NIGGA/NIGGER/Both Or Neither?

I received this email yesterday:

“Please stop using the N word. It is degrading.”

I had a plethora of contradictory responses and random musings:

Is it degrading?

How is banning a word going to make niggas not niggas in a system of racism/white supremacy? Given a choice, I’d rather ban the practice of R/WS than Nigga.
Is the energy to ban the so-called “N” word useful? Could that energy be better spent trying to end the conditions that make black people and other non-whites “functional niggas?”

Maybe this anon has a point; perhaps this word is degrading. Maybe I should just stop using it?

One of the points made on the ‘AbolishTheWord’ is that one of the last words black people probably heard when they were lynched was nigger; the “N” word is so closely asssociated with lynching that use of the word triggers trauma in black people.

I’d rather be called what I am, rather than the current state of affairs, where white folks smile ’32 pearly white niggas at me on a daily basis.’

I actually like the word, I like how it sounds when some black people use it, including myself. The word is incredibly powerful and as a writer I lust after words that live, breathe and sting truthfully.

I do believe the word can be used irresponsibly, however, I have no hard and fast rule regarding its usage by others. I refuse to use the word in anger at other black people, as in “I love black people, but I HATE niggas!”

It is the conditions that make us niggas culturally, economically, socially that I object to, NOT the word, though, clearly, I don’t want to hear some white person using it liberally.

Truth is very important to me and banning words and burning books is not for me. We need to FEEL shit, instead of neutering words while the conditions they describe continue to expand.

What cha’ll think?

26 Responses to “NIGGA/NIGGER/Both Or Neither?”

  1. Personally, I hate the word. I do my best never to use it myself. I see it as something else that was forced on us by white people too ignorant and bigoted to call us anything else, although using the word as we both know well is hardly the only way that they’re ignorant and bigoted, or even close to the most vicious way.

    I see your point that banning WS is more important, but I think that in the process, the word would probably disappear since the sentiment behind it either would…or there’ll pretty much be nobody left since WS is killing us all as well as the planet.

  2. neutering words while the conditions they describe continue to expand

    Yes, this is the much more serious problem. Neutering words just seems to enable more circuitous strategies of denial, sometimes.

  3. Very very interesting post and for me, timely. Yesterday I attended the World African Festival in Detroit. The first place I go after enjoying some of the bands and other entertainment is to the book stalls. I found a book I have been looking for a couple of years, “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” by Randall Kennedy. I was so delighted that I had found it, that I read the “Introduction” right there at the festival. I am currently reading a couple of books but it is next on my reading list.

    I am interested in reading this book because of my feelings… notice I say “feelings” NOT thoughts or opinions, of the word “nigger” or it’s most common variation among our people “niggas”. I hate the word. I don’t use it. I feel dirty when I use it. I feel rage when I hear white people using it. I feel disappointment when I hear other Black people using it. Within my spirit, when I hear the word “nigger”, I feel adeep and unexplainable sorrow. I have written a post on my blog page about my first experience with that word in Canada and a current incident in which it is being utilized. It’s simply titled: “NIGGER!”

    On an intellectual level I hear what your saying MJ. It’s a controversial issue with many varying opinions. I believe it is important though for us as a people to put the issue in proper perspective. It is vital for our spiritual and mental health. Words initiate life and death. The Bible states that the power of life and death is in the tongue (Prov 18:21). There is also a saying among our people: “Those who name it, own it.”

    That is why I am so anxious to read this book… to get another perspective… to try to understand, albeit on more of an intellectual level, the various dimensions of this word. From the “Introduction” I read, and the chapters I see from the “Contents” section, I don’t think the author will be discussing anything I haven’t heard or thought about before. But I am obviously interested and open to what he has to say on the issue. I want to be healthy. I want my words to project life not death. I want to own it.

    I will let you know my feelings on the word “nigger” after I read the book. It may change, who knows. I will most likely do a post.


  4. Asa, I read that book and found it very interesting. Need to read it again.

    (One aside, the author is from Wash. DC and growing up, he and his older were excellent tennis players. I’d see them around and we competed in the same tournaments.)

    Words have different meanings and feelings and the context of their usage mean everything – to me. I’ve seen many Dave Chapelle Show episodes and find his use of it quite educational and hilarious. Lesser comedians and most corporate rappers sound ridiculous and derivative.

