Home Empowerment Is the N-Word a Treasure to Behold?

Is the N-Word a Treasure to Behold?

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Another low point for Black people... what's next? Spending money to spend money on marked up items? #cover

Let me tell you something, you cannot bury words.  Anybody who tries to bury a word is dumb as hell.  So yes, in addition to thinking that a slickback perm is still okay in 2011, the Reverend Al Sharpton will have to go ‘head with any notion that we are going to bury the n-word anytime soon.  I’ve come to grips with the n-word in my own way.  I think I shared my story about a friend who said the n-word one time and I had to tell him if he kept it up I would have to watch him get his ass beat because I can’t jump in the middle of race relations.  That’s not my place, maybe Obama can do that, but I refuse to get in the middle of a race war.  Nonetheless, I was beginning to think to myself about the history of the n-word and it came to me like an epiphany; The n-word is like The Ring, or the Quan, whoever got that joint basically has all the power.

As usual, we have a special themed mix for today’s post from @CarverTheGreat, this one is titled, The N-Word, download here or stream below:

When I thought back to the origin of the n-word, I drew a blank, so I made it up.  It came from white people trying to find a word to piss off Black people.  If you ever want to know anything about slavery, all Black people go to the Slavery Encyclopedia, Roots.  Roots is such an extensive and definitive history of slavery, you don’t need Cornel West or John Hope Franklin to explain anything to you about slavery anymore.  But basically, it says here in Roots that Black people never take kindly to you calling them outside of their name.  So I think whereas Black folks were calling themselves Negros, white people just thought, “here’s a great way to piss off Black people, let’s call them THIS!”  And just like that Black people waged a war on the word and its use in America.

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And for a long time, that’s basically how things went with the n-word.  Backed up against the wall or in dire need of pissing some Black people off white people deployed their best weapon, the n-word.  Somewhere along the way, probably in like the 60s or 70s, Black people started using the n-word against other Black people to piss them off, or to distinguish themselves as better or more civilized negroes.  To each their own, dare to be different, you know Cain killed Abel.  It’s no secret but somewhere after Black people starting coming home from Vietnam in the early 70s and 1986, Black people cuffed the n-word and took it to a new level.  Equipped with the n-word we started telling white people, “F*ck the Police” and alerted them to the fact that Black people were breaking out of Compton into their nice neighborhoods.  And real talk, white people moved all their sh*t out of Inglewood and went to Hollywood and that was that, some of them even went to Malibu to be close to the water … just in case.

And for about 15 years, the n-word was just powerful.  It was powerful for three reasons:

1) Once again, white people made something up and we started doing it and made it better.  Put that on the list with sports and presidents.

2) White people couldn’t say it.  Have you ever heard a white person say the n-word in good faith?  Talk about a heavy preface, also known as a blatant lie.  They always say something to preface it like, “I don’t use this word, in fact, I hate it, but it just makes it easier to explain this [whatever the hell they talking about].”

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3) It’s the perfect way to classify everybody.  I joked with my boy Spearmint the other day that it would be a lot better if we went back to Middle School when everybody was a “n*gga.”  For example, “Yo these white n*ggas at my school be tripping, they try and get buck, but those Chinese n*ggas don’t give a f*ck.”  See?  Back in the day it was an equal opportunity word for describing everyone.  (White people still couldn’t say it.)

But recently something went wrong.  I knew we were going to have some problems when I got to college and found out that Latinos were using the word.  Now Dominicans is Black so that’s cool, they can rock out with it.  They was slaves way longer than Haitians, that’s a consolation prize.  It’s the rest of them that was getting the side eye from me.  Not because I had a problem with them using it but because I knew where this would lead.  And yes you guessed it, it would lead to people like DJ Khaled screaming the n-word on everything like that sh*t was cool.  My first reaction to Khaled was, “so we just going to let EVERYBODY use the word now aren’t we?”  No disrespect, but if you asked me what my biggest frustration is about everybody who ain’t Black it’s that, “Black people can’t have sh*t, can we?”

(Author’s note: I have chosen not to discuss when people who were born in Africa come to this country and then use the word.  I am very undecided on that.  For one, I don’t think they call each other that word, they just call us, African-Americans, that word.) 

