The Use of the N-words in the Black Community

I was recently inspired by a discourse that transpired between a small group of almost all African-Americans about the use of the N-words within the Black community and by Whites. Any discussion about the use of these words is certain to cause great controversy, but this does not mean we need to avoid serious conversations about the use of these words. By “N-words,” I mean “nigger” and “nigga.” While there are some deep misunderstandings about the word “nigger,” what there is not any misunderstandings about is the racist use and damage this word has inflicted on Black people. “Nigga,” however, is a word of endearment and communicates kinship, commonality, and amity. When Black people are employing the N-word, they are most often referring to “nigga” and not “nigger”—this is tremendously important to highlight.

Many racist White people continue to use nigger and expect for us (Black people) to stop using nigger or nigga. Are you crazy? We have made tremendously strides to diminish the power the word nigger has on us. One of the ways in which Black people have reduced the power white supremacists have in their use of the word nigger is to begin to take that power away from the word by reconceptualizing it to have a more positive and unifying meaning. The more Black people use the word nigga, the more we will strike mighty blows at the impact of the use of nigger by Whites.

We have made significant racial progress in America. During slavery and official Jim Crow, White people could call Black people niggers and this word would place great limits on what we could be, do, and say. Today, we can take legal action against a White person who elects to employ the word nigger at us. In a sense, we are taking ownership of this word that was once used to demean, limit, and subjugate us and making new meaning for this word with such a vile legacy in America.

Numerous White and Black people have called for an end to the use of the word nigger. I have a problem with calling for a termination of the use of this word because it would retire the use of nigga. Now, White people want us to stop saying this word when they have been calling us this word for years. No! The continued use of this word by African-Americans offers us self-healing. Many “sophisticated” Blacks are now calling for an end to the use of this word because they have become so “educated” about the word and its harmful history. By making an attempt to disallow the use of this word, one will only elevate the power of the word. Unfortunately, it will be the power of the racist meaning of the word that will gain more prominence, considering people will always be reminded of the meaning of the word that caused it to be disallowed.

So you can protest, have marches, and conferences on why this word should no longer be allowed to be used, but you will never be able to stop any word from being used. You only empower the racist meaning of the word in America when you attempt to end the use of it.

Before you get all mad with me and tell me about I don’t understand the history of the word and proceed to give me an “education” about the etymology and history of the word, I have taught a seminar on the word, so please don’t get it twisted! I hope that this article will spark a wider discourse about these words (nigga and nigger).

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Advertisements

11 comments

  1. us and them …. pick a choice that works for everyone … makes it a lot easier. I know that may sound frustrating. I was raised never to use the word now I hear it all the time. It confuses me.

    1. Beth, it’s frustrating to me too; however, the “us and them” was imposed on all of us long before you or I was born. The institution of slavery and its subsequent legacy has created this issue. I’m not sure it’s possible to “pick a choice that works for everyone”–Slavery, white supremacy, racist ideology, and Jim and Jane Crow kind of messed that up for us all, unfortunately. Thanks for reading and your response!

  2. I see that “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger announced she will not renew her radio contract that is up at the end of the year. She’s been under fire for using the N-word repeatedly during an on-air conversation with an African-American caller last week. http://bit.ly/co5Cax

    Schlessinger told Larry King on Tuesday that she was “regretful” over the incident. She feels her freedom of speech rights “have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don’t want to debate — they want to eliminate.”

    I wish I had heard the phone call so I could better assess the context…

    1. “Dr.” Laura was simply trying to challenge the 1st Amendment by using the N-word. Caselaw at all levels of the courts have evinced that you cannot use the word to attack, threaten, intimidate, incite violence against, discriminate on, and etc. an African-American, given the ingrained history of racism that this group of people have faced resulting from years of slavery and Jim Crow laws. While I have not quite finished my assessment about whether or not she violated the Constitution or not, I can say that her words were in poor choice at best. Her defense about repeatedly using the N-word is silly and demonstrates that she is a “Dr.” Thanks for reading and your response, Goose. Your responses are always meaningful and very much appreciated.

  3. I find no use for either version of the N-Word. At its roots, the word is mean-spirited and ignorant; it was birthed out of a place of low intelligence and cruelty, the likes not seen before or after in society.

    Here is Dr Laura’s unnecessary N-word rant. In my opinion she is combative and using the word as an attack to the lady she is on the phone with.

    Thoughts?

    1. Sean, her use of the N-word was totally insensitive and was employed as a means of attacking, unsettling, and being offensive to the Black lady. I do, however, think that her use of the N-word was the least offensive thing she said (and trust me her use of the N-word was very offensive). The totality of her comments were even more offensive and racist. Black people and non-racist Whites cannot let her get away with these comments.

      Black bloggers and even some powerful White bloggers are really taking the lead on not letting this lady get away with this attack. She was really trying to make a larger, more political issue out of the use of the N-word. You can really detect her racism by how careless she was with the use of the N-word. Although I don’t encourage the use of the word by African-Americans, I do argue that there is clearly a difference in meaning and context when Black people are employing the word than when a racist White person is using the word.

  4. Thanks for that link, Sean. After listening, I understand the charges against Dr. Laura a lot better. She started out reasonably, but quickly dug a hole she couldn’t climb out of. I imagine she felt her career draining away as she spoke, if she has any sensitivity at all. As a politically INcorrect person, I know only too well that sometimes, people just don’t know when to shut their mouths!

    Good discussion, Antonio.

    1. Thanks, Goose! “Dr.” Laura is no longer on the air. She needs to learn how to push the envelope. I have no problem with her saying controversial things, because I say many controversial things on Revolutionary Paideia–even this article could be considered highly controversial. My problem with her is she went into a personal attack, an attack that not only did harm to the Black lady she was talking to, but to all Black people.

  5. So “Antonio” If that is your real name, Or the one your homies gave you to protect you from the PO PO, You think that only negros should be able to use the word “Nigger” And “Nigga”? That’s racist right there. You nigglets need to stop complaining and get over the fact that your race was WAY below us whites on the “Social pyramid”, considering you were our slaves and such. If I was to go out and call a fellow black man “Nigga” or even “Black” I could possible get arrested or sued. But with all these negros rapping and using nigga every few words they don’t get any reprocussions because they’re black? Not fair. You think you’re starting like a “revolt” against white people? Nigga pa-lease that’s like telling a research rat to break out of it’s glass cage. Impossible. Please think about this before responding and don’t bother correcting my spelling or grammar. Thanks Antonio.

    1. You’re obviously just another racist person. Therefore, all I have to say to you is be careful about saying what you said in the physical presence of Black people. You might not live to share the experience of doing so. Thanks for reading and your response.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s