Saturday, April 30, 2016

excuse me my nigga

I'm back! Here I am, writing because the White House Correspondents Dinner is today, Larry Wilmore hosted, and it was brilliant. I'm going to miss Barack Obama so much that I can't even describe it. 

Moving on, Larry said "nigga" during one of his jokes. And I'm trying to beat out all of the think pieces from white writers who will write about why the word makes them uncomfortable and why it shouldn't be said. 

I'm so not about this. Like, at all. 

Earlier this year, I went to a meeting for a school club. People from my school follow me on Twitter now, so I won't get too specific, but we were talking about how other schools aren't nearly as "diverse" as ours is. I don't know how it led to the conversation we ended up having, but I remember talking about code switching. I talked about how there are differences in the way black people talk to other black people and the way they talked to white people.

I said that white people should not be saying nigga. And people got upset, including one of the teachers, who felt it necessary to say that she was Italian (because somehow that makes her more qualified to speak on the subject?) and that no one should be saying the word because it's disgusting.

I didn't get the chance to say anything else, because another black student agreed with her. And there was a bunch of applause, which drowned me out. Anyway, I won't tell you about how I took a survey of black students, asking them about how they felt about the word. That I ranted to my black friends. 

I'm going to tell you why this discussion, mainly having it with white people, irritates me to no end:

1) White people made up the word, and black people have repurposed it: Nigga was originally a word seeped in hate. I know that, and you know that. We all know that. But when black people say it, they're using it in greeting. They're using it in a way to call out to friends, to describe themselves. 

When I try to explain this, I usually compare it to women calling themselves "bitches" - something that men often do as an insult. They're owning the word, changing it into something else so that it can no longer be used to hurt them. That's what black people do with nigga. 

2)  THE SELECTIVE PEARL CLUTCHING:
Okay, pearl clutching is pretty self explanatory - it refers to old movies and such where women used to clutch their pearls in shock and dismay. It's a term people use to refer to the shock and dismay of others in an annoying way, to boil it down. 

Examples of things people clutch their pearls at: kids running around without shoes, someone getting upset at teen sex being displayed in YA, people getting upset about cursing. Little things that they just get upset about for no real reason. 

Anyway, I love how white people love to get all upset about what a horrible word nigga is. Of course, they understand more about racism than the black people who use it. Of course, amidst all of the other shit black people have to deal with (including poverty, death at the hands of police, being treated as second class citizens, etc.), this is one of the things they get super upset about. Why? 

3) The entitlement: 
When white people tell me that nigga is a horrible word that no one should be able to say, this is what I hear: "Since I can't say it, no one else should be able to say it, either." 

It's a word for black people. I get that it can be difficult to come to terms with a word your ancestors probably said (or still do say) casually, and that there's so much hatred connected to it. That's something valid that you sort of have to deal with. If you told me you felt uncomfortable when people said it because you hear mean grandparents say it, I get that. If you were my friend, I probably wouldn't say it around you. 

That doesn't mean you can just say no one gets to say it. It's like someone who is a vegetarian because they hate the way animals are treated trying to tell everyone they can't eat meat. Go ahead, argue if you'd like - obviously not all of the time, because that gets irritating and I'd drop you. But to presume that a word should be discontinued just because you feel guilty/bothered by it is SUCH an entitled thing to believe that I can't even run with it. 

4) The superiority complex: Okay, this goes along with the whole theme of tone policing, but still applies to the nigga conversation. I remember sitting in school the day that meeting and thinking about how pompous that teacher sounded.

I have to stop here, because I have to say she's not a bad person. At all. I don't think this woman is horrible or anything because of how she approaches this word. I know many white people who think nigga is a horrible word (which I understand) and think no one should say it. So, the fact that I'm critiquing her on this doesn't make her horrible. She's actually lovely, and good about other things.

Anyway. 

When people tell me that black people shouldn't be saying nigga, they sound paternal. It makes more sense in my situation, because she was a teacher and I was a student. But a lot of times there are grown white people saying this to grown black people. Adults. 

It comes across as white people going, "Oh dearie, you don't understand that we created this word to hate you even more. This must be an inside joke of sorts, because the blacks don't get it. Since I'm a nice white person, I'll let them know." 

The fact is that black people don't have to be educated on the subject - and not on tone or dialect as a whole. Lots of times, you get people going, "Sweetie, you sound too angry. I can't understand you." I see people saying this to black women when they discuss how their sons were murdered in the street. 

Black people can be talking about something super important, like being poisoned or treated horribly or being in poverty, but white people will still critique their tone. It's just a way for them to avoid the subject, but also exert this false sense of superiority. 

