Who Can Use the Word “Nigga?” ~ David Foster

Via on Apr 17, 2013

Can it ever become a term that transcends race?

I was born in New York City in 1978, the year hip hop was birthed in the South Bronx. The first cassette tape I owned was Run DMC’s Tougher Than Leather (I got Raising Hell after), and slowly but surely through adolescence, hip hop culture became a part of my identity.

With unsure hesitation due to my skin color and society’s expectations and judgments I balked, but eventually did drop the waistline on my perpetually baggier jeans, changed the direction of the hats on my head, and incorporated more slang in speech. I wrote graffiti, skateboarded, and got my weed from Harlem in high school.

Two of my best friends ever were black people from New York City. I worked and thrived on the black comedy circuit for six years. The first time I fell in love was with a Dominican girl from 173rd St. The deepest I’ve fallen in love so far was with a black woman from Harlem who has one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever known.

I do believe some greater form of reparations should be made to the black race in our country if possible.

Am I credible?

I’m 100% white—half Jewish. I had a Bar-Mitzvah. Throughout childhood my family took annual, week-long ski vacations in Vermont. My dad pretty much always had a BMW that was his company’s car. My mom didn’t have to work. My parents were married, for Christ’s sake—they were happy! I had a happy household with an awesome brother and an adorable fucking dog. My bedroom was huge!

I was raised in a quiet suburb 17 miles north of Manhattan. There was nothing remotely dangerous about my zip code or the two zip codes bordering mine, nor probably one or two bordering them. There were probably 10 black people in my high school. Mostly everyone else was white or Asian, and most of the Asians bore as much Asian culture as a Chinese hamburger stand. I met my first real black friend ever in college. Am I credible?

Who is allowed to say “nigga”?

Is it only African-Americans, or is it African-Americans, Caribbeans, and Hispanics? Is it all Hispanics or just Puerto Ricans and Dominicans; or is it simply all Hispanics who grew up in urban environments?

Wait a minute—how urban does their environment have to be? What about a Cuban from Tampa, Florida? Is he allowed? Tampa’s not much of a city, but it’s not not a city. What about an Argentine from a good neighborhood in Queens? He looks white and his zip code’s crime rate is low, yet he is Hispanic and from New York City. What about Asians or Arabs? What about half-Asians or Arabs?

Does it depend on where they grew up? And, what if a relocation is involved? What if a Puerto Rican’s dad got a good job when he was 13 and moved to a quaint suburb? Is he allowed to say “nigga”? Is he grandfathered in? When is the age by which you have to have remained or arrived in a dangerous neighborhood to be allowed? And how dangerous does it have to be?

Is it possible that this is impossible to measure? Is it possible that rules cannot or should not exist based on superficial tangibles such as address and skin color, and all people should be free from verbal parameters, especially so long as their intention is positive?

I started saying “nigga” in college (1997, age 19), and it felt awesome. No, not because there existed some latent racist urge inside me that was waiting to be released; but instead, as an avid hip hop head who’d religiously memorized the lyrics to all his favorite songs and (initially half-jokingly but) then genuinely incorporated slang into his dialect, not saying “nigga” had been a consciously repressed omission, completely inconsistent with who I was (whether organic or not), thus contrived. But I had no choice, right?

Sure, I embraced hip hop culture and black people… but I was white, hence disallowed.

Nothing is more satisfying than release from constraint (which is why sex is everyone’s fave), which I was implicitly given by E and Tre, two of my best friends ever. E and Tre, like me, were relatively privileged kids (actually even more privileged maybe, having gone to private school) with a great education who loved and embraced hip hop culture from the ’80s and ’90s. Unlike me, they’d grown up in the city—Tre is Guyanese, E’s half Brazilian and had close friends from every race.

There was no specific moment where Tre or any other black member of our crew verbalized permission for me to say “nigga”—I just knew it was okay (probably once Tre started referring to me as one).

It was never questioned, either by them or by friends I made along the way on the black comedy circuit, nor my ex-love from Harlem (a highly educated girl who actually thought it was hilarious that people have a problem with it). Whether right or wrong, through my adolescent and early adulthood years, “nigga” became solidified as an absolutely entitled part of my vocabulary.

Obviously, I am not ignorant enough to not realize that this profoundly offends people (of all races).

Some claim to feel equally offended by black people saying “nigga” as they do anyone else (though I’m skeptical to their honesty). They believe the word should be abolished—that as long as it’s being used by our youth in everyday vernacular, it is sure to only “hold black people back.” An ironic theory, since its expanded usage in recent generations has undoubtedly coincided with increased enrollment by black students in top universities, a general improvement in the race’s social class, and the election of our first black president.

