Not too long ago I discovered a notebook of raps that I made while in my teens. Aside from the literally ignorant dronings about what “niggas don’t want” and what I’d do to “niggas who try to stop me,” I was dope–no need to be modest about that. “Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan” lol. But just who were these “niggas” who were trying to stop me? What were they trying to stop me from? You would have thought I was someone important on the rise that the world (or “niggas” at least) was against. I’ll address that issue in another post, but in getting to the point, I found it very difficult to even get through a single rap. I have not been saying the word “nigga” or any variation of it for so long that I can hardly remember how I used to sound saying it.
I know that many Black, Asian, Mexican, and White people use the world commonly, and I know that there is a drive to somehow “own this word.” Long ago, I used to nearly get into fist fights with persons addressing me as “nigga.” I choose my battles more wisely now. My goal is to win the war, and if you don’t know what the war is or what it’s about you may already be a casualty. Look into that. Anyhow, I’m also aware that many people see a difference between “nigga” and “nigger.” I would just like to add my loose change on the subject of this word and any derivation thereof.
First, let’s be clear that the word “nigga” is not a new term. We’ve been called “niggas” and we’ve been calling each other “niggas” since at least the 1800s. “Nigga” is merely the slack-jawed version of “nigger.” These pronunciations of the same term no more denote a different concept than “madam” and “ma’am.” Also, we gain no new understanding of the term “nigger” by connecting it to its etymological beginning “negro.” True indeed “negro” means “black” in many languages, but do not confuse this term with the concept of a Black person or a “nigger.” These are not the same. The connotation and therefore the meaning of “nigger” is completely different. “Nigger” does not mean “black.” It is a deragotory word leveled against Black people or people of Afrikan descent. “Negro” is a color, and while it has been used to discuss peoples of Afrikan descent, it does not have the connotation as “nigga” or “nigger.”
Now on the issue of ownership. It is most appropriate to ask: Why in the monkey would anyone want to own such a term?! I can only assume that this is a defense mechanism. Gays have owned the term “queer” and some claim the word “fag” in a similar defensive posture. However, these words were not the basis of genocide as “nigger” is. Perhaps we can view the desire to own this word in the same light as say comedian, Monique, owning being a “big bitch.” The goal is to disarm those who would use her weight against her. Still, being overweight does not have the same history as being deemed a “nigga.” Moreover, there are so many more positives that Blacks could lay claim to. “Nigger” is wholly negative. The same is true for “kafir.”
There is an issue of power here. In fact, all things are political, which I may address in another post. To drive my point about the uselessness of attempting to own such a heinous word, I have a little hypothetical situation that I usually offer that expresses the issue of power in an illuminating way:
Let’s assume that my brother and I were regularly called “idiots” throughout our upbringing. In fact, because we were considered idiots, a separate set of rules governing our behavior and determining our life chances was created and codified. Now as adults, we have decided that we want to own this term to maybe take the sting out of it. We create art (music, poetry, etc.) owning being “idiots.” We address each other as idiots: “What up my idiot…aw man a’ idiot like me is hungry…where can a’ idiot get a good burger…you mah idiot fo’ life bruh!” Meanwhile, no one has stopped calling us idiots. We are deemed idiots with all of the negative connotations that come with that word. We live in poverty–economically, which translates to no power to influence those who have the status and resources needed to help our campaign to own being idiots. We have created no institutions, and the organizations we create are chronically underfunded because no one wants to back an idiot. In fact, every positive move we make is thwarted. The only vehicles for upward mobility we have open to us are sports and art. In sports, we are owned, and our art is not taken seriously. Besides, we only write and rap about hurting other idiots–each other: “Idiot’s be trying to hold me down, I clown, I ruin that idiot’s smile, so he frowns” and so on, and so forth.
Now I ask you: just how the do we sound? WE SOUND LIKE TWO REAL IDIOTS! What we fail to realize in our campaign, is that we have long since owned being idiots. It’s idiotic that we even want to own that term. Nevertheless, we were successful long ago when the seed was planted in our heads that being idiots could be a good thing. Our oppression was completed and perfected at the moment, and now, as full idiots, we struggle all the day long to kill ourselves spiritually and culturally. And, at this point, I would like to submit that those who seek to own this word need to focus on owning businesses in their neighborhoods. They should seek to own bookstores or the right to create progressive curriculum for themselves and their children. They should seek to own the rights to a new invention that benefits humanity. Leave “nigga” and “nigger” and “nigra” and any other pronunciation in the legacy it was born in–chattel slavery. There is no victory there for us.
Now to address the youtube video. Let’s keep in mind that this man is comedian, but let’s also remember that comedians are social scientists with their fingers on the pulse of the people in ways that scholars often do not. Unfortunately, even Afrikans now use the word “nigga.” Thanks rappers. This is why I argue that hip hop is not a positive transformative force like its practitioners claim it to be. In the words of my cousin, “DO BETTER!” I think it’s beautiful that Richard could disown that word. I wish we would all go back to Afrika in that way or have our road to Damascus-like catharsis. The Creator knows, my people need it.
…there’s gotta be some rules.