Friday, July 18, 2008

Nigger Discussed on the View


Nigger is getting a lot of publicity lately. It all started when Nas threatened to title his new album “Nigger”. Under pressure from community leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he backed off. The cover art depicts Nas stripped to the waist, the letter “N” outlined in ugly scars on his back as if he were the victim of a horse-whipping.

Nigger found its way to my blog, and the comments came rolling like a might cloud of witnesses. I used the occasion to have an open discussion regarding race, censorship and varying opinions related to the way we approach both.

Nigger took center stage again last week after Jesse Jackson used it during his comment about chopping off Barack Obama’s nuts. Jackson proved that even the most staunch critic of the word reserves the right to pull out the Nigger when it’s the best way to describe the deep angst felt in that moment. Nigger is a multidimensional word. It is a term of endearment. It can be used to separate a person from the ideological views of another person. That Nigger is crazy; as it was used by Jackson.


Jackson led the charge in condemning Michael Richards for shouting Nigger at a black patron at the Laugh Factory. Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada joined Jackson in calling for a ban on the word’s use. Now that Jackson has been caught using the word, Masada says he wants Jackson to do what comics do every time they say the word on a Laugh Factory stage-pay a fine.

Nigger became the hot topic on the ‘View’ when co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck said she doesn’t like when black people use the word, and cried while trying to explain why. She said no one should be able to say it because “it perpetuates stereotypes and hate.”

“We use it the way we want to use it,” Whoopi Goldberg countered. Goldberg then became upset when Hasselbeck claimed that they both live in the same world, and Goldberg let her know “we do live in different worlds. You don’t understand.”

Barbara Walters also chastised Hasselbeck during the discussion.” You’re not listening, you're just talking," she said.

The conversation came to an end when Hasselbeck burst out in tears asking, "How are we supposed to move forward if we keep using words that bring back that pain?"

Nigger gets so much attention, and it is so misunderstood. White people struggle with discerning how and why black people use it while rebuking them for doing the same. The word is a reminder that we are living in two different worlds, and that these worlds are further complicated by the escalating generation gap in the black community.

Nas said it best during an interview on BET to promote his now untitled album. “The youth think the older generation has let them down,” he said. “They don’t care about how they feel.”

The youth listen to us older folks scold them for using Nigger as a term of endearment. We remind them of the history of the word, and how it stirs up so much that we would rather place in a time capsule never to see again. They tell us they have taken that word and remade it into something useful. The spelling is changed. The meaning is different. If that is true, and I’m not so sure how you can do that without visiting the historical meaning of the word, why is it that they get so upset when white people use it?

They say, those angry young folks, that it is there’s to use in the way they decide. It’s a private word, limited to conversations with other Niggas. If that’s true, and again I’m not sure how you do that, why is it so prevalent in their music? I would be more willing to accept that logic if the primary consumers of Hip-Hop music were black youth. White youth purchase Hip-Hop more than black youth, creating a social and psychological dilemma that will take decades to process.

What happens when you take the terms of your former oppression (and in the minds of some, your current oppressors) and recast them to define yourself? If our identities are structured from the residue of a hideous past, what does that mean related to how we refuse to use new language to communicate who we are?

Nigger brings to the forefront deeper sociological and psychological constructs. It reflects the black communities divide around the ways it views history and the ways it interprets the significance and relevance of that past. If Nas is right, and black youth are angry at older blacks for letting them down, then Nigger stands as a social protest against a generation so enamored with their own quest for the American Dream that they left behind a generation in need of more than they were willing to give.

Elisabeth’s struggle to understand on the ‘View’ reflects black America’s grapple with its own identity. In other words, she is not able to comprehend because black people aren’t able to understand themselves. Black America is left fighting to find meaning within the chaos caused by the burden of history. The youth say take it and remake it. The older say cast it to the pits of Hell, burry it and refuse to revisit those villains from our past.

There’s one problem. When Jesse uses Nigger to communicate his rage, it reminds us that black folks use it behind closed doors, and white folks are confused because of our own bewilderment around the power of our words.

81 comments:

  1. I was fascinated to hear the discussion on the View, especially the comments from Whoopi and Sherri. Can someone explain the continued use of the word among African Americans so that I might understand more fully? Is it sort of like the fact that I can say things about my family of origin, but nobody else better? Is it a sense of empowerment, that the words which were once used as tools of oppression are now in the possession of the only ones who have the right to use them--as a statement of self-control, rather than as the remnant of being controlled? Is it, as Carl suggested, related to festering anger? I really want to understand this, as a Christian, as a loyal community member, and as a member of the population who used to do the oppressing, much to our shame. Or is it something that I cannot really understand, since I have come from that portion of the population?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bro. Garry, I feel you understand the issue just as well as most people. I posted my opinion at the bottom, but let me say this. People imitate what they see and hear, both good and bad. I don't use the word because I did not grow up hearing it. Alot of elders in the black community, educated and uneducated use the term liberally when speaking of someone who they thought were ignorant, stupid, etc. I could be mistaken but I think even in some dictionaries the word niger is defined as being ignorant. Even though the word is derived from a latin word meaning black, dark, etc. Read Dr. John Johnson's book 500 Years of Black Presence in The Bilble.