And if it wasn’t bad enough that we took off all restrictions on who could use the word and who could not, then we started letting it get under our skin when drunk enabled white people used the word.  I never gave a sh*t about Mel Gibson or some chick from Bad Girls Club saying the n-word during a drunk rant.  I knew something that they didn’t know; they were about to lose everything they had for saying that dumb sh*t.  The problem is, we’re now devaluing the use of the word by Black people by allowing others to use it, and also letting it get under our skin again.

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All jokes aside, words have letters and meanings, but they don’t have power unless you give them power.  We have to decide if we’re going to give the n-word power, and if we’re going to give it power, then we’re going to have to decide who is going to hold that power.  Is the n-word going to become a crass word for saying, “my boy”?  Or are we going to tell our fellow Black folks that grew up in all white neighborhoods that every time they let their white friends get away with saying it, they are effing with the church’s money?  Is our relationship with the n-word a treasure or curse?  That’s the real question that needs to be answered.

– Dr. J

Today’s Tracklist: 1. The Niggar Family by Dave Chappelle 2. Realest Niggas by Biggie & 50 Cent 3. Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism by Big KRIT 4. Can White People Say Nigger by Chris Rock 5. The Way I Am by Eminem 6. Marvin’s Room by Drake 7. Murder To Excellence by Jay-Z & Kanye West

Comment(53)

  1. Very interesting read. I never thought about how people born in Africa use the word and you're right. I don't think they call each other that.

  2. “I don’t think they call each other that word, they just call us, African-Americans, that word”

    I wonder where you got that impression from…
    As for the N-word, well, it’s just a word. I don’t use it (and swear words) in my day to day convo with people except when I’m trying to be purposely funny or ignorant for sarcastic purposes. Yes the word has an ugly history but let’s be real here: the white 12 year old kid who uses it among his black friends is probably using it just because he wants to sound cool and not because he has a racist bone in his body. I feel the fight against institutional racism is more worthy than policing melanin-challenged folks on whether to use the N-word or not.

  3. I'll come back later to comment on the rest of the post, but I just wanted to address the African thing real quick. I can only speak for myself and where I grew up, but I don't usually hear Africans using n*gga…or even using the -er to describe Black Americans, there's another word for that "Akata," and while its derogatory, it really depends on the tone and its not nearly as hurtful as the n-word when used to bring someone down. It's also generational. A lot of young African immigrants go around saying n*gga because that's what their friends are doing – they use it the same way. Older Africans definitely don't call each other the n-word and would probably be using it the same way old-head Black people who hate the word use it to describe younger hooligans. Just my 2 cents.
    My recent post Really trying to pull THIS type of energy today and for the rest…

    1. "Akata"?? You must be Naija! Yes, Africans typically refer to Black Americans as 'akata.' For the longest time, I did not know the true meaning of 'akata,' I just used it. I hesitate to use it now, since I have so many Black American friends. But, dang, girl, you know now, when Black people hears Africans mention that word, they'll know for sure/assume they're talking about them!

        1. Yeah the word "Akata" has Naija roots…from the Igbo language I think. The general Igbo word for Americans and British folks during the colonial days was "OYIBO" which means "white person." So i guess at some point when some Africans immigrated to the U.S they became confused on how to refer to African-Americans in native language since they were not white, and so used the word "Akata" (which is a Yoruba word). I may be wrong though, but i'll look more into it.

  4. I'm very possessive of the n-word. I use it a great deal (though not in mixed company) and I take exception and am offended when people whose ancestors were never slaves use it. I don't like to think too deeply about it, I just think this is one of the few areas where there's black privilege in the world. We can use it as much as we want, and it's still o.k. for us to get offended if you use it.

