Editor’s Note: This post is going to take an in-depth look at the word “nigger.” As such, it will be used (as discreetly as possible) throughout this commentary. This post was not written with any intent to offend. Rather, it is to make people think about the ramifications of using this word.
What’s the difference between A and ER?
Okay. Let me put this in context. What’s the difference between the slang suffix A and the proper suffix ER? If I said, “Me and my patnas (partners) are about to go hoop,” then does the meaning of partner change with an A ending? Keep this example in mind as we explore one of the most contemptuous words in the English language.
” What’s good my nigga?”
Did reading that make you cringe?
“Stupid niggers. Why don’t they go back to Africa?”
Did reading that make you cringe? It made me cringe writing it. Why is that? Well, it’s because this word has a history of being controversial.
The word nigger can be linked to the Latin word niger and the Spanish word negro, both meaning black. Early French history recalls a transition of the word to negre/negress (black woman). It is said these terms were derogatory in the French language. Fast forward to the days of American slavery, and the word was solidified as a hateful description for African-Americans.
This term is mired in oppression and hate. It has a long history of African-Americans being told their value is worthless. It’s immersed in the blood, sweat, and tears of slaves beaten for any excuse. It holds the fear of slaves thrown overboard to lighten the boat’s load. It has the blood of every black person beaten, burned, and lynched covering it. It has fire hoses, police dogs, church and bus bombings, and a whole history of being treated sub-human behind it. This word is powerful. Not in a positive way either.
It is without a doubt, one of the filthiest racial slurs used in America.
It’s not used to inspire pride in African-American heritage. It was (and still is) used as a reminder that blacks are nobody in America. It is used to incite feelings of inferiority; to diminish any sense of self-confidence in a black person.
As long as it’s said with the ER.
Conversely, a good majority of black people have taken this word and made it part of their every day vocabulary. African-American culture has become pop culture in a sense with the soaring popularity of rap/hip-hop music. As such, pop culture has grabbed the word in such a way that people use it regardless of their race. It’s “new meaning” is a term of endearment towards one’s friends. It is usually interchanged with other slang words (i.e. bro, homie, homeboys, brothas, dude). It can also be used to express disdain. Not of a racial nature, but with a specific person or group of people (i.e. I was about to hit that nigga in the mouth). These “new meanings” have been created as a way to reclaim/restore the word from its original definition. That’s what proponents of using this word will tell you.
As long as it’s said with an A at the end.
The same word with two different endings garners multiple meanings depending on the context in which it’s used. Sounds like the regular rules of the English language, right? Understanding language evolves with time and some words change societal meaning, we have to ask ourselves if the word nigger/nigga has really changed. That questioned can be answered by what racial group says it. A perfect example of this happened recently at a high school in Arizona.
Who Said It?
Six girls attending Desert Vista High School tweeted out the following picture.
As you can see, the girls would be considered white based on looks alone. The deception of race is that two of them could possibly be Latino or Native American, but they are categorized as white since that’s what their skin says.
This picture was taken after their senior class photo where students were encouraged to wear shirts with letters and asterisks to spell out a completely different phrase ending with “Class of 2016.”
The top photo quickly went viral, and people went OFF! This was not just black people bemoaning a negative word. People of all races were thoroughly offended. So much so until the Desert Vista High School’s office was flooded with outraged emails, tweets, and phone calls from random strangers across the country. A good majority of the comments I read were in favor of expulsion plus classes on the history of the word. To say people were upset is an understatement. The girls received a five day suspension from the school, but the wrath of twitter knows no bounds. Someone tweeted the picture with each girl’s name.
These ladies are social media’s public enemy number one. For now anyway.
These types of situations create a massive discussion. Some people feel there is a double standard as it appears blacks are okay with the continued use of nigga as an in-group term. However, when a white person says any variation of the word (i.e. nigga, nigger, my nig, etc…), then it becomes a racial issue. One of the comments I read regarding the Desert Vista High School girls reads as such.
“And yet black artists promote the word in music, movies, and poetry. Where is the outcry over that? Double standards are double standards. The word is abhorrent or it is not. Can’t go both ways. And if you say it is okay if a person of color uses it but it has a different meaning when whites use it look in a mirror and tell me honestly who is being racist now.”
- Dave – Article Comments Section
I don’t agree with everything in this comment, but it is interesting to dissect. What he’s really saying is there is no difference between A and ER. Regardless of how the word is said, it means the same thing. So, why the uproar? For that, I agree with him. The part of who is being racist now? That’s where his comment gets distorted. However, that’s how divisive this word can be. I do have some questions for those who believe there is a double standard.
Do you really want to say nigger?
I don’t think you do, but the premise of a double standard would also imply you feel left out from using this phrase. Do you really feel excluded? Do you feel a sense of injustice from blacks who continuously use this word as part of their everyday vernacular? I’ll let you think about it.
While the double standards are pondering, they do make some valid points. It’s an interesting concept to discuss.
Why is this term exclusive to black people?
Several comments point to the fluid use of this word in rap/hip-hop music which is no longer listened to by majority black people. Rap is mainstream to the point that ALL races of this younger generation listen to it. Therefore, they become desensitized to the word because the context of how it’s said is under the guise of “new meaning.” In turn, this creates a problem between blacks and those who they have not accepted to use the term. The very idea that blacks can choose who says this term is foolish in itself.
I’ll take it a step further and ask, why do some black people feel it’s their word? It truly make no sense. A word used to describe your race in the filthiest way possible has now become a term to use at your leisure? I balk at this claim for this very reason.
If African-Americans truly reclaimed/changed the meaning of this word, then we wouldn’t throw a fit when a non-black person says it.
Point blank. Period. End of discussion.
No matter how hard people try, saying any variation of nigger will always spark the ire of others. The American history of this word will never be erased. To deny it’s original meaning is to deny our history. American history. It renders countless lives lost insignificant. Using it sets everyone back from this supposed progress we have made as a country. It’s time to realize this, and eradicate the use of this word. Then, and only then, can we take steps to truly love our brother and sister.
What’s the difference between A and ER?