A five letter (sometimes 6) word created to demean, degrade, offend one particular group of people robbed from their homes and families. A word unlike no other in our history. One that continues to plague us today for so many reasons. A word used by this particular group of people because they were brainwashed to believe they were nothing but a “good for nothing Nigger”.
This word continued to be used by that group of people even after their physical emancipation because they were chained mentally, removed permanently from a history. Their history was being a “good for nothing Nigger”.
As this population aged, the word was thrown around, they used the word against their own because that was what they were taught to do. Systemically coached to continue to mentally annihilate each other. Slavery is gone but you are still a “good for nothing Nigger”.
The word evolved as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-greats and so forth were bred in this new home. The memory of the root of this word was not taught but now we would greet our friends as “my Nigga”.
The etymology of the word Nigga is clear – being derived from negro, negre, neger. All of those words mean black. Thrown in the faces of the enslaved in various ways:
“Well, what of it? They’ll all lie. Leastways all but the nigger. I don’t know him. But I never see a nigger that wouldn’t lie. Shucks!” – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
“Look down that aisle, there’s a nigger as black as the ace of spades!” – Benjamin Ryan Tillman Jr, Democratic Governor of South Carolina
“There’s a nigger for you, Wilson, with a note.” Heart of Matter
“The Kaffir whore and the half-breed toto and the faithful nigger.” – Last Safari
“Don’t be a nigger,’ he would say to me over and over. ‘Niggers lie and lie.” – Dust Tracks
“You are only a silly nigger pretending to be an English gentleman.” – On the Rocks
Today, we have the internet, a tool that has catalogued and chronicled the use and more recently, the abuse of this word. The internet recommends books that give us the history of this word. It shares songs that rely on this word. It sets the scene that our ancestors may not have been able to articulate.
There is much debate amongst people of all races about the application of this word. Because Hip Hop has now solidified itself as popular culture, the word is very much at the forefront of discussion but what doesn’t make it into many of these discussions is the historical context and the psychological damage this word carries around with it. That we haven’t been able to stop using this word amongst ourselves because it’s part of a history that was taken away from many of us, it’s a symptom of Stockholm Syndrome that we can’t shake.
When a person who is not black, not the ancestor of slaves questions why they shouldn’t use the word Nigger, the answers are clear:
- Because your ancestors used this word as a tool in an arsenal of destruction of my ancestors and their descendants, including me.
- Because my brethren shouldn’t be using the word but haven’t broken free and realised the grave error of their ways just yet.
- Because the flinging of another (word) Nigger on top of the anecdotal fire doesn’t make it right.
Because Jay Z said Nigger in his rap doesn’t give a white person, a corporation, another black person license to continually use the word. Two wrongs really don’t make it right. Some may argue we are giving this word more power than it deserves and we should ignore the application of it but to ignore the use and abuse of Nigger would be to forget where we have come from, to forget the battles forged on our behalf. To ignore the use of the word Nigger tells those who should not be using the word that it is okay to callously throw around the bodies of dead slaves and the ignore the history fought to bring about equity.
(Before you judge me based on my writing, let me share some of my personal history and background. I am half Barbadian, born in England to a half Nigerian mother. I was raised in the UK, Barbados and spent a majority of my life in Boston, MA. Many of my maternal and paternal ancestors were European. A good portion of my maternal family are white, Chinese and mixed race. I have been called Nigger by shop owners, abusive drivers on the streets of Boston. When I refer to we in this blog, I mean ancestors of slaves, slaves of the new world – America and the West Indies).
My preference is to discuss matters of race rather than to feverishly debate them (I will if I have to) but in today’s climate, everyone is on edge and ready to attack rather than to listen objectively. Admittedly, it is difficult to objective when you are the subject of the racial abuse. I wrote this because many white people have questioned why it is okay for black people to use the word Nigger but not for them. I believe this question is a genuine one that deserves an honest answer. There are some presumptions made when asking this question. The questioner can only be presuming that we are okay with black people using this word – we aren’t. But I also believe that when people are asking this question, they haven’t considered the historical and psychological context of the word and view it as just another word, a noun.
My hope is that people understand that black people using the word Nigger isn’t an open invitation to for it to be taken advantage of, in the same way me standing naked in the street isn’t an invitation for someone to violate me.
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