Opinion

We bear some of blame for ‘nigger’

Today we live in a world where I can say we black people bear some of the blame for the perpetuation of the use of the word nigger. The term once used to humiliate blacks has now become a unique word in our vernacular. We have co-opted the term and use it as a stand in for the common nouns he (nigga) and they (niggas). Some say that because of the history of the word blacks are the rightful owners of it. This is the dumbest excuse I have ever heard. Take a look at black history and how black people have fought to erase the stigma of being viewed as the ugliest, least educated, laziest and most hopeless entities. All of that is embodied in one word-nigger.

Today people embrace the term and are proud to be niggas. In a documentary on the use of the word, Ludacris says that there is a difference between the word nigger and nigga. He considers the former to be an oppressive term while the latter is simply a term of endearment. What he meant to say was that if white people utter the word, the use of violence may be a way of helping them understand why the word is so taboo.

We use the word as if it were just another noun but take offense to others using it regardless of context. Rap artists use the term with hopes that their lyrics make them appear harder and true to their roots in urban areas. The interesting part of this is that the majority of the consumers who will buy their music do not look like them. There is no way these artists can be angry if their fans repeat their lyrics then get angry at someone in another situation who uses the same word.

I remember as a child hearing adults cursing around me but not being allowed to curse. Guess what? I cursed eventually. Today I hear whites, Cubans and many other groups using the term in similar fashion to the way we use it. Of course it is wrong, but the way black popular culture is marketed, nigga is as ubiquitous as the sideways hat and throwback jersey.

We have the opportunity to eliminate the word from the lexicon but we do not. We do not chastise performers for use of the word because it makes them sound more “authentic,” because it didn’t start on stage but it currently resides there. We owe it to those that preceded us to show others that we as black people are more than just a group with low expectations. We are attempting to break free but nigger is right there with us waiting to be personified.

Vontilla Steven can be contacted at v.steven@umiami.edu.

February 11, 2005

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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