As per the ushe, I’m angry. I only blog when I’m angry. I was enraged today in class, when a perky redhead opened the mouth to speak in solidarity with a cestpool of other white folk in a verbal diarrhea celebration, supporting the glaringly racist naming of a particular store on Osborne street. Given that 2014, in my books, is my year to be verbally unhinged, aside from the surprisingly eloquent rebuttal I spat, I gave her a lethal glare, and then continued to make a parallel of the careless naming (by whom I assumed to be Caucasians) of that store to how I feel about the ‘N’ word being used outside Black circles. The store’s name, by the way, is an old derogatory word in reference to Indigenous peoples of Canada.
I love ‘N’ word debates. They make people uncomfortable. And silent. Which I find strangely empowering.
This has motivated me to write a piece on how I feel about the N word, which I personally scarcely use. Often, only for affect. When I’m karaokeing to Kendrick songs. Or impulsed to fill in the blanked out expletives in clean versions of rap songs. So, this is not an academic one. I don’t like academic writing. I feel, it’s pretentious and denies access of information to those who are not inclined academically. It’s alienating. It’s untidy, and hard to read.
There has been much debate on this topic, with the emergence of a tonne of slavery based films and discourse about racism, and Paula Dean and what not. It’s one of, if not the most powerful words of the moment. It’s not my intention, to explain the negative attachments to this word, because I believe that, given that you’re not worryingly uniformed, you should be aware of how this word has historically been and is presently used to subjugate and demoralize the African American man, predominantly by members of the privileged race.This, is undeniable and inexcusable. However, I would like to address it’s use within the black demographic. This is not a safe space to discuss the usage of the ‘N’ word by members of other races. It’s slippery ground, and hella complicated. And I will delete your comments with severe immediacy.
1) It’s evolved within many black communities, to express some elements of fratenity, solidarity and an aspect of endearment. i believe that oppressed groups should be awarded the right to self define and shouldn’t let white America dictate and govern, their own language use. I think, that inflicts further oppression on already oppressed people. This very defiant act of reapproprition of the usage of the word ‘nigger’, attacks the negative and painful evaluations that it previously held. Language is an ongoing process of negotiation, power struggle, and self labeling can foster a sense of self acceptance. The way many gay people have embraced the usage of the word’ queer’ or Indigenous people, the word ‘Indian’ WITHIN their own communities; to undermine the negative evaluations of being queer or Aboriginal. To me, it’s just a big eff you to the opresser, saying, “guess what? I’m going to use a word that you used to previously subjugate me and take power away from me, to empower myself advertise my own sense of self acceptance”. Allow the black man the linguistic freedom; to redeem this word if he wants. Language has transformational power.
2) Eliminating this word does not eliminate racism. We can’t go around taking words out of the dictionary. Because, in any case, there is only an arbitrary correspondence between the phonetics/ speech sounds of a language and what they mean. We attach meaning to words, so merely eradicating that particular combination of phonemes that enunciate the word nigger, does not take away the pain and brutality of racism towards the African American man. In fact, even saying ‘The N word’ just makes it cuter. We need to acknowledge this word, and the power that it had and still has in the demoralization of the black man in certain contexts. We can’t go around erasing significant parts of black history. In order to pat the colonizers on the back, and mitigate their nefarious acts in history.
3)For those of you who don’t believe in the transformational power of language, that can change the word nigger from being only a negative derogatory word to on that back men can positively use to self empower; think about these few words that you probably use everyday, that have radically changed in meaning.
Reference to someone as a “bully” in the 16th century was like calling them “darling” or “sweetheart” – probably from the Dutch word “boel”, meaning lover or brother.
But the meaning derogated in the 17th century through “fine fellow” and “blusterer”, to “harasser of the weak”.
Cute was a shortened form of acute, meaning “keenly perceptive and shrewd” in the 1730s.
But by the 1830s it was part of American student slang, meaning “pretty, charming and dainty”.
however, again I’m not supporting it’s use in non-black communities, because there are many complexities surrounding that.
4) Words also have a cultural function. The word nigger, in its new sense is highly embedded in Hip Hop culture, which has been argued to foster notions of a desirability of black men, and the broader ‘African American culture’ in an ‘Urban’ sense. This is a controversial topic I’m not going to discuss in order to avoid giving a research paper. However, you cannot strip an already mitigated culture of a word it chooses to embrace. I would like to take a descriptivist view on this as opposed to a prescriptivist one, where I choose not self ascribe as a language police. Not to attach value judgments that govern language use and prescribe what is good or bad. I choose to describe and observe language use where I feel there is no derrogatory intention, and merely just affect. Nobody ascribed me ‘langauge police’ and I humbly accept that I do not have the blueprint to discern what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ language.