Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pushin' Past Petty: Why Niggas Shouldn't Be Consumed with the N-Word



     Words can hurt and destroy.  Yes, the aforementioned is true, and numerous people use this phrase as a catch-all as to why the term ‘nigger’ should be decimated and deleted from the American English Lexicon.  But just as words can hurt and destroy, they can also be deconstructed and reconstructed and utilized in a fluid manner where a particular word can lose and regain its connotation all within a single breath---that is the beauty of ‘language.’  Language is never static.  For the most part, it is and has always been fluid, and at some points, certain vocabulary in the lexicon becomes extinct with time and the social progression of humanity.  For instance, a trollop was once the pejorative term for a sexually promiscuous woman, yet whore has eclipsed trollop and you would be hard pressed to find a person in the 21st Century who regularly uses ‘trollop’ rather than ‘whore’ when referring to a woman with low sexual morals let alone even know what a ‘trollop’ is unless they are a fan of period piece Literature and movies from the 19th Century.  So, why is it that Black Americans seem to be distinctly divided in the usage of the term ‘nigga’ or even ‘nigger’ for that matter?  Should we not understand context when analyzing and critiquing vocabulary and diction?  That’s the conundrum, people. And considering I happen to be an English professor, writer, and resident American nigga, I think we should. 

  In no way do I want to exhaust you with detailing the expansive history of the word ‘nigger’, but I will try to create a brief summation of the initial usage of the word and the verbiage in context.  As far as American History, or current History goes, and by current, I mean the last two or three centuries, the term ‘nigger’ derived from the Spanish/Portuguese use of the word in describing people of a darker hue as being ‘Negro’ or ‘Neger’ or the French usage of ‘Noir’ (i.e. French Negre).  Mind you, I only use the Spanish/Portuguese as my starting point because, just like the tribes that sold or traded African hostages/prisoners of war to the English and the Spanish and the Portuguese into bondage, are responsible for the construction of the most grotesque and ethnospecific Holocaust in the history of the World--the North Atlantic Slave Trade.  And because of this Holocaust, the castigation of an entire race or group of people that maintained similar aesthetics has been dehumanized, and even celebrated, in many ways because of a term that subjugated, alienated, and otherized the aforementioned merely because of physical attributes, specifically the color of one’s skin. 

        I am well aware of the Negro/Afro-American/Black/African American’s relationship, both contentious and endearing, with the word ‘nigger’ and the variations thereof (i.e. ‘nigga’ ‘niggah’).  But, I don’t understand the preoccupation with how others use it. Being that it, the word, no matter the negative, and, even alleged positive connotations of the word, using both its initial defining and the progression and fluidity of the term depending upon context and who is using it in a specific context and that user’s American experience and identification with the words and the humans that reside under that labeling, is just a construct of language and lexicon to create, maintain, and perpetuate a societal hierarchy. I don’t understand Black Americans being more concerned with the use of the word ‘nigger’ and ‘nigga’ than they are about the treatment of those that are perceived, only through the visual aesthetic lens, as being an N-Word.


     Yes, I know that being a ‘nigger’ in American is connoted with being connected with the original African prisoners to America who were considered chattel and subhuman and, eventually, three-fifths human in a fledgling nation’s legal, if not, ‘biblical’, text, and permanent second-class citizen in the Jim Crow era, and the financial foothold in the 21st Century American Prison Industrial Complex System.  Plus, I comprehend the linguistic genius in deconstructing and redefining and respelling and even repronouncing the word to make it mean a term of endearment synonymous with friendship, familial connection, and comradery.  So, shouldn’t the masses?  Have we not all been taught reading comprehension and the most important nuance of reading comprehension which is ‘context’?  And to understand context, one must understand and tolerate the progression of time and subsequent generation’s reaction to history and its contents.

     But, since when did Black Americans become so mentally and socially and emotionally weak of a group of people that allowed words to rule us?  We changed ‘cool’ from a measurement of temperature to an assessment of one’s demeanor and personality.  ‘Hot’ as well.  We must realize that words can be pejorative in one instance and endearing in another.  In Rehabilitation circles, I’m almost positive only they can exclusively call one another ‘junkies’ because they have a common bond and experience that only those who have experienced being a ‘junkie’ can even remotely make light of or use the term all willy-nilly.  ‘Nigger’ or ‘Nigga’ is a similar term.  Same circumstances and exclusivity applies.  Unless of course, you’re Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins, but I’ll address that in another article.

       The brilliant comedian-turned- activist Dick Gregory once said, “The N-Word instead of ‘nigger’ robs younger generations of Americans of the full history of black people in America,” and I agree with him.  I like context because context allows for history and the language of history to be fluid, which in turn makes us reanalyze and revisit history by the minute, if not second.  I feel it is folly of people to take a social stance in that they do not utter ‘nigger’ or ‘nigga’ or consider it a vulgarity or a societal offense.  And I feel this way because, in my opinion, it may be a societal offense in not using the word.  I mean, all a man has is his integrity and authenticity and without those one is not honest or ‘real’.  And to be dishonest is to compromise and revise history, and I believe that to be uncivilized and uncouth, even criminal. You know, just like they say ‘niggers’ are.

                                                                                                         -Gee Joyner








1 comment:

  1. I love the 'junkie' comparison. You are right. It makes me think of how the term 'redneck' which clearly had very different beginnings has now been embraced, made extremely popular, and has become a badge of honor among those who reside under its labeling. This term seems to completely lack any negative preoccupation from either side of the spectrum. How strange it is that some can join this celebration, but be absent from their own due to refusal - maybe deep inability to let go of a misconstrued perception of pride, shame, and 'freedom of voice'.