Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Music Note #8: "The N-Word in Music and Pop Culture"
Ah, the infamous "n-word" or to put it more bluntly, "nigger" and our culture's mitigated counterpart "niggah." The word has become widespread within the Hip-hop and R&B community and throughout the Black culture. Not only that, many people within the Black community and even outside our community, make excuses for the word "niggah" because it a "term of endearment" and it has the "ah" ending instead of the "er" ending. You know what I think: that is a bunch of Bovine Scatology a.k.a. Bulls**t.
Just carelessly using the word shows me how far we have come as a people. Some of us have become so diconnected from our past that they do not even know who Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are (if you want to know why we are so discoonected from history, check out my article on individualism: http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/artsandculturewithreese/). We have the audactity to forget the people who came before us, struggled for their freedom, were beaten, whipped, had hoses released on them, chased by dogs, lynched, and mutilated along with being called that word. Even worse, by using that word we also disrespect ourselves and give our oppressors easier access to oppress us. They have less to do because we already are saying what they think we are...idiots.
Why am I suddenly coming out to say this? Well, a number of reasons. It started a few years ago when I was watching Antwone Fisher. Hear Antwone's foster mother say to him "What's up, my nigga" freaked me out and disgusted me at the same time (knowing that she abused him too made it worse). That scene showed me that saying the word to someone is disprspectful even with the best intentions. Then, I heard that the famous comic Richard Pryor gave up saying the n-word after he went to Africa. Recently, one of my favorite rappers, Mos Def, refused to say it all on the set of the movie, Next Day Air. Basically, it has build up to this point.
First, to address what I said earlier (b.s. comment). Changing the ending of a word does not mean one is linguistically changing the word. For example, if you have a word that ends in "er" and let's say you have an accent and say it with a "ah" or "a" ending does not mean the word has had a change of meaning. Also, changing the ending of a word usually only means changing its tense ot the category of a word (verb, noun, adjective) not the meaning. Since, "the two words" of "nigger" and "niggah" are so closely related, a change of two letters will not change the hateful meaning of the word that has been around for centuries. Be realistic! Also, using it as a "term of endearmeant" means nothing. How would you like it if I called you "a piece of s**t" or "an a**hole," but I meant it in a good way like "my brother, my sister." Doesn't feel so nice!
In addition to that, the use of the n-word not only makes us look bad as a people (whether consciously or subconsciously), but it also sends mix signals to other races. In a way, it gives us the right to exclude others and exclude ourselves from everyone else. We, as black people have the right to say it, but as soon as someone who is not black says it, we get offended. It shows that we are still not over the word. I remember a few years ago when Jennifer Lopez said the n-word in the her hit song "I'm Real" and the media went into uproar over it. It also happened again when Fat Joe said it over and over in "Lean Back," but to less of an uproar. Also, a hidden rule within the Hip-hop community is that white rappers cannot use the n-word. Why is there different standards over who can and who cannot use the word. More and more people are feeling that it is okay to say the word now as long as it does not have bad intentions because of what the media is portraying.
The funny thing is people outside of the Black race use the word that was specifically used as a derogatory label for us, but do you hear other races or ethnicities widely using their own racial slurs towards themselves. Do you hear white people saying, "What's up, my cracker" or Hispanics saying "What's up, my Spic" or Chinese saying "What's up, my Ching Chong." No, because they have more respect for themselves as a people.
We also send mix signals to ourselves.If we are friendly with someone, we say "that's my nigga," but as soon as you are mad at someone it is "punk a** nigga" or "you nigga." Hey wait a minute, I thought this was suppose to be a postive word now?! How are we suppose to get over the word and move on as a people, if we keep using the n-word, especially when we have a bi-polar stance when it comes to the word.
Increasingly, I am having a hard time ignoring the word whenever I hear it used without thought behind it. It makes me uncomfortable. Why is it artists, including rappers (look at Run-DMC), who came before could go their whole career without using it and be successful, but our generation uses it everywhere like it is natural. If the world educated themselves about the word and its true meaning in history, people would realize how ridiculous it is to use the "n-word." Seriously, there is no point it saying the word and from what I have seen it has had a more negative effect on our culture than a positive effect. Yeah we need to let go of the word, but using recklessly to the point it becomes desensitized is not the way. Realize, you are not a nigger or nigga, unless you act like one (which sadly I am still seeing). So, please stop using it as a term of endearment! But if you want to have an intellectual discussion with me about the word, get back to me.
Peace and Love.
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