“… Yo that nigger was mad tight… The nigga seriously wanted to hurt somebody…No, but the nigga didn’t say that…Yo, my nigga really?… Nigga don’t go there…”
This was the piece of a conversation I overheard between two train stops as I rode home from work last night. I’m guessing my distaste for what I, and a good portion of the subway car overheard because he was not even trying to moderate his voice, must have shone on my face as he turned his back to me and continued with a string of words further enhanced with the slur. All of that from one person, all within the span of a standard television commercial break.
And here we go again, the love/hate relationship of the use of the N-word.
I remember growing up saying any version of the word was as much an epithet as dropping the f-bomb in front of my mother as it was as a phrase of solidarity among her male peers. There was/is somehow this unspoken agreement “my nigger” just did not apply to women. Even when I hear females say it now, 90% of the time they refer to someone male, sorry guys.
When trying to explain why I feel the use of the word offensive, regardless of who utters it, I’m often made to feel like I’m overreacting when I’m around some of my peers. Or the offending person feels the need to defend him or herself, because the only thing worse than being ignorant is being called ignorant.
And the thing that is hardest to explain is that the relatively unfettered use of this word is coming from a position of privilege most of today’s young blacks don’t even realize they have. This social advantage is so ingrained in our culture that most either aren’t aware or simply don’t care their comments are coming off the backs of centuries worth of hardship and oppression. They did not live personally through when word was nothing other than a vile degradation.
As with all young children, I knew nothing of the world beyond the boundaries of my neighborhood. Thus in grade school learning of the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was simply another lesson learned in history with no more or less import on my life as the lessons about Abe Lincoln and Harriet Tubman to my child’s eyes. Being all of four years of age when he died, the import was lost on me. I was a teen before I realized that I was alive when King was assassinated, and just how close segregated times were a reality for myself.
By the time I became aware of the world I was able to sit in the back of the bus because I wanted to, not because I had to. Thus, I could not understand why my mother refused to do so even when seats were available. It was ingrained in her reality as a person who came of age through segregation to refuse to sit in the back of the bus, but not mine as I child who had not grown up in such. It was a thisclose reality, but still not my reality.
Knowing the word nigger existed to hurt is one thing, living an existence in it’s hurt is another. Sympathy is not empathy. I can only surmise the ones who use it freely now really do not understand its power to hurt because it was never really used to hurt them. In a world where it the slur nigger holds as much impact as the curse fuck – it’s not their reality.
Now let’s consider other racial slurs that have come, and for the most part gone, in the immediate tome stream such as spic and kike, and for that matter coon and jigaboo. Words that you rarely hear spoken aloud any more. Because those affected by such slurs asserted their respect for themselves and refused to allow anyone to disrespect them with its use. And made damned sure the world knew to accept that respect.
So what the hell happened with the word nigger that it still survives and thrives to continue in its controversial life? Why can’t it die off as some of those other slurs?
Because of men like the young man on the cell phone who dropped the word several times without a thought in the less than three minutes it took to get from one train station stop to another, it keeps being used.
How can it die if we keep letting it live?
An introspective slice from the Raivenne today, let’s see how others are slicing it up…