The ‘N’ Word and America: Part II

By George Ploss

Most of my favorite hip-hop artists use the word ‘nigger’ in their songs. Hip-hop is the continued medium of cool in America, as is all black pop culture since the Harlem Renaissance. So I pose the question: does the racial epithet still exist? If a white boy in a fitted Yankees cap, Phat Farm jeans, a white T-shirt and Air Force One Nikes asks me ‘What’s up my nigga?’ is he insulting me and should I be offended?

Some of you may find this question ridiculous (I do), but we must ask this for the word’s copiousness throughout the American tongue which we cannot ignore. We cannot bury it, especially not in Detroit, nor pretend that its spirit is reborn. Which brings me back to the initial question posed: Should I or anyone else be offended with the phrase from the fictional allusion above?

In The Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the United States and the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them in 1837, Hosea Easton said that nigger “is an opprobrious term, employed to impose contempt among blacks as an inferior race … The term in itself would be perfectly harmless were it used only to distinguish one class of society from another; but it is not used with that intent … It flows from the fountain of purpose to injure.”

So why do black folks use it?

So many reasons, so little words. In short, I truly believe it is a psychological effect of slavery that has been internalized by us to believe that we are less than our white counterparts. Every time the word is uttered, it rings the bell racial of the status quo that has existed in the Western (in particular North American) region since the institution of slavery became paramount in the construction of our ‘free world’ as suggested by prominent intellects Na’im Akbar and Audrey Smedley. I use it fluidly when in conversation, referring to people I have an admiration for and ironically when referring to people I have a disdain for: black people. I am a conscious, self-responsible victim and to separate myself from that thick, grey word would strafe the line of my African-American identity.

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So why do white folks use it?

Besides when being offensive, it is merely a tragic and ignorant way to either relate oneself toward a black counterpart, intrinsically in hip-hop culture or because one thinks that it is a term of endearment. So if I think that black folks using it is wrong, of course I’m going to think that a white person using it is absurd.

Ironically, part of the common definition of being a ‘nigger’ is to be completely ignorant. Something that is stressed in many black households growing up is that being a ‘nigger’ is something we are not. So can a white person use that word if he/she is showing ‘nigger’ tendencies?

To make light out of arguably the most offensive word in English, no, they cannot.

And yes, I am in the right to say so.

The truth is that no one should use it, but no one should forget it. Because at the end of the day, a black man with a Ph.D. is still a ‘nigger’ no matter how you slice it.

And he’ll stay one unless this world changes, on both sides of the color line.

One Love.