Warning: The following piece contains language not suitable for minors. In truth, it might not even be suitable for some old eyes. I apologize beforehand if it offends anyone.
And until we, as African Americans, recognize that fact, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
There, I said it.
But it has to be said because this mad, “n-word” train that we’re on needs to pull into a station very soon so we can get off. Problem is doing so means we must admit some painful things to ourselves.
First and foremost, we have to come to the conclusion that rap and hip-hop artists got it very, very wrong, this whole taking the power out of the word thing. Webster’s does not cease to exist just because we say so nor does history stop having any significance. And now, decades later, we’re still trying to beat that same dead, old horse as opposed to realizing that it’s almost impossible to take power out of a word as culturally significant as the word nigger, especially in our lifetime. And the fact that we want to be the only people who can use it, is discriminatory in nature. For if the power is truly gone then white people can call us niggers till the cows come home.
Years ago, Richard Pryor challenged African-Americans to stop using the word. And if folks are familiar with Richard Pryor, you know that for him to do so was no small feat. Yet he did it recognizing that the word maintains its hold on us because we perpetuate it when we use it as slang to depict each other. Since then, we’ve managed to colloquialize a horrible, derogatory expression into an everyday term of endearment. And we might be the only race that does so.
Italian-Americans don’t greet each other as “wops”; Mexican-Americans don’t call each other “greasers” nor do Chinese-Americans consider themselves “chinks” or Puerto Ricans, “spics”. You can’t call someone a faggot; there’s a long list of folk out there in the public eye who’ve had to deal with that scenario. And when Mel Gibson went on a tirade about Jews, they kicked his behind back to the stone age of Hollywood obscurity.
It’s time we stopped allowing the rampant use of a term that truly dehumanizes us. Doing so will allow us to react properly to the Riley Coopers and the Paula Deens out there because once we stop on our end, the charge of hypocrisy can never again be leveled at us and we can then act on the utterances with the necessary attention that they deserve. In other words, it sends a clear message to everyone what is or isn’t tolerated.
For the artists out there, I say take heart, it’ll be OK, it’s only one word; there are many others. It’s time to make better use of our vocabularies. Back in the day, a friend of mine said it best when we first heard of Richard’s epiphany. Our plan was simple: Don’t call a man a nigger, just call him a mother-fucker. It can be used as a noun or an adjective, by dropping the er and adding ing. It’s expressive, signifying a variety of emotions and makes your point in addition to rolling off the tongue nicely, too.