger. A genre born from the very streets that exemplify what oppression is in North America. Ironically, this art form, that is largely responsible for giving upper class white Americans a view into the world of poverty, racism and subjugation, is now also responsible for giving the green light to anyone who feels “black enough” to use the N word. I guess, by extension, we could just point our judgemental fingers at the very same people the word was created to make victims of. Black People. A word that once left a bee swarm sized sting, in the wake of its pronunciation, has been reclaimed by its victims, as a term of endearment. Jay-Z made this perspective, a worldwide announcement when he told Oprah that “we give words power” He explained, “We took a word that was very hurtful and turned it into a term of endearment.” Even I must admit there is brilliance in this way of thinking. In theory. However, in practice it’s the equivalent to a rape victim greeting the members of their support group with “what up Rapes!!??!!” Somehow it doesn’t have the same ring of genius anymore huh? Then to reinforce this idea, is what I like to call The Black Millennials theory. Yes the same generation that is aggressively trying to destroy everything their parents and aunts and uncles grew up believing. Everything from gender titles to the flat earthers, it is all under reconstruction. And the N word is not exempt. Another rapper Kendrick Lamar recently put another spin on the usage, on his album To Pimp a Butterfly where he said in a preacher like voice “N-E-G-U-S, definition: royalty, king, royalty. Wait listen, N-E-G-U-S description: black ruler,” at the end of the live version of “i”. Retitling the Nigger as Negus which refers to a brand of African royalty. When asked by HipHopDX if he was trying to reclaim the N word, he responded with, “We’ve been trying to do it,” he says. “It still never translates and is appeasing to the ear. This is a start and that was the purpose for it… It’s been under our nose for years, but we all are kings at the end of the day.” Again, brilliant in theory!! Who am I to criticize the idea of changing an expression of pain into a term that refers to greatness? But again the practice of this notion is flawed. Black boys and girls are not calling each other nigger with the word King and Queen in their subconscious. The intent maybe positive, but if I as a rapist, was in love with my victim, does that make the way I chose to express any less sickening?!? I can appreciate the attempts that these 2 theories are making toward change, but I remain very unsure that the new definition will outlast the old. In fact I’d go further and say that many of these advocates for saying the word, are still upset by any non-black person uttering the same phrase. Indifferent of whether or not it’s meant as an insult or an acknowledgment of an ally, most blacks will not accept someone outside the community calling them a nigger. Is this a contradiction? Maybe to some, but not to me. The world has to realize that it is not the place of an outsider to dictate the actions, rules and laws of those on the inside. Or simply put, I can call my brother stupid and get away with it, but let someone outside of the family call him stupid, and see what happens!!
And as I often do, I’ll leave you with this story from my childhood….
I was about 6 or 7 years old, when I first had THE WORD, aimed in my direction, with blatant intent to harm. It stung even before I could comprehend the reason for the pain. I was shocked by the holder of the weapon. It didn’t come from a classmate. No it didn’t come from an adolescent, or a peer who could blame immature ignorance for the unnecessary spew of verbal garbage hurled toward me. It came from an adult, and was directed not only at me but several of my friends as well. I have never forgotten that day or that feeling. And no amount of reclaiming or redefining of the word Nigger will wipe away that memory.
– SLANG HUGH
Slang Hugh can be found on instagram @slanghugh.
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