    But I wish, as a people, we were more hardcore about ostracizing people of other races who use the word. I feel like Jewish people are really great at this. Somewhere in Israel, there's a list – stretching all the way back to the time of Moses – of people who ever said anything that could be perceived as even slightly Anti-Semitic. If you find yourself on this list, you can pretty much forget about running for public office or doing anything else that requires the support of the masses. If Barack Obama had called a Jewish person something derogatory when he was like 14 or 15, or, if he wrote a paper in college that looked like it might be slightly Anti-Israel, no amount of speechifying would have won him the presidency. Black folk need to keep a list like that.
    My recent post The Millennial Manifesto: How 80′s Babies Can Save the World

      1. I actually think that exercise there is a good one to have. We've got to be able to defend our points effectively.

        This is what I would say:
        – The White brownies cost more because they are made from organic materials, the hands that prepared them were paid more, and the shipping costs were higher due to the insurance that comes along with this brownie.
        – The Black brownies cost less because they had to be made from less than ideal materials, the hands that prepared them were paid less, and the shipping costs are lower because they couldn't afford any shipping costs or insurance.

        Both taste the same though.

    1. Akata can be used to describe anyone, its basically a person who behaves with no mannerisms or home training, an African person can surely behave like an Akata.

  5. I just see it as just a word. I've taken enough afro-am courses to know otherwise but its always been a battle i've chose not to fight. I have white friends who say it, they likely got it from my gross overuse of it (and chappelles show).and they aren't trying to demean me by doing so, so i'm not trippin. Its all about context; you can call me "dumb" the wrong way and i'll have to take it to that ghetto university
    My recent post ItzTrizz617: I'm SO over the Red Sox right now

  6. I haven't been around a lot of white people that use the n-word. Just my mom and a chinese/white dude at school. And honestly, what can you say to your mom? She only used it when she was inebriated, mad at her boyfriend or if Ice T was on. But the dude at school, I tried to warn him about it when he said it. He just blew me off. He had a lot of black friends and I never heard about him getting his azz whooped so I guess it wasn't a big deal. I don't guess I feel very strongly about it when friends use it and I even use it sometimes but my son bet' not ever say it. And because of that I must feel some kind of way about it. Hmm. I don't know. The only time I ever felt remotely offended by the use of the n-word was when I was a photographer and a black family was in my studio trying to get pics done of their newborn. The baby was asleep and the dad kept on saying "wake up little n*gga" over and over again. Just rubbed me the wrong way but I don't know why.

  7. On an episode of Run’s House, Reverend Run asked Uncle Russell what would their father be saying if he knew we were using the “N” word so freely and folks wanted it to be eliminated as a word & Uncle Russell replied: “man he would be like…. N*gga Please”. That pretty much sums up this discussion.

  8. i try no t to use the n word. it slips every now and then but i keep it to a minimum. i really don't mind when i hear black people of people of african descent using the word. just not my thing. i am taken aback when i see/hear of other races using the word. i don't see the logic or need.
    My recent post Cole World/Charity Starts at Home

  9. To me, the N-word is just that: a word. Words have meanings. They have utility in identifying things and ideas. It's ridiculous to "bury" a word because 1. the word accurately articulates what a person means to communicate, and 2. they'll use it anyway, regardless of what you think. They have to endure the consequences for using certain words, but people can say what they want.

    I use the N-word to define ignorant acting people of various races. I don't use it in everyday conversation, but the day I stop using the N-word is when N-words stop acting like N-words.

  10. As an aside, why does putting “a” instead of “er” at the end change the definition? Many people don’t pronounce the “er” at the end of most of their words. “Playa” or “balla” seems to have the same definition as “player” or “baller”, so why would “n!gga” and “n!gger” be different?

    1. Is there a difference between "gangster" and "gangsta" or "sister" and "sista"? I think so, I think it's all about adding a twist. There's certainly no difference between basketball and basketball, but depending on who's putting their spin on it you will get, "Do you ball?" or "Do you play basketball?" It's just a creative expression. I think the definition is the same, just a matter of how it's targeted.

  11. I agree with most of the comments on here, today. Co-sign with Hugh on his statements as well. I tend to only use it around my people. Never felt comfortable just throwing it out there when some of my caucasion bretheren are around or when others say it when they're around. I think it's b/c I feel as if they get uncormfortable when hearing it and don't know necessarily how to react. Oh well, to each his own.
    If I come across another black person who does not like the word I'll be respectufl and make sure not to offend said person. Overall, I have no problem using it, although I understand why some have issues with it when taken out of a proper context.