    I was listening to a speech by Fred Hampton last night and he used the word in the midst of one of his amazing oratorical flights and it was a seamless fit; the message was powerfully liberatory.

    Maybe for me, ‘nigger’ is a word that an advanced musician/technician/rhetorician can use effectively. Its like Miles using a Harmon mute; other trupeters can use it; but Miles’ imprint on it is most powerfully articulate and meaningful.

    I don’t know. I’m still mulling this one, waiting for a definitive argument one way or the other.

  5. I never use the word. Of course, I am white. The connotations of a white person using the N word (see, I can’t even write it) are too many, too strong, too recent, too right-now, for me to ever consider using the word in any context.

    I am not offended by the word, however, when black folks use it with and amongst each other. In a way, I feel as though this context takes the power out of it, the sting. Like, “you can’t hurt me with that word anymore, look, I’ll even use it myself!” However, I think we all know here that it still does hurt when it’s used in a cruel context. And, I can also see the point some people make, who say that by using it amongst yourselves, it shows white folks that 1. you “know your place” and 2. that it’s ok to use the word – and then it gets misused. So, I guess all in all, I come down on the side of not using the word – and any words that are hurtful, especially when they have not just history, but a current system of oppression, behind them. (Hell, I don’t even say “poor” most of the time!)

    I tend to think of the N word as I think of the C word, to get the context in my own frame of reference. I hate the C word. It hurts me when it is bandied about like nothing. It humiliates and embarrasses me, because it refers to me – as a member of my social group – as nothing more than ONE physical part. I am more than that. I will not be reduced to my vagina. I will not be made to feel ashamed to be embodied just as I am. When someone says the C word in my presence, I feel about 3 apples tall – even when it is another woman saying it. I feel voiceless, powerless. It takes everything I have in me to speak out against the C word while it still lingers in the air, raw and spinning, coating me in its hate. AS much as I would like to say, “it’s jsut a word, and it has as much power as I let it have,” that just isn’t true.

  6. TG: Nigga doesn’t get me like that, like the C-word gets you. I don’t know why. I asked this black poet, James Emmanuel, about the concept of acceptance as a black child growing up in majority white Alliance, NE:

    “The word acceptance didn’t mean anything to me then and it doesn’t mean anything to me now, because I never give anyone else the authority to accept me..I’m already accepted by the universe.”

    Can a word by a person cause me to feel lack of (self) acceptance, or the sting of the word “Nigger?” Or is it an inside job? I used to feel horrible because I thought I was supposed to…

  7. Sigh. This kind of incident still happens around here where I live many times a day. Sometmes people complain, but mostly it’s shrugged off as business as usual.

  8. Liz, is that liberating? I lived in the Bay area and I live in Portland now and the vibe you get from ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ is much stickier and closeted. Is it better or worse, in your opinion, to know where people stand on race?

  9. hate it hate it hate it. Acceptance..hmmm?

  10. I don’t think the word is appropriate. I know it’s bound to happen one day and I’m bound to fly off the handle at the person…but the first person who calls my son an N (whether friendly or, hopefully, not) is going to hear it from me. I guess it’s different when you’re not thinking about you but about your own child who you want to protect.

  11. HI, I’m a white the-n-word lover.

    I agree that it is degrading and I felt uncomfortable when I first saw you using it. I try and stop black people, (friends) if they call others or themselves that.

    But I think you use it well here Max. When you say we got to feel this and put our energy to stopping the conditions which created this word i.e. white supremacy I am behind you.

  12. i’m a white chick, and i’m all up wit da niggas.
    shory here dont got a problem wit it. ma brothas dont really mind it. as long as it isnt used offensively and your close enuf to em den its jus a term of endearment. it dun really make a difference if you know when and where and who to use it wit. ya know. ya jus cant be stupid wit it unless ya wanna get shot

  13. No, the word should not be “whitewashed” or removed from the vocabulary. However, we as a people need to stop using a word that is so demeaning, derogatory, and hate-filled to address one another. The meaning can never be changed to mean a term of endearment.

