FAQ 32 - The N Word

scaa contributors: mbowen, jeff spirer --

The N-Word Index | The Other N-Word

Q: 32a. Can non-African Americans say the word?

A: The answer is 99.9% NO! If you have to ask, the question for you is moot. If you didn't grow up in a neighborhood where it was used on your front porch about *you* by your friends, then don't even try it.

Q: 32b. If black people say 'nigger' and not be racist, why not whites?

A: The best analogy I can come up with (for white folks) is this: What does your father call your mother when they are having sex? Even if I was your best friend in the world, you would never want me to call your mother that name. She probably wouldn't even want her second husband to call her that. That is the level of intimacy 'my nigger' connotes.

Which also serves as a lesson to African Americans. You cannot assume that black folks don't mind the use of the word in the casual form.

The bottom line truth is that 'nigger' is a white supremacist epithet. Who uses it does not change, and will never change that history. Nigger is always disrespectful.

A: 32c. What about 'my niggaz'?

A: That is between you and your niggaz. We don't know you that well. You don't know us that well.

Q: 32d. Some black folks call everybody niggers. What about that?

A: What about it?

Q: 32e. What about the use of the word in an artistic context?

A: That is subjective. Take the two cases:

Art Imitates Life:
'reality rap' Real people use the word in real life. There is no reason art should not imitate life. If the word is used gratuitously, then it is obviously disrespectful.

Life Imitates Art:
'message music' here is a good example

David Nelson, one of the first members of The Last Poets, authored "Die, Nigger." He explains that it was about how "the nigger needs to die so that black folks can take over." After NWA sampled and completely misused (from a contextual viewpoint) "Die, Nigger", Nelson wrote his response:

"It's about nigger and Niger, the difference between a mule and a tiger
It's about Niger and nigger and the difference is getting bigger
'Cause the mule works hard in the heat of day, foolishly giving his work away
The tiger waits in the cool of the night, waiting for his prey to come into sight."

A sound criticism of an artistic work cannot be made soley on the use of the word.

a sad (instructional) story

In article <95089.183809ECRUM@wvnvm.wvnet.edu> writes:
I haven't seen any notes regarding what I'm about to write, but if I
missed some, forgive me... sometimes I don't get stuff for weeks after
it's been posted. I read in the paper this morning that a white woman
was beaten to death by two young black men in PA after her 3-year-old
son called them "nigger/a." Apparently, the mom and her son were walking
down the street and passed these two men who were referring to each other
as "niggas," a practice many on this group defend to the death. (I
was one who said _no_one_ should use the word.) Anyway, the kid
imitated their talk and one of the guys punched the woman in the face. She went
home and called the police, and shortly thereafter she and her son were
outside and encountered one of them again and he punched her from
behind, knocking her and her son down. They were both treated and released from
the hospital, but the woman had to go back the next day and was transferred
to another hospital, where she died.

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but I thought this latest event might
get people thinking. These two guys who killed this woman probably
aren't doctoral candidates, but does this cause anyone else to think
again and realize the potential danger in the use of this word? Some poor
three-year-old is now motherless just because he said something someone
else did... and THEY can say it (since they are black), but HE can't.

Brian Lamb & Juan Williams, regarding the use of the word by Thurgood Marshall

LAMB: There's a word that is--as you know, is very difficult to use,
but you use it in this book all the time. And I want you to tell us
how it's used by the two different sides. The word is `nigger,' and
Thurgood Marshall uses it all the time and so do people like Senator
Eastland use it. Can you explain--I mean, was it hard for you
to--tell us about that word today, as you look at it. What's it mean?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Oh, God. You know, that's a very disturbing word for
me personally. I don't use it personally, and I'd say that I don't
use that if, you know, Brian Lamb is black and I'm sitting here and
we're just joking as two buddies, I don't use the word. And I think
it's because it has a tremendous emotional--negative emotional impact
on me personally. It feels demeaning, and it feels as if my essence,
my humanity is being erased. So I try not to use it.

Now in terms of someone like Eastland, you can understand how Eastland
would use it, i--in the most derogatory of sense, to put down black
people and to--to establish that their station in life is less than
his as a white man. Marshall, on the other hand, I find, uses the
term with a sort of alacrity, almost as humor at times. And uses it
to suggest that th--both the irony of the black man's situation in
America--at one point, after he had read a headline--he read a
headline about a black man falling into a tar pit and people trying to
help him out. And--and the headline on the story in this paper was
Nigger In A Pit. And he went around the office at the NAACP, all of
his friends and associates told me, shouting this out: `Nigger in a
pit! Nigger in a'--like it was, like, the most absurd--it was like
absurdist comedy to him that anyone would write such a thing, or--or
what did it mean? You know, black man stuck in a pit in America. But
even in casual conversation at times, he could use that word
and--and--and understand the loathing with which it--it--it was used
to convey the sense of the black man's situation in America.