  12. I use the word here n there, and I echo Spradley's sentiments to a T.

    The word doesn't hold meaning over me, but when other races use it to belittle us, thats when we need to form like Voltron and shut them doWN!

    That Chappelle Show clip is classic!
    My recent post [VIDEO] X-Men Destiny Game trailer

  13. I am offended when I hear it from someone non-black and when someone black uses it too much (especially in mixed company). I dont use the word but then again I dont really curse.

  14. As it stands today, I actually dont feel one way or the other about the N-word. I'm more focused about the tone or meaning you use any word directed at me. You can call me a "goldfish" and if I get the impression you meant it in an offensive manner, I will act accordingly. Same with the N-word.

    With that said, I generally advise those of Caucasian persuasion not to use it, not because I care – but like Dr. J – if you do decide to use it in mixed company and things go sideways and you get involved in fisticuffs with a group of large, angry black men, dont look to me to explain your side of the story. I wont.

    To end, like you, I believe if we are going to "bury" the N-word or dictate it's power it should start with the black community. I've always felt some kind of way how black folks can casually use the N-word in every shape, form, and fashion then get upset because other races have taken to using it too.

    I'm not sure how I feel about Kreyshawn using it though….that just seems weird.

    1. LOL, it was V-Nasty and I felt like this… if you let V-Nasty get away with saying it, then you really have no argument. They know where she live at and who she roll with.

  15. Sounds like we as a people are slipping on the azz whooping of non blacks who use the word. Did we get punked with the ol’double standard argument? SMH. Fcuk fairness. I will conyribute to the ass whooping training fund, cause nothing delights me more than frightened racists.

    1. That logic is as flawed as thinking that turning fire hoses and dogs on Black people would get them to stop fighting for equality.

      1. Hmmm. Equality. To use a word that logically means different things coming from different people. I’m gonna march so I can call your sister a bitch or whatever insulting thing you were allowed to say in jest. Yay, equality, yay logic.

  16. The word bigger has no roots in black people cultures until recently (relatively speaking). Pick up Anthony t browders book, the browder files, and you will learn the true origins of the word briefly, the word bigger is derived from the word necro (the name given to the people of Cush by Europeans fascinated with Africans focus on the afterlife). The word necro was used to describe people of color from Africa. When language switched from Greek to Latin, you got Negro which b/c the term for black, as a color and as a people.

    I disagree with owning the word, because 90% of us don’t know what the word means. Why would you own something you don’t understand?

    1. I don't know how I feel about what you're saying here. You described where the word Negro came from whereas this post is about the word n*gger. Now as it pertains to owning something you don't understand, I don't agree with that either though, you own a house, car, stocks, and many other possessions, you have no clue how to make them neither do you understand them. If you see the need to add something to your collection, then you add it, if you don't then you don't. This was good intel here though, I just am not sure it applies.

      1. I stopped with the history of the word negro, becuase I didn't want to be long winded. but from the term negro, comes the word nigger comes from slave traders calling where they got slaves Niger and calling the people Nigers aka niggers. (the browder files go even deeper and its a good quick read)

        Just b/c I don't know how to make something, doesn't mean I don't understand them. I think that burying the word Nigger was silly. But the concept is somewhat valid. There is power in a name and in words. Studies show that peoples names effect their social status and earning potential (read Freakanomics). Why do we want to keep using a word that has so much hate and pain attached to it? I honestly think we should stop talking about it and have more relevant and effective conversations.

        wrote a blog about it, want to read, here it goes….. http://wp.me/p1I2vk-4v
        My recent post “Don’t Take No Wooden Nickles”

        1. Yeah I was wondering if you were going to use the theory that because people were getting slaves from Niger because that's the most foolish argument anyone has ever produced. You stopped because you had something going but you didn't have a good finish. Niger is landlocked in Africa, they would have to march the slaves thousands of miles to the shore. The slave trade operated on the West Coast of Africa. Niger also has been the Sahara desert for 2,000 years now. There's no way that's where the term came from. Thanks though.