"The way I speak is correct, so you must emulate it." 
"No one can take you seriously if you're so emotional." 
"Since you speak with slang, you must not be intelligent." 

And so on and so forth. The fact of the matter is that a black person could have  PHD, could be speaking in textbook terms, could have references and a speech prepared, but if a white person doesn't want to hear it, the conversation is shut down. 

5) They bring up the discussion in the black community as a "got-cha:" This is the part I hate the most. I remember how betrayed I felt when I sat in that chair, surrounded by white people and black people who didn't agree with me. 

Black people have a right not to want to use nigga. They have a right to disagree with it. It's sort of like how I say "queer" all the time, and identify that way, but some older LBGTQIA people find it offensive. It's different depending on who you are and what you've experienced. 

If I had been given the choice, I would've chosen to speak to white students, black students, and other non-black POC all at different times. It might sound...I don't know, stupid, but it's really difficult to speak up about things like this in real life. I know that I know what I'm talking about, but black people might disagree. And that's fine. But it sucks to feel so small and like people are ready to jump on you, while the people you look forward to for support are "on their side." 

(There are no sides, but that's how I felt in that moment.)

Anyway, white people are allowed to have feelings, as I said previously. I know that a lot of white people don't like to use it because they grew up during the 60s/70s/80s and experienced the word being used with hatred in abundance. However,  they just don't get to control whether or not black people use the word. And I'm not about to argue with a teacher about it, because...

Well.

As for black people - I personally don't mind the use of the word, but I don't mind discussing the topic with black people. It's just that I think it should be a discussion to be had in the black community. I truly don't think that we're going to get everyone to stop saying nigga, especially since it's not seen as overly negative when black people say it. 

But again, I know that I don't say it around my parents or grandparents because - well, first of all, they'd probably hit me - but also because they grew up in a different time. I think my parents were in their late teens (ha, they'll kill me if they read this) when groups like NWA were first getting popular. 

My mom remembers moving into an all white neighborhood and "Go back home niggers" being spray painted on their garage. My grandmother remembers that people used to call her father "Uncle" instead of "Sir," a sign of disrespect in North Carolina when she was growing up. There are a lot of reasons why black people don't like the word, and don't want it used. 

But it's our word to decide on, and we don't need any help from the white community.

xoxo.
Camryn 

PS: NON-BLACK POC SHOULD NOT BE SAYING NIGGA, EITHER! There is anti-blackness in lots of different cultures, which makes me sad, but there are black slurs used for black people in lots of different languages. I feel it's different with POC, because they understand a lot of what it's like to be treated this way by white people, but there are still differences.

5 comments:

  1. YES. Oh my gosh yes. I bring this up anytime my fellow white people either say it or pull up the "well no one should be able to say it" b.s. I am 100% in the non-black people (both of colour and not) should not say it. Unfortunately this is a conversation I regularly have to have with my mother. That results in her manipulatively crying and me standing my ground. But that's my own fight right there (I'm slowly starting to get her to STOP saying the word as she says it, almost always follows with "I don't like the word either" when I tell her not to say it because she totally doesn't get that it's NOT appropriate for her to ever say it since we are very excessively white, and it's especially worse as she works at a high school and her class is reading to kill a mockingbird and UGH!*throws hands in the air*).

    I am just going to share this on twitter and facebook before all the think pieces start circulating.

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  2. Camryn. You are right with your arguments.

    But, the word is cursing and cursing is never appropriate with everyone. My mother in the early 60s disciplined me and my siblings for using the word because she did not allow cussing.

    As far as owning a word, yes take the sting out. But recognize that some people hate the word that much. In my experience, people like fairness. The word is repugnant for that reason.

    I personally hate the word bitch. I'm a retired teacher. I was rarely called one. But I despised the connotations that a woman who was assertive could be called one. I was just as offended by a jerk teacher I worked with was proud that students thought she was one. It is just a matter of perspective.

    I look forward to future posts.

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  3. Oh I find this whole "since I can't say it you can't say it either" thing super interesting. I never looked at this way but at the core I do think that this is part of the reason why some white people get so upset hearing black people call each other this. I think, at the core it's just a matter of - if you're not black you don't get a say in this at all. Personally I really don't have any strong feelings about the word as a black person, but I don't mind black people using it either. I really don't care. If some black people want to reclaim it - sure, go ahead - but I don't want any white person to use this word under any circumstances EVER

    - Jen from The Bookavid

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  4. This is prolly going to come across as very annoying, but, um, if you're not black it should be "the n-word," even in print. Print might feel different, but it's not. The online world is conversational, and blogging is much more akin to speech than it is to academic writing, which is the only place where a white person using the uncensored word might be appropriate. The norm should be "the n-word" at all times, with accepted print variations like n*gga.

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