      Delete
  2. The power of words. My students have discussions about the word 'Nigger', 'Nigga', and other variations of the "N-word". Sometimes the response is 'it's not what you're called, it's what you answered to'. Others respond with confusion and/or outrage.

    It's a situation that's not going away soon, it's really not very much different than any of the other slurs: Chink, Spick, Wop, Raghead, Camel jockey, etc.
    Even Rednecks, & Coonass can be used by those that consider themselves part of those 'tribes', but those outside the tribe cannot use those labels.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Its called reverse racism. black people now have the ball in their court and have white people so afraid of using racial slurs that blacks themselves can now use racial slurs towards whites without repercussion. When was the the last time a black man was chastised around the world for calling a white man "Cracker"?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Rev Carl, not sure if you saw a related discussion of this issue at the blog of the Philadelphia attorney, Field Negro:

    http://field-negro.blogspot.com/2008/07/white-people-please-just-say-no-to-n.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Its called reverse racism. black people now have the ball in their court and have white people so afraid of using racial slurs that blacks themselves can now use racial slurs towards whites without repercussion. When was the the last time a black man was chastised around the world for calling a white man "Cracker"?"

    Anonymous, If the word "cracker" is that offensive to you, then YOU do something about it. It's not called "reverse racism". Racism is just racism, doesn't make it any more special just because whites claim to experience it. And the only white people up in arms about using the word are the ones who want to use them. Garry made an excellent point. We all have words we use for our family and friends that we never want to hear others refer to them as. Bottom line is, no matter what culture you come from, if the word offends you, do Not use it. Excellent post :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. That is a very interesting analysis of the conflicted attitudes among black Americans concerning use of the word. However, I think you are being way too charitable with Hasselback.

    In my opinion, she is not able to comprehend why it's different for her to say "nigger" than it is for black people to say "nigger" because she is a sheltered white right-wing asshole who has no incentive whatsoever to comprehend anything about anything.

    ReplyDelete
  7. People have to understand the every living being comes from some different background which dictates they way that we behave. A dialect and the rights and wrongs of a dialect are learned devices which allow us to communicate more effectively with antoher person. Naturally it is easier for persons of the same origin to communicate in a more understanding manner than it is to communicate with someone outside of his or her own race...much like it is easier for persons who speak the same language to communicate with each other than someone from another country...they can relate to each other better, so when the subject of the word "nigger"or "nigga" comes up this is an important concept to remember. The "N" word has multiple meanings and is not only used by the youth whom supposedly get the most criticism for it. I know "old saints" who are in their 70's who still use the "N" word. Does this make the wrong?or ignorant? This is what they know! This is what they learned growing up and have passed this dialect on throughout the years...much the same way that white people have different meanings for the work cracker or even the word "red-neck" for that matter. If white people call each other a cracker no matter how they use it in context, it is more acceptable than when a black person uses the term or association with or at a white person. The same scenario holds true for the opposite end of the spectrum.It is just disrespectful for either of the two groups to force themselves into a part of a culture where they just don't belong! Take blacks and whites out of the picture- we use this type of language when we talk about foriegners all the time amongst both of our races...we talk about them to each other and we know that we're being stereotypical but we also know that its wrong to talk about foreigners in this manners. We are all guilty. So why do this to each other. In order for us to get beyond a race barrier we have to respect each others boundaries. Me personally I have some white friends who use the term when we're joking around because I know them and it is all in good clean fun but I always remind them that they aren't to use the term pubically. I don't mind white folks saying "nigger" in their own home as long as I don't have to hear it because quite naturally I'll continue to say "cracker" in the privacy of my own home- but when I'm in public i will continue to respect the white culture and I will look for the same respect also. We all have a bit of racism in us- this is what we see when we wake up! If God let families be multi-cultural with out having to adopt we wouldn't have to learn to love all of our neighbors who are differently colored than us...but he didn't- Thats why there are stories in the Bible like "The Good Samaritan." Times still have not changed since the times of Christ when we talk about this issue and our sub-conscience state. Some white people still don't want their families marrying outside of their race as do some black people. I think we should just open our minds a little bit more and be respectful of each other.And we as Black people have to understand that some of our own people don't us the term conservatively either and this is what white people see.I don't understand why every third word someone says has to be the "N" word or even a curse word for that matter.We do have to teach our youth that there is a time and place for everything.I see black people going to job interviews with their pants below their waist every day and the majority of the young black men or young black lesbians.This does look very bad in the work place and is just indignified!These are the people who white people see saying these words to each other. we have to learn to be professional in the proper environments and we also have to learn what to say and what not to say in certain environments.We also need to stop making these types of issues the biggest among our daily conversations.We all live in America and we have much bigger topics to worry about than the "N" word or race.We need to pull together respectfully and find a way to help our government get these gas prices down alot quicker! We need to find out how we can get our economy back in tip-top shape! Think about it!--the more that we work together the more we will begin to form closer relationships and see each other for the "HUMAN" that we really are. You're not my color but you're definitely still my brother because we originated from the same father and mother...

