Speaking of nigga, ESPN Outside The Lines recently aired a special regarding the N-word. It began with longtime host Bob Ley interviewing a panel of black men comprised of rapper Common, journalists Michael Wilbon and Jason Whitlock, and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark. Common and Wilbon readily admitted to using the word in private life, and obviously Common has used the word in his music. Clark admitted that he neither used the word nor allowed it in his house from anyone, but acknowledged that it is used throughout the locker room and on the playing field. He had no problem with the word being used, as long as it wasn’t from white folk. Whitlock was the lone panelist against usage of the word under any circumstance, insisting that those who use it in the “black sense” are basically nothing more than ignorant niggas (you keeping up with me?). The next segment went inside neighboring town Teaneck’s high school (Teaneck High School, Teaneck, New Jersey), the first public school in America to voluntarily integrate students over fifty years ago (a fact I previously did not know). It interviewed both male and female student athletes of diverse ethnic backgrounds on their thoughts of the word, its usage, and its place in popular culture. It also asked them about their knowledge of the history of the word. They were in turn given the opportunity to ask the legendary “Mean” Joe Greene, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, gold medal winner Brianna Scurry, former goalie of the U.S. National women’s soccer team, and Chauncey Billups, all of whom had been victims of overt racism in their lives and careers. To sum the segment up quickly, both sides got to see how the other felt about the word and its usage, both young and old. What I drew from the segment is that education as well as communication amongst different generations is what would be most therapeutic for the hotly debated topic, if possible.
Personally, I use the word nigga approximately 73 times a day, in various ways. My homie is my nigga, several “this nigga” and “nigga please” fly out my mouth time to time, and nigga can and is often substituted for other nouns when I deem it necessary in conversation. For me, nigga is usually confined to my own people, but a nigga can be white, “foo yum” (forgive me, I’m only being honest), or whatever the fuck I feel. A couple things really quick. One set of grandparents was raised in the country woods of Virginia, one in Halifax County, the other in Zuni. The other set originated from the Caribbean and Augusta, Georgia. All four were regularly witnesses to and victims of overt racism. It was nothing strange for my grandfather Archie Warren Sr. to see the aftermath of lynching in Zuni. Both grandfathers fought in segregated armies for their own country. All four used the word nigga from time to time. It was part of their vernacular. The first half of all their lives was lived amidst Jim Crow and overt racism mixed with segregation. They saw nothing wrong with using the word. My mother uses the word from time to time, and she is a woman with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. My Aunt was raised under the thumb of Jim Crow in segregated North Carolina, and was a member of the first class to integrate Jones Central High School in Jones County, North Carolina. She uses the word too. By the way, she’s a medical billing master with almost 40 years of experience. She uses the word in informal settings when she feels like it’s applicable. So that’s the background on the word as far as my family is concerned. As for me, I am a published journalist as well as author. I stand firmly on the foundation of Amendment I. Nigga has been a part of my culture my entire life, being common to me before I ever left my own home. I’ve always used the word. I have a fucking right to. No one can tell me what word I can and cannot use. It’s my fucking freedom, so fuck you if you have a fucking problem.
My aunt brought up a good point. Most white folk want the word wiped from our mouths because it is a bitter reminder of the savagery of their ancestors, brutal institutionalization that existed in this country for well over three centuries. Just like slavery as a whole, many white folk want the word extinguished from all memory and history, so they don’t have to cringe whenever they hear the word spoken. The fact is, the word nigger is a constant reminder of their own deeply ensconced prejudices that still endure, especially when it’s used by other white folk in a hateful manner. But guess what…too bad. Just like those weeds that Massa threw away and we made collard greens from, just like the scraps Massa threw away from the hogs that we used for chitterlings (chitlins), we found a way to flip the word. It has taken on a different meaning, whether you like it or not. I say the same to black folk who are offended by the term. I respect your opinion. But you have to understand that younger generations don’t share your sentiments. And irrespective of how repulsive you find that, it’s the truth. The kids, adults, myself…we’re never gonna quit saying it. You can’t stop us.
White folk…love y’all. But you never, ever, under any circumstance, are allowed to use the term. At least while you’re around a me, or any nigga like me. Or I’ll fuck you up. So will my niggas.
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Love it or hate it. I only implore you to discuss it. God bless America.