Could progress be faster? Sure, but one could apparently make just as strong of an argument that the expanded usage of “nigga” has been the cause of black progress, and not its stagnation. Obviously white kids calling each other “niggas” didn’t get Obama re-elected, but maybe their doing so is reflective of black culture becoming so integrated into the mainstream that the nation was ready to decide more progressively.

Other critics are more hypocritical, either as a result of less pretentiousness or hypersensitivity, feeling that only blacks should be permitted its use.

Obviously, this angle stems from the idea that centuries of racism and oppression entitles one race to use a word which they can prohibit all other races from enjoying. While it would clearly be racist to restrict any person anything based on skin color alone, two wrongs do often make a right, and permission to speak a word that technically is legal for anyone to speak anyway surely would be an overwhelmingly gratifying reward under the heading of “reparations.” (Reader, okay with sarcasm?)

One day a long time ago, some black person referred to a non-black person as a “nigga.” Initially it must have sounded ridiculous, but was really so very brilliant.

Broadening and re-shaping the definition of the word made it into a term of endearment for all men—a creative and even intuitive choice in my opinion, as the word’s sound does have a rather masculine, “yang” phonetic to it.

Suddenly, “nigga” no longer had a racial, but a masculine meaning, and eventually it began to sound ridiculous (to those of us hyper-aware of and exposed to such dialect) to refer to a black woman as a “nigga,” because she was a woman. Why not “spic” or “honky?” Why “nigga?” I’ve heard some complain. It’s simple: Black people were creative and bold enough to adopt their own derogatory term and transform it into a term of endearment. Black people pioneered a hip hop culture that influenced the styles and behaviors of a generation, thus it is actually a testament to the strength and creativity of their race.

I heard black kids refer to me as a “nigga” long before I became comfortable using the term myself. I remember thinking how unreasonable it subsequently felt to not use it. If I were to respond by saying or thinking that I’m not a “nigga,” I’d be implicitly referring to black people as “niggers,” thereby reverting back to the racist connotation it once held—not to mention behaving in a contrived contrast to a subculture and dialect I’ve adopted as my own.

If I do refer to myself as a “nigga,” I am consistent with more progressive thought, reinforcing its neutral, masculine connotation. The equation is as simple as Ebonics taking English words and assigning new meanings. “Dope” no longer means drugs or heroin, but instead a synonym for almost anything positive (beautiful, delicious, talented, etc.). “Whack” is not a verb that refers to hitting something, but instead an adjective that is a synonym for anything negative (ugly, disgusting, horrible, etc.)

A “whip” is a car, a “dome” is a head, not a stadium, and a “nigga” is a male —not a black person. It is inconsistent and unintelligent to permit all of the formers and disallow the latter.

Non-black people non-racially saying “nigga” sounds very weird and backwards, right? It’s kind of like “universal health care” or “black president.” It sounds maybe like hearing a white person speak fluent Spanish (which I do), or hearing a typical-looking ghetto black guy in the ’80s speaking perfect English with impeccable grammar.

Are these “wrong”…or are they beautiful, symbolic?

Ironic as it sounds, black people should be the ones most pleased to hear a white person non-racially say “nigga,” as he is not only obviously not racist, but clearly a product of hip hop culture, indicative of the kind of integration that coincides with social progress.

People are too often inflexibly married to principles of right and wrong within contexts where right and wrong is wholly obsolete. In a vacuum, free from its derogatory definition and racist intention, “nigga” is a word—harmless, in spite of being reminiscent of past atrocities. The expression “rule of thumb” comes from an old law that stated a man was allowed to beat his wife with any stick so long as it was not wider than his thumb.

Yet, continued use of this expression has clearly done very little towards stagnating the progress of women in our society.

Some people hear a white guy use “nigga” casually and take exception to him, thinking he knows what it means to be black. I can testify that most hip hop white guys are not delusional schizophrenics who believe they are a race they are not, and actually use “nigga” casually simply because they learned it casually. They didn’t pick it up from racist white people, but instead from urban minorities who called them “nigga,” or friends who picked it up from urban minorities.

I totally understand why [black] people are uncomfortable with hearing non-black people say nigga.

My ancestors did pretty much the worst things in the world to your ancestors, and as a result, there’s a good chance your life has been more challenging than mine because of that. I get it. Unfortunately, punishing a much later generation with an unofficial restriction on social dialect based on their having the same skin color as a group of people guilty of crimes from centuries past is actually so stupid that it’s kind of funny.