    ReplyDelete
  8. A very interesting discussion, especially after just hearing my neighbors account of the discussion on The View. I maintain that no one race has a monopoly on any word. If it is alright to use the word in the black community, than it may also be alright for other races to use the word. Words are not static and change in their meaning, which it appears is happening to the word "nigger". I don't see how I, a white 53 year old, would ever use the word.For me it has a lot of hateful, racist baggage, and I would not use it other than to talk about the use of it! However, if the word nigger has taken on this new meaning of "endearment" and/or slang, or rebuke, etc., in the black culture, than why is it unavailable to others who are not black? Words are not possessions, available to a chosen few and not others! Used as a racist epithet, it is objectionable, and reveals much about the speaker; used for purposes of endearment, etc, it means something else. If it is acceptable for blacks to use the word, there is no reason why a white person familiar with the new uses and meanings of the word should not also.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It is ridiculous to me how people can not see the difference between a white person using it and a black person using the term. I'm black, I don't use the word myself (not all do if that's what you think), however, white people should definitely not say it. The word comes from a time when a white person calling a black person a nigger might lead to the lynching of that black person- and the white person could escape penalty from the law. I am not talking about 1901. I talking about during my parents childhood (my parents are in there 50s). The history of the word can't be changed. I look a images of black men hanging and that's why I think it will always be offensive for white people to use this word.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I just can't get behind the use of any word that is meant to divide us. Some of you make it sound like each race is a club, and when you're in the club you get to do certain things, say certain words, take part in the sacred rituals. How in the world are we going to treat each other equally when we go out of our way to segregate our group from everyone else? People here keep saying that white people are confused, like its some sort of weakness. Why would you try to confuse people and then complain about a lack of communication and understanding? I only recently realized how inappropriate the term redneck is, and I am equally upset when it is used by Blacks and Whites. It is either an insult, or its used to affectionately describe a portion of the population that has been oppressed for decades and will continue to keep itself down because it takes pride in "owning" that term. Either way, I no longer want any part of any of these terms.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Here's a simple rule: it's okay to use the word 'nigger' or 'nigga' if it's clear that everybody's being friendly and light-hearted, but it's not okay otherwise, especially if you're being insensitive or unfriendly or hateful.

    So if a group of black friends want to use it, that's fine. If there are some black and white friends that like to use it with each other, that's fine. The only reason white people typically shouldn't use it is that it's usually not clear whether a white person really is being friendly and light-hearted, or instead being insensitive or hateful. But if everything really is completely friendly and light-hearted, then there's no problem with white people using it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm glad someone is willing to talk about the word, as I don't think it is a word that will go away easily--it hasn't yet.
    I was raised to never say it, so I never did...until I moved to Durham. Here, in this city that I love so, for all it has been and all that it will become, I have had a chance to discover race rather than read about it in a textbook. I will be forever grateful for that. But I hate what has come with that territory. While infinite barriers have been broken down and stereotypes have been shattered, there are still plenty of black-skinned folks that perpetuate the bad stereotypes. i hate that I pull into my neighborhood after a long day at work and a cluster of black men in their lower twenties are strolling along casually in the middle of the street, not budging to remove themselves from the path of an oncoming vehicle. They look me dead in my eyes as if I'm in their way, and I owe them something. Here's the part that irks me the most. I start to feel that they are only being a-holes because I'm white. One of my biggest fears is that I have become racist through some of these experiences. I would have never dreamed to call someone a nigger before living here. But I have to confess, at these moments the word nigger does come to mind. I hate it....

    ReplyDelete
  13. anonymous, 7/20/08, 10:17 writes: "It is ridiculous to me how people can not see the difference between a white person using it and a black person using the term"... .

    To say that it is wrong for whites to say the word, but not for blacks is racist. When racial groups are denied rights or given preferential treatment that is racist! It suggests a "code" that allows certain behavior and language for one race, and prohibits that same language for another. That is a posture of cultural exclusivity and segregation.