        2. It is not a theory, it is a direct correlation. NECRO to NEGRO to NIGGER. The term derived from a misassciation with the countries on the continent. The place they were actually speaking of was the western most tip of Mali, a center for African civilization. also if you view maps from the slave trade area you will see Niger ranging from its current location to the Ivory Coast. I am trying not to write a novel in the comments section. I'm also not trying to argue. The word Nigger is a word with a history of hate, pain, and degredation. where is the treasure in that?
          My recent post “Don’t Take No Wooden Nickles”

        3. the first slave traders were spanish and used the term negro and negar to describe all black people from the area around Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and the ivory coast. when they came to the americas, they called them negars, the euro's change the spelling but the etomology is not a point you can argue. sorry bro.
          My recent post “Don’t Take No Wooden Nickles”

        4. I'm sorry but you're just wrong. You're trying to connect two points that don't make sense. It's a theory that many a historian have tried to use, but it never really holds up to the light. No one can really prove that's where it came from. Again, Niger was a desert for the last 2,000 years. You can look at the map during the Triangular Slave Trade and see that. You've went from Necro to Negar. Maybe you should straighten out what you're trying to say and give a total account.
          My recent post My First Blog (The Final post on The Book of Jackson)

        5. if you don't see the connection b/w necro, negro, negar, and nigger. There's nothing more I can say. Etymology of the word as it transitions through history is clear from greek, to latin, to spanish/portuguese, to english. the info you are challenging is accepted by several hundred noted historians, scientist, and etymologist. The portuguese called the area where slaves were collected Niger which is a form of NEGAR, so the people from there negars or niggers. Nonetheless, your notion of owning the word is misguided. To hint that in the 60's & 70's black people were proud of the word is wrong and demonstrates a lack of historical context.

        6. I think we should focus on more important things in our community. Like financial stability, increasing literacy and focus on education, educating our community about health issues,etc. I mad at myself for putting as many words into this convo as i have. I said we needed to dead this conversation and move on to things that uplift and sustain and that is what I will do.
          My recent post “Don’t Take No Wooden Nickles”

        7. I'm not sure I understand how this exchange disintegrated so. I thought it was pretty much historical (common) knowledge that the word nigger was derived from the word negro. Of course no one can pinpoint the exact day and time that the first white person uttered the word nigger -but we can be certain they were the ones to do so. The meanings/definitions of words change all the time – the same way 'wench' in the Middle Ages referred to a young girl – fast forward to slavery times and it's what they're calling Black women on slave posters. And then was associated with promiscuity.

          Personally I think Black folks probably been calling each other 'nigga' for years – but in their own homes, blues clubs, and juke joints – not in the streets and on records. I would also guess that old heads take issue with our generation's casual/cavalier use of the word because it goes against our favorite adage, 'don't air all your dirty laundry.'

          Is it a treasure? Sure, ain't nothin like a well placed 'nigga please' . But it's a curse when Black folk act like/forget the true origin of the word and think that a white person won't hurl it at you in a fit of rage as a means to put you in your "place" or take you back to that "place."
          My recent post The Real (McCoy) Deal

        8. I really don't care for this discussion, but there is a Niger River or River Niger which the landlocked Country Niger obtains it's name, FYI .

  17. I find discussions about this word intensely fascinating. I don't use it – I'm pretty sure I've never said it – and in my 3D life I know very few people who do. To me it's almost like one of those things that you hear people say in the movies but it's not something anyone would ever say in real life.
    My recent post Greatness

  18. I don't use that word… never have, never will. Those who I surround myself with, too, do not use that word. Maybe I am just incapable of letting things go but people were called that word as they were murdered. I can never see that word in a positive light. If you want to say "my boy," "my brother," etc then just say that. Throwing an "a" on the end and removing the "er" from the word doesn't take away it's history and how it was used to keep us down. Just like females calling each other bitches and try to say they're using it as a term of endearment. It's just stupid to me. Can't you find a better word to call your friend, your sister? Black people continuing to use the word just gives room for other races to use the word. I don't understand how a person can get upset with someone using such a word when that same person uses it themselves… Sure, they're not Black, they can't identify with the Black experience, with our history, with our struggle… And??? If it's synonymous to my friend, my dude, etc., why can't they use it?
    My recent post The Power of Giving: Little Ways to Brighten Everyone’s Day

  19. It's probably the most versatile slur ever. I love it. Intent matters far more to me than simply saying. Louis CK has it in several of acts and it's hilarious.

