We have all heard it and continue to do so. A lot of us have used it. Yet, to the bewilderment of many, the two groups that have it as a fixed part of their active vocabularies are self-proclaimed racists and blacks.
In my last post, I explored the use of "bad language" and in today's post, I'm going to explore one of the most controversial words in the English language; The dreaded n-word. Before I even get started, I have to clear up a spelling and pronunciation issue that has plagued my home country for decades. For non-native English speakers this may seem like a trivial matter but rest assured, in the English-speaking world, North America in particular, the following is of the utmost importance.
The N-word has two spellings; n i g g e r and n i g g a. The first, with the "er" ending, is a racial epithet and is used to describe people of African descent. It ends with a hard r-sound. The latter spelling ends with an a and makes a short vowel sound that sounds like u. Its uses include but are not limited to; friend, enemy, stranger, brother in arms, and basically any male including one's self. I would recommend that non-native speakers avoid both terms no matter how often you hear them in pop culture.
I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the n-word is one of the most controversial words in modern-day English despite its ubiquity.
I have come to understand that the term is less controversial in some languages such as German. In fact, the distinction between the two spellings/ pronunciation is lost when translated into German as the German term for both spellings and pronunciation is negger. I am sure that German is not the only language with this problem which makes it all the more challenging for a non-native speaker to understand the difference. In fact the word negro (your head must be spinning) was considered the politically acceptable term to describe blacks in America for centuries and was used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, and a host of other notable activists, dignitaries, and organizations.
I am neither pro nor con when it comes to the use of the n-word ( with the a ending) but it is not in my active vocabulary. I have used it in two songs because I felt that the message was so strong that I didn't want blacks that self-identified as such to be or feel left out.
The other pronunciation, with the er, does not have much effect on me. I see it as a weapon used by weak people to incite a reckless reaction from someone they feel intimidated by. In such cases, it is used simply to provoke or insult but it really shines a light on the desperation and powerlessness of the user. I have also tried to raise my children to see it that way.
That being said, I am going to try and articulate the rationale for some rapper's use of the n-word. In this particular case, the n-word always ends with an a. I can not and do not speak for all rappers or blacks in America. Contrary to popular belief, the "Black People Meeting" is really a myth and we do not have a spokesperson.
When used in rap ( my nigga) is a term used to identify a member within my circle of friends that truly identifies with me. The term says; take away the money, clothes, cars and we are of the same cloth. I am no greater than you are and our bond is deeper than material things. You are as feared and hated as I am but I know that you are worthy of love and trust. Even if the world refuses to love you, I will and I know that you reciprocate. I do not doubt this for a second. Hence it is viewed as a term of endearment.
Another use suggests that on planet earth the sexes are divided into two categories; n-words and b-words. N-words being male and b-words female. The traits applied to these terms are for all men and women despite how much we aspire to be otherwise. As such we love and hate with unparalleled ferocity. For better or worse the traits of these terms are found in all men and women on this planet. However, I (as a rapper) accept that the terms are only embraced by those strong enough to bare them.
Love is the common denominator in usage and highlights the dichotomous nature of the term. As I have pointed out, the word is not in my active vocabulary but I love all my brothers and some of them self-identify as niggas. I refuse to disown any of them for the sake of political correctness nor do I tell my son that I condone its use. As young people are fond of saying, it is what it is.
This is a lot of info to chew on I am going to leave it here for now. I have decided to cover the n-word in more than one post and I am just getting started.
As we used to say in Baltimore, even if you don't, "Act Like You Know!"
Thanks for taking the time to read my two cents.
More to come in part 2 if you like.