by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World
I recently read an article in which Russell Simmons defended Gwyneth Paltrow in her use of the word “n*gga” to define her time in Paris with Jay-Z, Beyonce and the rest of her “n*ggas.” Gwyneth, like most “down-ass” white girls who get very comfortable around black folks, caught herself slipping into territory that only the bravest white people go.
I stand with Russell in that Gwyneth is not entirely to blame. At worst, we can blame Gwyneth for not being sensitive enough to realize that Jay-Z and Kanye are not ambassadors of the black community who’ve been given creative license to sell and market the word n*gga to audiences around the world. Most of us aren’t getting any of the royalties being paid to Kanye and Jay-Z from their decision to sell out.
Now, back to Russell, Gwyneth, Jigga, and N*gga. Russell, a man who has far more money than I’ll ever have, went out of his way to defend Jay-Z and Kanye as “poets” who deserve the creative freedom to express themselves in ways that they see fit. I find it interesting that black self-respect must be consistently sacrificed for the sake of creative freedom. I have to openly wonder if the Asian community would be happy to hear about “Chinks in Paris,” or if Jews would support a song called “Hymies in Paris.” In fact, I doubt that Russell could ever release such an album without having his power ripped out from under him.
I have NEVER told any artist not to use that word or any word in my life and I never will; a poet can choose their own words to describe whatever they want in their art.
Mind you, Russell’s careful selection of words like “art” and ‘poet” are wired to pre-empt the inevitable battleground that emerges when we realize that the minds of millions of black children are being destroyed, all so a bunch of grown men can have access to their precious art. The difficult reality that Russell and other proud “n*ggas” in commercialized hip-hop must face is the fact that their music does little to elevate the masses, and only serves to make black boys think that it’s cool to stay high and drunk, have sex with everything that moves, kill each other on the street, disrespect black women and waste their money popping bottles at the club.
Of course, little Paquan in the hood doesn’t have to choose Jay-Z and Kanye as his role models, but since all of his friends at school are influenced by the artists they hear on the radio every single day, he is constantly bombarded with messages that serve as a personal blueprint to his own self-destruction (get the joke? Notice that I used the word “blueprint”).
So, in the quest to protect the rights of “poets” to pursue their “art,” we are promoting the very worst that the black community has to offer. Toxic thinking and behavior is being packaged and exported to predominantly white audiences around the world so that individuals like Russell Simmons and Jay-Z can get rich. As a result of this deformed re-branding of the black community, white women like Gwyneth Paltrow think that we are all a pack of n*ggas who want to hang out with her in Paris. In fact, being a n*gga has become so cool that Gwyneth wants to be a n*gga too.
Let’s be clear: Much of the commercialized hip-hop that we hear on the radio cannot be readily defended as art. The core of the artistic value of music is undermined when a music industry executive walks in the room and says, “Kanye, don’t rap about Jesus or living in the suburbs. Just call yourself a n*gga and refer to black women as b*tches. That’s how you can sell more records.” It is at that point that the so-called “art” being produced in the studio turns into nothing more than a corporate commodity being sold to those who love seeing black people put on monkey minstrel shows. The mouth full of gold teeth, tattoos up your neck and ten gold chains are nothing short of comedic exaggerations of the black male as a hyper-aggressive animal who will eat and murder other black men on sight.
The bottom line is that commercialized hip-hop is not producing artists. It is actually producing a whole pack of n*ggas.
So, with all due respect to anyone who wants to sit here and pretend that it’s OK for white people to refer to the black people around them as n*ggas, perhaps it’s time to realign our thinking. This psychological poison affects all of us, and even I once thought that using the word n*gga was ok to do. But there was also a point when I realized that it was “n*gga-like” thinking that led me to believe that I should refer to myself and my brother in the most degrading way imaginable. I then had to accept that my bad habit was not good for the soul of my community.
Russel, it’s time for us to stop thinking like n*ggas. There are more intelligent and thoughtful ways for black men to reference themselves. You know it, I know it and so does everyone else. Let’s get away from selling poison.