  20. I try not to use any word that could be construed as a derogatory slur.
    This argument has gone around round and round again. I don't think a consensus will ever be reached. It doesn't really seem like either side is really paying much attention to the other.
    My recent post Random ramblings, I suppose

  21. I know for sure I NEVER heard the N-word on a reg from birth all the way up until 1993 when the Chronic came out. People didn't use that word in my neighborhood or home…There was only Video Music Box (very little NWA) and not too many people had cable in Brooklyn before then.
    Rappers didn't use it then like they do today. Since NWA,Dre, Snoop and Yo! MTV Raps, it's been in heavy rotation. "They" couldn't get enough of it. Record executives don't care about social consciousness, they just wanted that GREEN. My mom (may she rest in Peace) never understood two things about that "G-Rap" era in music. One was the wastefulness of filling a cigar with weed. And I quote "If it's good, you only need a J". I know what you're thinking but but let's refocus…the other was the N-word slur. That confused her so much being from an era when another black man calling you that was considered "fighting words"
    (BTW I'm not counting LL Cool J's Jingling Baby because he laughed it out at the end of the song…)
    It makes me cringe when I hear it though…I'm guilty of using it some times but I know it's not from MY Southern upbringing. When my people came North all that ignorance was left behind. You were black. Period. I blame the Chronic and Doggie Style (…and Diddy) jkin.
    I'm especially shamed when I hear young people use it LOUDLY in the street. It's crazy, they don't care…

  22. I always read this blog but never commented, this is my 2 cents.
    I’m not sure why the word is used in the first placed and would appreciate someone schooling me on this. Being from the Caribbean you don’t really hear it much there, since I’ve been here it’s like just another world especially for men and the B word for women.
    I use neither…in a sense I think like us using this among ourselves have reduced some of the struggles of our ancestors. For me, saying n*gga is just as bad and means the same as saying negro, the difference is just our acceptance of this word by our own people.
    Just a view from someone who is new to this country.

  23. In addition, how can we expect other races to respect us enough to not use the word when it is accepted in our communities.
    We don’t hear Jews going around calling each other ‘Nazi firewood’ which is what they were referred to by the Germans during the WWII Halocust or ‘Keikl’ which is what they were called when they first landed in American. As a race to are too accepting!

  24. 2011 and we can't seem to find our way past "nigga" or "nigger" there are bigger more pressing issues that need to be constantly explored and debated about this is not one of them to continue to give light to this subject only shows how stagnate in thought and motivation we are…a nigga nigga nigga nigga so what nothing changes focus on bigger issues on the horizon and maybe we our progression into the future won't be so stuntend by a word…..

  25. Words are the most powerful thing on the planet. Words are what cause wars, words are what make people believe in pretty much anything you want them to believe. Words change the world. Words define who you are.

    People keep saying don't get stuck on words, when that is all there is to stick to. It is ignorant to think that our language doesn't matter, when it is the most valuable thing we have. When old people get dementia, all they have left is their native tongue. Everything they have learnt along the way is gone, and if they cannot communicate in their native tongue, as happens too often with immigrants, they are even more lost than they would be normally. So it is extremely unwise to utter comments such as "it's just a word". No.

    For example, eskimos have 8 different kind of words for snow. I can't think of more than one or two in other languages, three at most, and that is if you live way up north. They are bound to have a different outlook on snow than someone coming from, say, Cuba. For them snow is snow. For eskimos and other people living in the arctic, snow is never "just" snow. It is much more than that. And it directly reflects in their language, and it cannot be explained to someone who doesn't share their language.

    Even something like "quiero" in Spanish is very hard to explain to someone whose native language isn't Spanish. How it can mean different things in different situations, and how it affects the way Spanish-speaking people see the world.

    So think about what you say because words are important.

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