Racial Slurs

The Word Nigger…BJ Henderson

The word nigger/nigga, and its place in the black community is much more easily understood once we realize one thing: there is not one monolithic black community.  There are non-American blacks who have been introduced to the word’s usage here, and use it to insult American blacks, who they tend to see as lazy and complacent.  There are older generation blacks who lived through the worst of our American existence, and refuse to use the word in any form.  There are urban blacks who see a definite difference between -er and -a, and will not allow anyone who is not black or dark Hispanic to even contemplate using either.  And there are are those of us who see the word in any form as a threat to our racial dignity.  

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Four different mindsets exist, and there is not even a definite economic or generational way to explain it.  Even within the older generations, there are those who use the term, so there is no absolute way to say who thinks in what way.  Ultimately, we are all of relatively different mindsets, and take things like the word nigger differently.  In professional football and basketball, I have known athletes who say the word in -a form is used commonly in trash talking . . . but only among some players . . . and they only talk that way to others who use the word.  It’s an understanding of language.  It’s knowing how other players ‘communicate’.  It is not seen as an insult, nor is it a term of endearment.  It is part of the competitive lexicon.

At the same time, Kerry Collins was lambasted when he was hanging out and drinking with some black players, and decided to join in the banter.  It became a national story.  Never mind that Collins had no history of racism.  That didn’t matter.  He wasn’t black, so no matter the scenario, his usage of the word is seen as an act of racism.

Now, there are those of us who can look past that, and see that he was just joking around with the rest of the guys.  I’m sure you’ve seen that one white guy in a group of blacks who has permission to use the word (but only in that specific circle).  He may be someone who grew up in a black environment, and would not even classify himself as white if it weren’t for the obvious.  But these are his people, and they speak a common language, of which the word ‘nigga’ is a part.

It would be interesting to get input from MC Search, or Eminem.

My parents grew up in the South during the ‘50s and ‘60s.  From them, I learned that the word Nigger was mostly used as an insult from middle class, and rich whites to poor blacks.  But that was not its only usage.  Well to do blacks used the word viciously toward poor blacks AND it was an equivalent to calling a white person ‘trash’.  There’s actually a scene from Gone With The Wind, where the maid boldly calls a poor white man ‘trash’.

My parents were the kinds of people who refused to utter the word in any form.  To them, the word is an absolute slap in the face and possibly required a physical response.  They received it as an insult from blacks and whites.  To them, the word wasn’t as much about race as it was about class.  It’s why they wouldn’t call a white person a cracker, but would call them ‘trash’ in a second.  Cracker doesn’t hurt, but ‘trash’ does.  Crackers are well off, and ‘trash’ is beneath them.  To them, Nigger was more than a racial epithet.  It was a degrading insult.

Personally, I have only been called a ‘nigga’ twice, but never a ‘nigger’.  It’s not something in my everyday vocabulary, so I tend not to be in environments where the word is used in any form.  The reason for that is not so much because I am against the word.  I really don’t care who uses it.  If anything, it tells me more about the person when I hear that word coming from their mouth. . . in any form.

Imagine this –

You’re in a restaurant and you overhear the people at the table next to you and they commonly use vulgarities when they speak.  They’re the kinds of people who, in my eyes, simply don’t have a large enough vocabulary to speak otherwise.  They are simply ignorant.  Not necessarily evil.  Just ignorant.

That’s how I see the people who use the word ‘Nigger’.  In all of its forms, it is a word used by people with limited mental capacities, or vocabularies.  I give a pass to a group of friends who speak that way amongst themselves.  We all have our cliques where we speak in a not so perfect way to each other, but it’s only within our own.  I also give a pass to art (music, theatre, tv, movies, books, etc.).  Sometimes, language is used to paint a picture, shock, or make a point.  It doesn’t necessarily define the individual using it.  It shows the individual’s ability to manipulate the English language effectively.

Some may ask what would folks like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X say about this language.  Frankly, the question itself is irrelevant.  Dr. King would organize a march, and try to win the hearts and minds of the offenders.  Malcolm X (in his prime) would convince black people that there is now another reason to be angry and incite violence.  It’s not 1962.

They were people whose thoughts and actions were needed for that time.  In the year 2017, there is absolutely no need to get upset just for the use of a word.  Exceptions could be made if the word was included in a very personal attack, or if it coincided with violence.  But for the most part, it’s only a word, no matter the form.  It is a word that blatantly states: “I have no better or more intelligent way to describe what I’m thinking.”

The word Nigger does irritate me because there are so many better ways for a person to present himself.  That being said, the word doesn’t anger me.  It is neither a term of endearment, nor is it an expression of hate.  It’s a word.  We, as the users of the language, define its use.  We, as the users of the language, determine what it will be.  And until it is deployed with some context, it is just a word.

 

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