Is Nigga(er) Just a Word?

Born in Virginia, raised mostly in Mississippi, having attended college in Alabama, it’s safe to say that I am a true southern woman.  I’ve traveled a little; LA, New York, Pennsylvania, Mexico.  I’ve spent some time in D.C., and , of course I’ve traveled to other southern states.  Spending the majority of my life in the south, there are things that I’ve just grown accustomed to.  There’s a certain culture of segregation in the south.  A cultural segregation.  And honestly, I don’t mind it.  People know their lanes.  They know where they belong. They know what is out of line.  They know what is acceptable.  They know what isn’t.  And they know who is for them and who is not.  Living in the Bay area for just a month, I’m realizing that the way we live in the South, just may be unique to the South.

Let’s just say… moving to Northern California is a huge culture shock.  Having attended an HBCU, I’m used to being around a majority of black people.  There’s also not many other races.  There are, but it’s still majority white and black where I come from.  And people know that the N word is more than just a word.  Moving to California, it’s just a word.  There are people who are not connected to the history of this word who use this word as they joke with their friends, as they tell stories of people, as they describe who they hang out with.  Nigga, is just a word to these people.  And interestingly enough, even the black people here allow it and understand that they don’t “mean it like that.”  Or that “they call everyone that.”  While I do agree that you do not have to be black, or African-American, or of African descent, to be a nigga(er), that does not negate the history of this word.

In the South, most people do not allow white people or any other race of people to say Nigga.  I think this is because in the South we are connected to our history because it still lives.  Everyday in Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi, I would see confederate flags.  There are some towns in Alabama that it’s just recommended not to go to.  There are places where you go and see all black people.  There are black sides of towns and white sides of towns (even though the black side of town also has poor whites, so is this really a race thing, class thing, or a combination of both? We’ll save that for another post).  With this culture of segregation, the history of Nigga(er) still permeates in the South.  I think this causes for the cultural difference for how this word is viewed.

Me being a southern woman has allowed me to be connected to a part of history that we should never forget.  It is important that we don’t forget who our enemies are.  It’s important to remember the hardships that our ancestors went through.  It’s important to know how this country was formed and how we got this system of racism and white supremacy in this country.  Nigga(er), at the end of the day, was a word used to dehumanize, disrespect, and devalue the black African people here in America.  It was a word used to define our entire being as a people.  It was used to humiliate us.  It was used to place us beneath whites.  It was used to separate us from our roots, a motherland.  And when this word, Nigga(er), was being used to describe people, it was used to describe BLACK people, AFRICANS IN THE DIASPORA, not whites, not Latinos, not Asians.  So while we can create new meanings, while we can say “Anybody can be a nigga.  You don’t have to be black to be a nigga,” we cannot take away the history of dehumanization and degradation that this word brought to black people in America. Like it or not, this word is a word that is connected to the slavery and oppression of Black people.

Because Nigga has been in black folks’ vocabulary for centuries, I do not expect us to stop using it.  I understand that we use it as a term of endearment.  We also use it when talking about people.  I understand the whole it’s-how-you-use-it thing.  I use the word too sometimes.  However, other people should not get this pass.  Why?  Because they are not the people connected to the history of this word.  Their ancestors did not live the life of a “Nigga.” Their people did not battle the hardships of being a “nigga” in America.  And still to this day, deep down, when they say how much of a “nigga” they and their friends are, they try to relate their experiences to those of black people, which is why they think they are niggas in the first place.  Other people don’t have the heavily perceived daunting ceiling of “even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe.”  This is why nigga is not just a word.  It’s a word filled with history, and it should not be used by those who do not have this history.




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