EVAN: Readers of every gender, young and old, today Gordon and I shall be discussing a somewhat more sensitive topic of our own choosing due to there being no comments on our last post.
Our subject of conversation for the day is, and I cleared my throat before typing this, the word “nigger.”
GORDON: I’d like to talk about just that right off the bat-
Do we have to abbreviate it? I mean, I can’t think of any other word in the English language that we won’t even say. Surely we can all agree, regardless of where we stand on the word itself, that calling it the “n-word” is on par with superstition.
Evan, am I crazy here?
EVAN: I think that comparing it to speaking of ol’ Snake-Face himself [Voldemort] is pretty accurate. People truly are concerned about even typing the word.
GORDON: In fact, not too long ago, it was decided in a moment of truly acute idiocy to take “nigger” out of American classics “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
EVAN: They replaced it with the word “slave” if I remember correctly.
GORDON: Forgetting that (especially in the latter) the whole point of Mark Twain (who was anti-slavery) putting it in there was to make a point about equality and humanity
EVAN: And, I mean, to maintain accuracy. It was the language of the times, after all.
GORDON: But that’s all a discussion for another day. Let’s get right down to it:
Is there an appropriate use of the word “nigger” (other than to demonstrate the language of the times in question, or to demonstrate inhumanity)?
EVAN: Do you mean to ask whether or not either of us could ever use the word outside of discussing one of Twain’s works or the topic of racism against Black people?
I don’t believe so, no. I have trouble envisioning a scenario where that would be the case.
I of course would like to point out, for any possible new readers, that I am Filipino-Chinese and Gordon is White [with some smattering of Native American, as he loves to point out].
GORDON: Only so people will think I can talk to animals.
But yeah, I wouldn’t say just the two of us- I mean anyone. The debate around the word is if there’s ever an acceptable use for it. I’d like to cite an example of what I thought was an appropriate usage.
Famed academic Cornell West, speaking at a rally, used it quite a lot- or at least, a variation on it. Check it out:
EVAN: So Mr. West is using the word to describe a state that Black people find themselves in, equating “being Niggerized” to being marginalized and terrorized, among other things.
I feel like that’s not quite the same as using the word by itself, but I don’t believe his usage is inappropriate.
GORDON: A while ago, I was reading “Wretched of the Earth” by Franz Fanon, who discussed the effects of colonization (and post-colonized) Africa (and to a lesser extent, Asia, and South America).
While I can’t exactly recall if he addressed the word “nigger” directly, he did pretty much cover the justification some use for the term.
People, marginalized and dehumanized, fight back by appropriating the words used to demean them and turn them into marks of pride, rather than shame.
Certainly this has been true with words like “Gay” or “Christian”.
EVAN: Using the term “nigger” as a means of pride. That’s really interesting.
Do you think that’s how it is used today by African-Americans? I mean, it’s certainly present in rap music and so-on, but I feel like describing its usage there as being re-appropriation of a derogatory slur for bigger and better things might be inaccurate.
It’s certainly re-appropriation, but perhaps one that makes it more casual? I’m somewhat unsure.
GORDON: Okay, what about using it not as a label, but as an term to describe the process of dehumanizing people based on race? Reducing them to animals? This isn’t used just against black people, but against ALL non-whites. Arabs get called “Sand-Niggers” or “Dune Coons.” I’ve heard other variations applied to aboriginal peoples and Asians as well.
This seems to be what Dr. West is talking about when he says “niggerized.”
EVAN: I think we’ve touched enough about how West views the word, so let’s try moving forward a little more with its usage today. What are your thoughts about the distinctions between the words “nigger” and “nigga”?
As many people might know, this was an issue in the media when a school teacher used the latter word to interact with his African-American students, thinking it to be far different from the former.
GORDON: I don’t think the teacher was malicious in saying it (having seen both the actual news scandal AND parodies of it), I just think it was colossally stupid.
EVAN: My brother mentioned this when he saw what we were going to be blogging about, that the way the last syllable is said really changes the word.
“Nigger” sounds worlds harsher than “nigga.” As far as the way it’s used among African-Americans, I would say it’s probably rarely ever the case that they use the former to refer to each other.
GORDON: I’ve heard it used both ways without much difference. I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which anyone could say “Actually, I said ‘niggAH'” and people would be cool with it.
EVAN: I really do think that the latter is used in a much more casual colloquial manner, at least among African-Americans and those who choose to emulate and live out a particular subculture.
The teacher should not have used any iteration of the word at all, but I think he was tapping into something when he said there is a difference between the two words.
GORDON: Again, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the perceptions of a man who called a black pupil a “nigga”- or anything other than his name, for that matter.
But let’s change things up here- this is something I’ve truly been curious about. What about the word “wigger”?
EVAN: In that it’s a disparaging term used to describe a White person whose behaviour mirrors that of a particular African-American subculture?
GORDON: More or less, yeah. Is it as equally disparaging? Is it more directed against whites or blacks or what?
EVAN: I’ve always seen it as a term that looks down on White people in that it’s not so much that they’re emulating certain Black people [and that they are lessening themselves by doing so], but that they’re emulating something they’re not to begin with.
There’s this appropriation of a subculture that came about due to struggle and hardship, and most of these people have never experienced such things.
GORDON: So? Is it somehow pro-equality as a term? When I’ve seen it used, it just always seemed plain mean-spirited
GORDON: Poor choice of words. I mean “good” in that it mocks a group for trying to appropriate a culture stemming from centuries of brutal oppression.
EVAN: I’ve never had to think about the term as far as being “good” or “bad.” I stated that in my opinion it mocks people who are, in essence, posers.
I’m not sure what you mean about mean-spirited.
GORDON: When I’ve heard it used, it’s been used not in a “You guys suck for pretending to have lived through poverty and oppression”, it’s been used in “You guys are as bad as niggers”. Again, mean-spirited, if not downright malicious.
EVAN: I think it’s just a difference between how we’ve heard it used. I’ve personally never witnessed it being used in that manner.
GORDON: Well, folks, we’re overtime…
…and no closer to any answer than when we started, though certainly we’ve presented some food for thought.
How about you leave us some comments so we can discuss something next time of your choosing?
EVAN: We look forward to reading any suggestions you leave, and arguing which one would ultimately be easiest to discuss [because they’re usually pretty challenging].
GORDON: Seriously, be specific with your suggestions. Vague leaves us with no direction.
EVAN: Or more accurately leaves us to twist your prompt in whatever direction we want.
Thanks, as usual, for tuning in! We will be here all week, every week, for the unforeseeable future.
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