Not Your Grandmama's Language
As a linguist, I know words can be very tricky, especially when the connotation of a word drastically changes overtime. Now, let’s say that connotation shifts from negative to positive, are the negative implications vanquished amid this transformation? The answer to this can fall anywhere along the spectrum of the two extremes. What is most important to consider when it comes to connotation, is what culture did the negative connotation thrive in and who were the ones amidst that culture to change it and why.
‘Nigga’ is a word of controversy, still, regarding who is and is not allowed to use the word. Generally, I believe only black people can use the word, whereas personally I believe that it shouldn’t be employed at all. Why? Nigga is derived from the word nigger, which was a derogatory term heavily used by white supremacist toward people of African descent and most importantly, enslaved blacks. So, let’s get this clear white people, ESPECIALLY white people, YOU CANNOT USE THE N WORD, especially if you’re the same type of white person who says, “I’m not racist”. That’s just contradictory, and I’ll explain why. This country was built upon many “isms”, such as sexism and bullshit patriotism, but most importantly, it was built upon white nationalism. And although you may have black friends now and say that “things are different, that was so long ago” or “well my family and I didn’t do any of those things to you”, you still heavily benefit from our countries racist upbringing, which directly coincides with the oppression that is rooted in the word nigga.
The reason there was a shift in connotation, was because there was a shift in power and acclaim. Black people dropping the hard <r>, softening it up with a vowel sound and referring to each other as such, was a symbol of reclaiming the word and forming solidarity, whether some of us disagree to employ it or not. There is no room for anyone else to use it other than black people. What has me SHOOK is the audacity anyone outside of the black community has in feeling comfortable with using a word with such a traumatic history—a history that no one of African descent can even fathom.
Although we are no longer transported in chains on boats, hanging from trees like ornaments and adornments, dying from dehydration due to doing everybody else’s labor in the blazing sun, and being denied the privilege to participate in a “democracy”, we are still unlawfully shot by our law enforcement, provided unequal opportunities, followed around in the grocery store for probable stealing when our carts are full, and interrogated—with our driver’s license demanded from us—even though WE call for the cops assistance. This culminates in black people’s incarceration at a higher rate than any other race in the U.S.—while only making up 13 percent of the population (Census.gov, BOP.gov).
So, to you non-black users, unless you know and have been physically manifested in any of OUR experiences, our BLACK experiences that have specifically happened due to our BLACK skin and AFRICAN descent, You. Cannot. Say. It. Truly, non-black people, I challenge you to CHALLENGE yourself. Why do you feel COMFORTABLE using it? Why do you feel COMFORTABLE questing someone who is black and/or of African descent in defense when we express our protest toward your non-black employment?
It’s not “lit”, it doesn’t give you fucking cool points, if anything it makes you look culturally insensitive, appropriative, and incompetent. Just because you THINK you can associate with the word and our culture, doesn’t mean you can use it. We may share the same taste in music, neighborhoods, classrooms and similar ancestral trauma, but that doesn’t grant you a pass to employ it just because your lack of whiteness.
Yes, I’m talking to other people of color. There needs to be attention paid to the word’s etymology and the fact that it stems from something truly evil and confining. So, just because your black cousin Kiki and your non-black self are tight, and she exudes so much #blackgirlmagic, doesn’t mean you can use it. Seriously, I don’t care if Dante, your token black friend, gave you permission either. You STILL can’t say nigga. Why? Because Dante is unaware of the magnitude of his oppression, its ties to the word and for damn sure cannot speak for the ENTIRE black community.
C’mon people its fucking 2018, how are we still questioning such an action when all it takes is being a decent fucking human being with common empathy to understand that using the N-word is problematic AF and not at all, permissible. Take note and be a better person, for history sake and the betterment of humanity.
“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: UNITED STATES.” United States Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2017, www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217.
“Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Federal Bureau of Prisons, USA Government, July 2018, www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_race.jsp.