Wednesday, December 26, 2007
OK, I just want to share my theory on the N-word. Over the last few years I just couldnâ€™t figure out why a word that black folks have been using amongst ourselves since slavery without incident suddenly became the subject of all this fiery debate and the symbol of everything wrong with Black America. What suddenly became so wrong with black folks saying â€œniggaâ€ to each other? You look at African-American expression in all art formsâ€”literature, art, music– and black people have used that word with each other since the nineteenth century. You think those folks that laid down their lives for the civil rights movement didnâ€™t listen to Miles Davis and say, thatâ€™s a bad nigga there! You think MLK didnâ€™t use that word? I KNOW Jesse and Al surely use it. And up until now no one really seemed to care. So what suddenly changed??? Why has the N-word been able to exist peacefully in the comforting arms of the black community for a hundred years until now? I think I have the answer.
Hip-Hop. Wait, before you start groaning, hear me outâ€¦.
I think that us suddenly distancing ourselves from the n-word is part of our collective obsession with what white people think about us. Because just think, for the last hundred years, as long as we could say the word to each other in our homes and on the b-ball court and in the jazz clubs and at the bar or the greasy spoon, we were cool. And there were rules. You knew not to say it in â€œmixed companyâ€(white people), you knew the fine nuances that distinguished when you used nigga versus negro. It was an art form. The black community and the N-word had an understanding. Things were cool. But then came hip hop. See when hip-hop put our little secret community word on major blast for the world to see, we suddenly all had to pretend that we found it repugnant and reprehensive because the rest of the world did. Its like when you wear a shirt you know has a hole in it, and then when someone points it out you act all shocked like you had no idea it was there.
The pressure was on. What do we do? The n-word made us look bad and made white people uncomfortable. All of a sudden white kids were listening to young black men use that word ad infinitum and we now also had to explain why it was OK for us to say it but not them. Our hip-hop became the excuse for white people to act all confused about what is acceptable behavior with regards to racial dialogue and what isnâ€™t. So now, we find ourselves having to explain our use of this word to â€œmainstream society.”
I posit that if hip-hop hadnâ€™t brought the n-word to white America and uttered it thousands of times within the sanctity of their white homes and communities, we would not feel the need to explain it, distance ourselves from it or bury it. The problem started when we broke the â€œdo not use in mixed companyâ€ rule. The early days of hip hop had it right. You didnâ€™t hear nigga used very often. But NWA came in and changed the game and weâ€™ve been backpedaling ever since.
So, thatâ€™s my theory. My theory as to why I lived my whole adult life using and listening to the n-word and no one cared, and why now we are suddenly up in arms about it and acting like we canâ€™t believe such a derogatory term is used in our communities. And it all comes back to my favorite acronym, WWWPT (pronounced Whippet), â€œWhat Will White People Think?â€ Personally, I donâ€™t care what white people think about that word. I donâ€™t feel we need to explain why we use it or why they canâ€™t use it. You just canâ€™t. Period.
I donâ€™t feel like I have to justify it as a term of endearment because sometime it is and sometimes it aint. Sometimes itâ€™s just a fucking pronoun. Why do I have to explain a such a complicated, nuanced cultural concept to mainstream America? Howâ€™s this for an explanation: you canâ€™t use it. Itâ€™s like talking about your mama. You can talk about her but no one else can. Itâ€™s because you love your mama and have a relationship with her, itâ€™s that simple. Why are we allowing white folks to make it so complicated? More importantly, why are we all bowing and scraping to make it make sense for them? Black people (and maybe the occasional Puerto Rican) can say the N-word, white people canâ€™t. Get over it.
Itâ€™s like Chris Rock and his â€œblack folks vs. niggasâ€ routine in his stand-up. Black people have been saying this in our communities forever. Only when it got on HBO and â€œmainstream Americaâ€ saw it did it become â€œcontroversialâ€ and the impetus for a sudden intellectual examination of race in America. I remember he was on 60 Minutes being interviewed by Ed Bradley about it. RUFKM?? (r u fucking kidding me?)– Ed knows that he knew exactly what Chris was talking about, but he had to put his blackness on the shelf and play his reporter role and challenged Chris to now explain this concept to mainstream America. Remember those t-shirts from the 90â€™s â€œItâ€™s a Black Thing, You Donâ€™t Understandâ€? Sometimes, thatâ€™s the best answer.
Soâ€”howâ€™s that for a hypothesis? The N-word is only an issue in our communities because white folks have made it an issueâ€”and in order for us not to â€œlook badâ€ to them we all now cast if off as something ignorant and hateful, even though when we use itâ€™s generally not out of ignorance nor hate. Sure, itâ€™s now disguised as a black movement with black leadership at the forefront speaking out against this word. But I challenge you to look deeper, and ask why all of a sudden did they come out of the shadows so strongly against this word? Especially when you know that all those pall bearers of the NAACP N-Word casket are somewhere calling somebody a nigga right now. So lets all get our shovels and go dig the poor N-Word back up. BTW, where was the N-Word buried anyway? Probably next to Common Sense.
Finally, ONE thing me and Michael Eric Dyson agree upon. Sure I may need more data points, but thatâ€™s my hypothesis, and its worth about as much as you paid for itâ€¦. Merry Christmas!
makes you all warm and fuzzy inside doesnt it…?