It’s time to put an end to the N-word
By Demetairs Bell
Recently the infamous N-word has yet again found its way into the public eye. In a text message to his fellow teammate, NFL player Richie Incognito referred to Jonathan Martin as a “half n#gga” while NBA player Matt Barnes used Twitter to vent his frustration with his teammates in a rant laced with the N-word.
Many of Incognito’s teammates came to his defense after much backlash about his use of the word; in fact, he was elevated to the status of an “honorary Black Man.” Former NBA great Charles Barkley defended Barnes’ use of the word, stating that White America doesn’t get to dictate how he talks to his friends. Barkley went on to say he allows his White friends to use the word with him because it is not used with disrespect but at the same time warns them if they use it with the wrong Black people they will “hear a clock upside their damn head.”
The N-word is a hatchet that was supposed to be buried long ago. In the 1960s a renewed sense of pride, dignity and self-love swept over the Black community: Black Power, say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud! A collectively conscious effort was made to eliminate usage of the word that’s deeply rooted in hatred.
The N-word is derived from ni**er. In the book The Top 25 Things Black Folks Do That We Need To Stop!!! authors Demico Boothe and Michael Oryan Obama explain, “During the period of slavery [it] was the uneducated American White Southerner’s version of the Spanish and Portuguese word Negro which means Black.”
The word was used as one of many tools to degrade and control Blacks. Often it would be the last word heard before being lynched. Over the course of time, Blacks began emulating the slave master, referring to each other as N#gga, dropping the er, thus fulfilling Willie Lynch’s diabolical plan to create slaves forever.
Eventually the word became “acceptable” in the Black community and could be heard in bars, pool halls, and some barbershops. It was believed that by the 1980s the word would be dead, but a strong force breathed new life into it, derailing the effort — rap music, particularly gangsta rap music.
Initially looked upon as a passing fad, rap music went on to become popular music that could be heard on the radio, in passing cars, and more importantly in the suburbs. In a strange twist of fate, rappers made the N-word a term of endearment, i.e. “That’s my N#gga” or “What up N#gga”?
Late rapper Tupac Shakur reshaped the word into an acronym: Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, rap superstar Jay Z said by using the word you eliminate its power. I strongly disagree with that assertion.
Here’s the point that seems to be missed: When Blacks loosely use that word in mixed company, it empowers/emboldens others to use it and it sends mixed messages. I found it rather interesting that Charles Barkley allows his “White friends” to call him N#gga, but in the very next breath warns it could result in physical harm if used around the wrong Black people, lending credence to the mixed message.
Black people are the only people who have a derogatory name attached to them who have turned it into a term of endearment, which is completely asinine. Mexicans don’t embrace being called wetbacks, Italians don’t embrace being referred to as dagos, Asians don’t embrace being called chinks, Jews don’t embrace being called kikes, and Whites don’t view being called a honky endearing — so why should we embrace being called N#gga?
I interviewed five people from the community: Rosalind Salters (system administrator), Ray Jones (TV news editor at WCCO 4), Yolanda Johnson (administrative assistant), Yvette Griffea-Grey (youth outreach mentor) and Rev. Jonathan Berry, asking their thoughts on the cavalier use of the word in mixed company, and the consensus was that people should refrain.
Folks know better, and when you know better you have to do better. Legendary comedian Richard Pryor stopped using it after visiting Africa. I’ve always admired rapper Eminem for being able to make an album without using it.
Many believe the word is here to stay, largely due to an unwillingness to get rid of it and people simply not caring enough. I’m of the belief that Black people are capable of anything; after all, we did cultivate a land we knew nothing of and overcame bondage. Here’s a challenge to yourself: The next time you’re about to describe a Black person, be it good or bad, consult a dictionary for an adjective. They’re filled with them.
Demetairs Bell lives in North Minneapolis. He welcomes reader responses to [email protected].