Black America and the N Word

By Chico Norwood

I recently moved back to my hometown of Jackson, MS., and while listening to the conversations betweenc my sister and some of her friends I was amazed at how many times they said the word “nigger” or should I say “nigga.”  So, one day I secretly placed my tape recorder in a strategic position while my sister and her friends were watching a basketball game.  It recorded them using the word “nigger” (“nigga”) more than 25 times, in less than an hour.  Just about every sentence contained the word “nigger” (“nigga”).  “That ‘nigger’ (‘nigga’) can’t shoot,” “Shoot the ball ‘nigger’ (‘nigga’),” “Come on ‘nigger’ (‘nigga’) etc.”  Every other player was a “nigger” (“nigga”). After a while, it started to grate on my nerves.

Having lived in Los Angeles for so many years, I have become culturally sensitive.  My black L.A. friends and I have occasionally used the word “nigger” (“nigga”) among ourselves in conversation with no more than two or three of us present at a time or no more than once or twice during the entire conversation; but not to such an  extent that every other word leaving our mouths is “nigger” (“nigga”).  Maybe it’s a southern thing, but I doubt it. I noticed that while having a conversation with a highly educated, upscale elderly southern African American woman— her husband was a highly respected pharmacist and she a librarian—she used the word “nigger” (“nigga”) very freely in her description of her neighbor.

So, why am I writing about this?  To make a point, I guess, or maybe to get feedback or the opinion of others.  I don’t know, but I felt compelled to address the subject of the word “nigger” (“nigga”) and its use in the African American community and language. Let’s just say I think we, as a people, need to open dialogue to address the use of the word that we obviously hold so dear to our hearts.

How can we, African Americans/Blacks, get so up in arms when someone of another race, be it Caucasian, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, etc., uses the word “nigger” (“nigga) but find it okay to use when we speak among ourselves? Is that a dichotomy? When Dr. Laura said the word “nigger” (“nigga”) 11 times over the KABC airwaves in Los Angeles, the NAACP and the African American community, at large, called for the poor woman’s head on a platter. You would have thought she was John the Baptist. And it resulted in her losing her job.

So, I ask, why is the word “nigger” (“nigga”) our sacred word? Are we the only people who are allowed to use it? Or should I ask why are we the only race allowed to use it freely and in public? Of course we know other ethnic groups use it in private – that’s probably why Dr. Laura had her Freudian slip.  Maybe she was too comfortable and forgot she was on air and not in the comfort of her own home with her friends.

Why is it okay for us to use a word that when used by someone else is the ultimate in degradation for us as a people—a word that we consider to be so degrading when spoken by someone from another race?  Do Jews call each other “kike” in everyday conversation?  Do Chinese Americans refer to each other as “chink” in day to day conversation? Do Puerto Ricans refer to each other as “spik” as they watch soccer games? Do Italian-Americans call each other “wop” or “dago?  Please be advised that I am not anti-Semitic or anything like that, nor am I trying to insult anyone. I’m just trying to make a point. So please, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federation, Simon Wiesenthal Foundation, Asian and Italian American leaders don’t come after me. I apologize for the use of these words and I mean no harm.  I’m trying to get a message across to the African American community and hopefully, find some answers.

I would really like to hear from someone in the Jewish, Puerto Rican and Italian-American communities to find out if there is such a derogatory word in your communities that is used to describe people from your ethnic group that is bantered about so freely during day to day conversations.

“Nigger” (nigga”) is the slang for Negro; the term whites called us before we became black and then African Americans (my next article is going to be on the labeling of Black America). I remember as a child growing up in Jackson, MS., watching the late Senator John Stennis on television talking about the “niggras.”  We would get hopping mad and say he was too lazy to pronounce Negro or that he really wanted to say “nigger” or “nigga.”

If I’m not mistaken, didn’t slave owners refer to us as “niggers,” “niggas,” “niggras” and “darkies?”  So, why do we as a people have such self loathing and hatred that we would identify each other in the same way that the slave owner did?  Is this a subliminal carry over from the days of slavery?   If this is so, then this is proof positive that slavery is still impacting the African American community today and Willie Lynch is still alive and kicking in Black America.

About cnorwood

Ms. Norwood is the former managing and sports editor for the Hub City News in Los Angeles, California. She is a former staff writer and assistant sports editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel, the Los Angeles Watts Times and Rapid Publishing, publishers of the Lynwood Journal, Compton Bulletin and the Californian. An award-winning journalist she is the recipient of a National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Best News Story Award, NNPA Best Sports Story Award, an American Media Health Fellowship, Outstanding Young Woman of America and several other awards of merit. Her articles have been published in the Los Angeles Times, Ebony Magazine and other local and national publications.

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