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.