Friday, June 8, 2012

Don’t Call Me ‘Nigga’, Honkey: Should Certain Whites Deserve a Pass on Racial Epithets?







First of all, I want to begin this text by saying, “I have called myself, family members, close friends, and Negroidian acquaintances, and even Black Americans I don’t know from Adam, ‘nigga’ for the majority of my life without pause.  As a matter of fact, I think I use the word ‘nigga’ more than a Southern planter during Reconstruction.  But to hear of Hollywood A-List actress Gwyneth Paltrow tweeting “niggas in Paris for real” during a ‘Watch The Throne’ tour stop in Paris, France this past week made me reevaluate my verbiage when verbally referencing my fellow brethren of (mostly)African descent—because aren’t most African Americans mixed with something?  What made Paltrow believe she had a rhetorical ‘pass’ in using this pejorative yet exclusionary term of endearment that, throughout the course of modern History has been infused in the psyches and American History textbooks, is sacred in the Black American community? Whether Jay-Z or Kanye made you ‘think’ it is usable by non-Blacks or not—Even though their duet “Niggas in Paris” is catchy, I believe this to be an epic fail on the part of the thespian Gwyneth Paltrow.  
I would like to avoid the issue of whether or not Blacks should use the word in a commodified form (i.e. slanguage, comedic endeavors, cinematic dialogue, and songs—particularly and gratuitously in Rap), but it would be impossible to deconstruct the ideological notion that non-Blacks cannot use the term when Black Americans have given the world the rhetorical ‘pass’ that Paltrow cashed- in via Twitter due to our exhaustive and haphazard use of the term whether it be used as an affectionate label of a friend or fellow brethren or as a checkmate of sorts to bring another Black American back to the reality of their social positioning within America’s, and the world’s, hierarchical structure that posits Blacks and those of African descent as different, or inferior, and even attempts to otherize the Negro with the persistent and consistent subjugation and discriminatory nuances of racial inequality and societal status.  But Paltrow used ‘nigga’ because it is a word used in a song with the word in the title?  ‘Niggas’ wrote, produced, arranged, and recorded this song and titled it in a studio with no overseers, police with German shepherds and water hoses or Anglo-Saxon mobs with nooses, torches, and white robes—so who’s  to blame?  The kings of Hip Hop, Sean Carter (Jay-Z) and Kanye West or their fan and friend, that just so happens to be a Hollywood and international celebrity, Gwyneth Paltrow?
Before we condemn Paltrow for taking liberty to use the term and Jay-Z and Kanye West and even the entire Hip-Hop community, including the ‘conscious’ and ‘gangsta’ and ‘pop’ artists for commidification of the term and profiting from the usage thereof, we must briefly and concisely address the original (though who really in the existence of the Earth known something’s definitive origins) of the signifier-turned-epithet-turned-salutatory term of ‘nigger’ and its variations (i.e. nigga, negra, negro, etc).  The original term for Africans or those of a darker skin hue was the Spanish and Portuguese noun ‘Negro’ which was a derivative of the Latin adjective ‘niger’ which is commonly translated as the color black and was translated to the French word ‘ne’gre’ meaning ‘nigger.’  True, these terminologies were used as signifiers because of the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and British colonization of northern Africa, but in and of themselves they were used as descriptors of people of a certain regional and visually definitive similarity.
 By 1619, when U.S. historians presume the ‘first’ Africans were brought to North America, colonists were writing the word ‘neggars’ when referencing the selling or purchasing or acquiring of African/Black slaves.  Whether or not the term had morphed from a signifier or label to a pejorative term of social subordination and demonization is debatable.  Yet, in the 393 years since the African ‘arrival’ in what is now the United States of America, ‘nigga’ and ‘nigger’ have been used to create a chasm between fellow citizens, enjoy windfalls of financial reciprocity via the entertainment industry, demoralize the internal spirit of the darker-melanined citizen in this nation, negatively categorize an individual’s worthlessness, and positively qualify the validity and authenticity of one’s ‘blackness’ in numerous, if not most, African American social circles. The question remains, “Who gets a pass?”
As a proponent of Black Arts and even the notion of  the Black Arts Movement (BAM) that Black Americans should embrace their culture, both past and present, I do not personally see a problem  with Black or African Americans using the word ‘nigga’ yet with the avid and exhaustive use of the term in popular culture and particularly within the African/Black American community which I am a proud part of, my mind wanders in the gallows of psychological perplexity when reconciling ‘nigga’ being uttered from the mouths of non-Blacks.  Well-known activist, professor, author, and social commentator Cornel West, once said, “There’s a certain rhythmic seduction to the word. If you speak in a sentence, and you have to say cat, companion, or friend, as opposed to nigger, then the rhythmic presentation is off. That rhythmic language is a form of historical memory for black people,” and I believe that is one of the reasons why the term should be acknowledged as sacred both within and outside of the Black American community which has such a shared heritage and history of both of negative and positive connotations.
 Sure, I believe that Paltrow was just tweeting her excitement through the guise of ‘tweeting’ the title of the song, yet she, just as any cognizant individual in the world (particularly ones that have lived in America if not only for a day), should feel some form of trepidation and exclusion from adding this lexicological quandary-of-a-term to their casual utterances and public vocabulary.  While most African Americans know the difference between being called a ‘nigger’ and a ‘nigga’ and are capable of discerning the intent of the intonation used when non-Blacks, and Blacks alike, say ‘nigga’, we must figure out if we will abolish the term all together or make it a normal and often used term synonymous with “friend” or even racial/ethnic adversary.  What if I was on a Hollywood set with Gwyneth Paltrow and I tweeted, “On a Hollywood set with my nigga—Gwyneth”, would you be offended?  Would you voice outrage?  Would you even be perplexed?  Better yet, would it make it to the media and the online blogosphere?  Would I even be writing this, ‘nigga’?

                                                                                                        Gee Joyner

3 comments:

  1. Personally, I believe tha Gwyneth has had a relationship with a black man. Being that I have been an "international lover" meaning non discrminitory of what race I have dated in the past, I really believe that once a non-black is brought into a sexually based relationship with a black man specifically then the comfort level with saying this word as a term of endearment is believed to be ok. Plus its the name and lyric of the song, we all know once "yo song" comes on then its a free for all. and to answer your question NO.....if you tweeted that statement then no one would say a damn thing!

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  2. At this point who cares really? The term only still exists because we use it so often. If we have a problem with others using it, then we should start limiting ourselves in how we talk with ourselves. You can't consider yourself a nigga and dare anyone else to, that's damn foolish....especially when you're at the bottom of the totem pole in virtually every statistical measurement of success. The song is Niggas in Paris.....What is she going to call it?....Negroes in Paris?

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  3. Nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga Please!-Easy E.

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