Yesterday’s Niggers, Today’s Niggas

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By: Zach Fulwood

Do you remember that song by Trinidad James called “Gold Everything”? That was my song! As soon as the beat dropped, it was time to turn up. The part I loved the most was when he would say “nigga” three times in the middle of the hook. For whatever reason, that song just gave me all types of vibes and if I caught that song on the radio today, I would still vibe out. While the song was sonically pleasing to my ears, I couldn’t help but notice how many other people who didn’t look like me enjoying the same parts of the song as me and reciting the lyrics verbatim.

Hearing other people who weren’t Black say “nigga” so nonchalant  never really made me upset but it did make me feel a bit uneasy. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always felt that so long as you’re not using the word “nigga” in a derogatory way, anybody should be able to use it. It never made any sense to me how any one race of people had unilateral power over the use of one word but I’ve also never understood why anyone who wasn’t Black would want to use “nigga” in their everyday life. There’s over a billion words in the English language to choose from and you choose “nigga” as the one you wanna use?

To be honest, I don’t truly understand why any Black person would want to use the word “nigga” either. Especially when referring to one another. I know we like to say that we’ve taken the negative out of the word and turned it into a positive by replacing the “er” with “ga” but why even bother trying to turn something that was so evil and used with ill-intent into something worth saying?

Think of the “n-word” like chitlins. They were the scraps given to slaves by slave owners as food and now it’s a dish that’s very prevalent in the Black community. Although the Black community has turned it into an acceptable (to some) dish, is it any less unhealthy and worth eating?

There’s two ways of looking at this. There’s the Maya Angelou school of thought that suggests “poison is still poison” and because of the dark history that is synonymous with any variation of the “n-word”, no human being regardless of color should want that word to come out of their mouth.

There’s also the Tupac Shakur school of thought that suggests “nigger” is for those Black people who were forced to sport nooses around their neck’s while “nigga” is for Black people who now sport gold chains around their neck.

It really comes down to a matter of interpretation and intent. “Nigger” has for the most part been banned from the English language because of the obvious intent behind it but “nigga” is very much a part of American pop-culture. For most Black rappers and entertainers, the word “nigga” has made them a profit and has contributed to the social acceptance of the word “nigga”. The intent however, is hard to judge. From non-Black people, it could be used as a term of endearment or as a way of acting racist without actually admitting to being racist. From Black people, it could be used to greet a friend or it could be used to identify a lower class of Black people. Saying “that’s some real nigga stuff” doesn’t really breed positivity. The ambiguity behind the word says a lot about whether or not we should be using it right?

Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is. I use “nigga” in my everyday life and for many different reasons depending on who it is I’m talking about. I understand the original purpose of the “n-word” being in existence and the fact that, that was the most common word said while my ancestors stood on top of slave auction blocks before being sold. I understand that before J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant blew Emmett Till’s brains out, “nigger” was the last thing he was called. But I also believe context and intent matters.

While I don’t know whether the use of the “n-word” is a positive or a negative thing, I will say that there is something poetically just to see a word that was meant to be dividing turn into something unifying.

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