Is the N-Word a Treasure to Behold?
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.
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].”
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.
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.