Thursday, June 27, 2013
If my NIG-EAR police Miranda rights could find you in contempt, or you’re just interested in reading my thoughts, I gladly thank you in advance for reading this post.
So…people say nigger and niggas all the time in America. Do I agree with it, no? Have I used it before…yes. This post is less about the harmful effects of the word or its prejudice origin. It’s not about blacks’ reclaiming of the word, or offering any solutions to stop its use. I recognize the aforementioned sentences could come off as apathetic, but in honesty discussing the word nigga is so loaded and contextual that if you intentionally omit the origin and consequences it could seem as if you don’t care…not the case for me.
What I really want people to examine after reading this post is why do people say it and how to better respond to people that use the word. What I find most interesting about this word is its double standard, and how its truly a word that is used as a result of people’s environments. For the sake of this post I’m going to frame the n-word’s use around two celebrities, Chief Keef and Paula Deen.
We’ll start with Chief Keef, because his use of the word has been pretty influential on my 4th grade students saying “nigga” with casual regularity and ease. Keef and my students come from the same neighborhood, and in that community there is a shared understanding that nigga is synonymous with a black person, friend, brother or sister. Phrases such as “what’s good nigga?” or “that’s my nigga!” are some of the more affirmative lines which suggests that in this environment nigga is non-threatening and validating. Why wouldn’t my 4th graders (and other people in that community) use nigga in casual conversation?!?! Even when nigga is being used “disrespectfully,” it’s often the preceding adjectives or context which is more negative than the word itself. For example: “I don’t trust that nigga” or “you dirty ass nigga!” Again, the lack of trust and uncleanliness are the real insults here, not the word nigga. All that said, it brings us to Chief Keef’s breakout hit, “I Don’t Like”...where he goes through his chorus describing all types of niggas (black people) that he doesn’t like. “ A fake nigga, a bitch nigga, and a snitch nigga…that’s that shit I don’t like it. I get where Keef is coming from, I don’t like fakes, snitches and bitchy people either. Then cue me telling my students “Don’t say that” after one of them says “Shutup nigga!” A look of confusion ran across the student’s face. I could tell they probably thought I meant don’t say shut-up, and while I’m not a fan of the word shut-up, I was primarily speaking about the word nigga. “I don’t like either of those words in my classroom. And the n*word is a curse word.” I said. “No it’s not,” my student responded. It was in that moment that I realized…he wasn’t being combative, he was being honest to what he knew to be true in his environment. “It may not be a curse word at home, but in this classroom it’s not following our rules of using positive language,” I replied. The student nodded his head in agreement out of respect, but a look of confusion still filled his eyes.
Moving on to Ms. Paula Deen, and her use of the word nigger (or nigga, not sure which one). Now I don’t have firsthand experience with Paula Deen’s childhood and social environments, however there are some inferences I feel comfortable making based on history and some things she has shared in interviews. What I do know about Ms. Deen is that she stems from a family in the South that revered their ties to the Confederacy, plantation life and owning “workers” (which was her polite/coy attempt at not being offensive and omitting the word slaves.) It can be safely assumed that the word nigger was used in those types of environments as a way to ridicule and demean black people. All that said, according to her deposition she admittedly used the word nigger in a joking manner on several occasions. Given Paula’s contextual environment, she was not using the word to consciously oppress and belittle black people. She probably didn’t even say it to a black person’s face for fear of knowing how it would be received. Ms. Deen said the word in a way that reflected her upbringing , values and social norms around humor. If you’re taught that it’s safe to use certain words around certain people, then you’re more inclined to do that.
Okay…so I spent all this time going over the context, but that wasn’t really NEW information. Thanks for staying with me. It’s bringing me to my point of who can act as the NIG-EAR police. When you hear that word, who gets to flex their morality muscles and condemn someone else. Is it any person who has never said the word, or is it all black people? Furthermore, is a NIG-EAR police even necessary considering the multiple environments which allow its use without consequence.
Given our country’s inability to come to a shared consensus on its appropriateness, I don’t think anyone has the right to judge someone for using the word. If we hear the word and it offends us, we can let that person know that we don’t like it, and if they’re open to it even explain why. No one can act as the nigger police in this day and age…
Well…maybe there’s one person. Watch the video below…I think he totally earned it.