  14. Hey MaxJulian,
    I tried writing you before but I lost the post.
    I think that the N-word is well, the N-word. I mean, I’m glad you are writing this post. I grew up hearing nigger this and nigger that. I went to schools with a ton of white kids. I ALSO went to schools with kids of colour who thought I wasn’t black enough.

    Really, I was raised to understand the word as totally disrespectful. It was pure hate, simple. Well, nothing is simple. Fast forward from my early teens to my late teens and suddenly, I heard through “progressive academics” that the word had been taken back. It was now a term of endearment.

    OK!? Well, I experimented with this endearment concept when I was with a group of black men – usually in a music or music video context. But, I personally, having been so raised “black conscious” really didn’t stick with it … just didn’t feel ‘right’ after awhile.

    MaxJulian, we’ve haven’t connected before, but I appreciate how you’ve been putting yourself out there on the 1TBM. You’re brave. I have been sharing over at my blog and I’d like to invite you to stop by, read and comment.
    Hoping to see your words soon, S2

    ps- Really, my journey now is a long one – to deal with patriarchy and masculinity – parts of me that I try and cast aside, while they RULE my core. I’m hoping you’ll come over and look at CLASS ONE PROBE – although, you can read as much as you like. Thanks for having this blog. I’ll come and visit often.

  15. S2: Thanks for coming by and for the invite. I look forward to checking you out. I’m very interested in seeing your thoughts about masculinity because this is such a terrible struggle. I don’t know any black men who are straight who will challenge the mask we wear. There’s so much fear of appearing weak, gay. To be vulnerable is out of the question, to show emotion aside from anger or rage?! Get the fuck out of here. So, here I come!

  16. Yes. The cycle of not looking at masculinity because of the fear of looking gay is the ultimate trap for men. We (men) are spinning out of control. I have lots of broken family stories to tell you – between myself and my brothers, which are rooted in (among many things) the inability for my folks, and other family members – to speak to patriarchy and masculinity. But as DD has often told me, it is 2007 – the information, the books, all of the information is there. Even this blogging technology so I can meet someone like you.
    Looking forward to having you over.

  17. Hey there,
    I really need to update my side bar…
    spent a lot of time writing, and let the side kinda get away from me. Would you mind if I link to you?

  18. I’m white, but curious. I don’t use the word, of course, and was brought up that way. But I was wondering just how long blacks have been accustomed to often addressing themselves in the context of the “N” word? Does this go back to Slavery? Being of Italian heritage, I’m used to using WOP or dago jokingly, but I know I would take offense if someone from another culture used it toward me derisively.
    Thanks for the info!

  19. MAxJuLIAn,
    Sorry I’ve has taken me so long to put up a post. I’m all about it. I’m actually writing one now – it’s just that I’m not a super-fast blogger. I stopped blogging for some time and have only just come back.
    I’m excited to get to know you – so just know – I’m coming…


  20. So, I was writing my post and I realized that I was writing it like you know me – full of short cuts and short forms.
    You need to know .. too.. that I DD process and puts info together much faster than I.. all to say.. as I said b4.. I’m coming…

  21. No problem, S2. I’ll be ready.

  22. i love the word all u blacks should die!! with regards the anti-negro movment p.s burn blacks!!

  23. I’m a white male and I do occasionally use the word nigger when I’m around my friends; of course that’s something you don’t use out in public because of the stir it would create (both whites and blacks alike, some whites are offended because they think that we are past “those times”) It’s my personal choice to use the word, and it should not be banned, nor a hate crime to say it. As long as people can call us cracker, honkie, and bird shit, then we reserve the right to use the word “nigger.” People praise blacks for starting black organizations for supporting people of their race, but as soon as someone says anything related to being proud to be white, they’re labeled a racist. Just because we’re numerically the racial majority, doesn’t give anyone the right to put a handicap on what we can or cannot say. I’m offended that women can speak badly about men, but as soon as we say a foul word about them, we’re sexist. This really bothers me. If they want equal, they can have equal; just don’t hold down the white man and beat him at the same time. Understood?

  24. sorry, you’re the one’s who gave this word such power.. once it was just latin for black.

    but i see the whites, again, are to blame.. eh, the goood ol’ fashioned blame game.. point fingers all the time.. YOU do REALIZE it’s not NICE to POINT!?







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