    The reason given for this view is that "the history of the word can't be changed". Well, the history of the word is not as simple as the writer suggests, and includes recent history. At present, the word has taken on meanings that are broader than just a racial epithet, though it can still be that.

    Racial slurs abound, and this is an opportunity to denounce them when used against any race. The use of such words reflects on the speaker, not on the target of the language.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I would like to remind everyone that people fought and died for EQUAL rights...for freedom FROM segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. This argument has many who are still in favor of informal segregation...separate but equal. I can't see MLK sacrificing his life for the priviledge to use the term "Nigger". It's like spitting on his grave, saying, "This is what you died for". He gave this country so very much...this is no way to honor him. It shouldn't be used- Period.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hello Carl, it's me Whiteman! Remember me? I got news for you about the N-word, it's a word created by white folks not by black folks. To all the black people out there using N-word over and over again, you are using white peoples' word and acting whitey. Tell me Carl, can you name a one black person who invented the N-word?

    ReplyDelete
  16. to "whiteman": How do you know this is a white man's word; what exactly do you mean? Or should I ask how exactly are you mean?
    Words are not white man's, or purple man's or any color man's. Words are not exclusively possessed by a race. I have never seen where the creation of a word is credited specifically to a white or black man. (other than the various languages and Shakespeare).And in those cases the invention of the word was not attributed to the color of the inventor's skin.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy”"
    This is a direct quote from MLK.

    ReplyDelete
  18. So ............ near the end of this discussion, everyone has proved Carl's point. Whites won't use the N-word and are unhappy with those who do, including blacks. Blacks are conflicted, split into the "use of the N-word empowers me" and "use of the N-word denigates us all" camps.

    And then there's PhysioProf, who verbally assaults Elizabeth Hasselbeck with an ad hominem attack for asking the question that MOST whites (liberal and conservative) ask about the use of the N-word. After all, if Hasselbeck is "conservative" she must not think at all, or, if she does, she certainly should not express her opinions openly. Give me a break, Prof! It's not 1984.

    Carl beautifully summarized popular thought on the N-word. There is no written "rule" as to its usage, just common sense, and not even African-Americans agree on what that sense should be.

    ReplyDelete
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  21. well said orchid!



    Orchid:
    "Anonymous, If the word "cracker" is that offensive to you, then YOU do something about it. It's not called "reverse racism". Racism is just racism, doesn't make it any more special just because whites claim to experience it. And the only white people up in arms about using the word are the ones who want to use them. Garry made an excellent point. We all have words we use for our family and friends that we never want to hear others refer to them as. Bottom line is, no matter what culture you come from, if the word offends you, do Not use it. Excellent post :-)"


    Anonymous:
    "Its called reverse racism. black people now have the ball in their court and have white people so afraid of using racial slurs that blacks themselves can now use racial slurs towards whites without repercussion. When was the the last time a black man was chastised around the world for calling a white man "Cracker"?"

    ReplyDelete
  22. Im White, and me and my White friends call each other nigger all the time,who cares!!! nigger please!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Use "nigga", not "nigger" if you insist on using it. And why are you calling each other black? I'm not judging, just wanted to know my nigga.

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  71. double standards? we are all Americans. how is anything going to change if we keep getting reminded of situations that happened hundreds of years ago.

    i don't run around calling myself English American.

    when is it going to be time too move on from this debate?

    it is 2010 and we are still stuck on the "N-WORD"...

    and just for the record. Africans do not care to much at all for African-Americans.

    common sense people???

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  77. I could not wait to finish reading this article and the comments so I skipped straight to the comment. I have a book in my library called 500 Years of African Presence In The Bible by Dr. John Johnson. In the book he discusses in depth the origins of the word Niger(Nigger) and Ham son of Noah. During my lifetime I've heard almost every argument pro and con about the use of these words and the name Ham. I suggest everyone read this book or do some "real" research for themselves before taking a position. Let me state briefly that in the book Dr. Johnson concludes that from his research that the word Niger(Nigger) had various meanings, some of which are God, Supreme, King, et. al. Armed with this knowledge, which was new to me, has me praying for some of our "leaders" to be touched by the "Holy Spirit" of truth and let there egos decrease so that truth can increase. Peace and continued blessings to the meek.

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  78. I just finished reading the article but have yet to read the replies. Hopefully I'm not alone in the knowledge that a word from antiquity that denoted all that was positive has been somehow twisted and now has the affect of a slap in the face. I have somewhat of an idea why this is so but don't find the need to dwell or speak on the reasons. Instead I prefer to turn the other cheek and meditate on the true meaning. I forgive people who are ignorant of the truth because they know not.

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