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Nigga

By Kathy Y. Wilson · August 23rd, 2001 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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"Don't call me nigger, whitey/Don't call me whitey, nigger."

-- Sly and the Family Stone

This is what The Cincinnati N-quirer should have said about nigga/nigger in its Aug. 5 front-page fumble.

First, just come out with it. Using such euphemistic and played-out niceties as dropping letters from the word -- check the headline, "The Evolving N-Word" -- and keeping it up throughout isn't just corny, it's, well, soooo Cincinnati.

Then, N-quirer reporters should have talked to some experts, real experts. You know, real niggas. Not to negate the histories and experiences of the reverends Damon Lynch, Fred Shuttlesworth and the rest of the cast of characters, but c'mon. There's little besides polite answers to supposedly impolite subject matter.

With few exceptions, our esteemed daily's reporters write like they're afraid of their own shadows, and this article's "shhhh" tone proves it once and for all.

Whatever happened to walking up to people and asking them questions? Over-the-Rhine and the West End -- as well as many points north and south -- are populated by black folks who know something about niggadom.

The experts on niggadom is niggas. I know one of the writers on the team of N-quirer reporters that produced this piece, and he's faking the funk if he don't know a nigga. He can return his membership card for being derelict in his duties. He could've pointed his colleagues toward some niggas.

Also, I know white people know some niggas.

The word wouldn't be so electrically charged if they didn't. See, nigga -- the word, not the person -- don't unsettle Negroes as a whole like it does white people. That's because, if we're not one, there's one in our family, on the street where we live, on our job or we fear we'll become one again.

For the squeamish Negro, the words "nigga" and its cousin, "nigger" -- of the West Chester niggers -- are ripe with bad memories.

It's like the Blues. It's the plantations, the projects or the oppressive factories that black folks emerged from and that we've spent mass membership dollars on trying to blot out.

But for white folks? "Nigga" and its Klannish cousin, "nigger," are in a bag of an entirely different hue.

To whites: Nigga is shame, nigga is history, nigga is ownership, nigga is guilt and confusion. Nigga is the white man's co-worker by day and TV police drama thug by night. It's crossing to the other side of the street, switching the purse to the other shoulder and locking the car door with the elbow on the sly.

Nigga is downcast eyes, it's a burning cross, it's a news report on welfare and AIDS depicted in a black face. Nigga is spoken in a whisper, a mumble.

Nigga is Eminem tryin' to be Snoop Dogg and Tupac; it's the Backstreet Boys and 'Nsync aping the Jackson 5; it's Britney and Christina and J-Lo biting Janet's dance steps.

It's R. Kelly talkin' 'bout he got half on a baby. Nigga is Tupac's Thug Life tattoo. Nigga is white people saying, in all seriousness, "Don't even go there" and "You go, girl."

Nigga is blunts, rims, platinum and freakin' a Black & Mild. It's head-to-toe FUBU, Tommy or Sean John when your mamma ain't got no air conditioning in the summer. It's selling your food stamps card to buy a bag of hair.

Nigga is shootin' and runnin'. Nigga is screwin' and runnin.' Nigga is a dead-beat daddy and a crack-smokin' mamma. It's the antithesis of Martin and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. There's nigga in the sag and swagger of every black man you've ever stereotyped and in the switch and sway of every black woman you've ever sexualized.

It's Freaknik. It's in the Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Delta Sigma Theta, the Omega Psi Phi and the Kappa Alpha Psi. Nigga is on our lips, in our minds and in some of our hearts. It's irrevocably in our vernacular and in the canon of our literature.

A sure way to own your identity is to snatch off the mystique shrouding the taboo of the stereotypes that history has long told us will define us.

I collect mammy figurines. I'm shopping for a black lawn jockey. I'm often a nigga and, when I am, I'm just as comfortable with myself as when I'm not. For me, nigga comes easily.

"Nigga as a metaphor is the genius of America," as Donnell Alexander writes in "Are Black People Cooler Than White People?."

But I can see why The N-quirer fumbled. You can't disseminate information about something you know nothing about and you have no interest in honestly examining. Honesty takes work. Hard work.

So "The Evolving N-Word" probably only made matters worse. And now niggas is mad.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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