You can’t say that, because people who look like you used that word 100 (or more) years ago as they violated the human rights of people who looked like me. Sure, it was with a completely different intention and your use of it is indicative of the opposite attitude of love towards my race, but still…you’re white, so you can’t.

I’d love to apologize for “my ancestors,” though as a Buddhist I cannot.

I believe in reincarnation, which means I believe we’ve all been every race at some point in time, which means I very well might have been a slave and you my master (as a matter of fact, the logic of karma would almost guarantee it!). Though I recognize you may not believe in reincarnation—I digress…I am sorry for slavery, but slave owners were not “my people.”

My people are anyone I like as an individual, no matter what race, religion, or background they come from. I am Jewish.

Jews suffered through the Holocaust at the hands of the Germans just 60 years ago. I am sure that no German born in the past 60 years had anything to do with it, so if one of them wanted to convert to Judaism and speak Hebrew because it struck a passionate cord with him, it is his right to do so—I won’t hold a grudge against an innocent person on behalf of ancestors I didn’t even know.

What I feared after writing this would be that although my argument is thoughtful, it would be dismissed based on a lack of credibility (coupled of course with people’s emotional attachment to the issue).

I am not a published author, nor a social scholar, nor black. Not long after writing my first draft, I came across a book entitled Nigger by Randall Kennedy—a middle-aged, published, black author. I read the entire thing in one sitting and was happy to find that he shares my perspective.

I wasn’t sure how to incorporate the more important points of the book into my essay, so I figured I’d insert here at the end—I highly recommend it.

In regards to the idea that it’s okay for blacks, but off limits to whites, Professor Michael Eric Dyson says, “there is nothing necessarily wrong with a white person saying ‘nigger,’ just as there is nothing wrong with a black person saying it. What should matter is the context in which the word is spoken. To condemn whites who use the N-word without regard to context is simply to make a fetish of ‘nigger.’”

Journalist Jarvis DeBerry calls it “beautiful in its multiplicity of meanings.”

Black author Langston Hughes had a white friend, Carl Van Vechten, who used “nigger” in his writing and casually in his correspondence with Hughes. It was okay with Hughes because Van Vechten “had shown time and time again that he abhorred racial prejudice, would do what he could to improve the fortunes of African Americans, and treasured his black friends.”

“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged,” but is instead “the skin of a living thought [that] may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.”

~ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

The world consistently learns in hindsight that sociological philosophies of the majority were wrong. Most people definitely disagree with me on this matter. If you were able to read and understand every part of my argument as well as the book by Kennedy, and still can offer an intelligent rebuttal, I am open to hearing it: David@davidfostercomedy.com.

If not, then you probably don’t possess the tools to engage in such a debate.

 

david fosterIf there were a name for “Comedic voice of new age philosophy and self awareness on a foundation of goofy hip hop culture” it would be David Foster. If that wasn’t too much to digest, then you’re ready for his uniquely cerebral humor. Native to New York, David is one of the city’s funniest up and coming comics. He’s appeared on HBO’s Bad Boys of Comedy and Showtime’s Whiteboyz in the Hood, and as “Sauce” on MTV’s Boiling Points.

In spite of getting in trouble as an adolescent for delinquencies such as graffiti and shoplifting David was a straight-A student. Around the legally transformative age of 18 he straightened out his act and discovered his act on stage. His Manhattan public access show grabbed the attention of MTV, and by his fourth year he was on HBO, Showtime and MTV. He also won the 2011 Boston Festival’s New York Competition.

 

Like elephant Enlightened Society on Facebook.

Assistant Ed. Caroline Scherer/Ed; Bryonie Wise

Source: graffitiday.com via Livia on Pinterest

 

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61 Responses to “Who Can Use the Word “Nigga?” ~ David Foster”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Hey, David, you've convinced me. Not that I could ever use Nigga honestly or naturally. I mean, even Dude is a bit of a reach for me. But, for what it's worth, I'm convinced.

    • David Foster says:

      thanks a lot Mark! The greatest minds are the open ones. You're a smart nigga (and I have no idea what color you are!). Just don't go using that word… it' s not natural to you ; )

  2. slsimms says:

    Here's my take on this. The Black American culture has always been fairly inclusive to a point. We've come from all parts of Africa and we've all been mixed to the point of not really being able to define what makes a person Black versus "the rest of them."

    Kids use the word because it basically means nothing to them in terms of history; for them it has become "my friend" or "that kid." Does that make them smarter or better than those of us who lived in close company with generations who TRULY suffered injustices? In a way yes, but also I'd vote no.

    • David Foster says:

      it has nothing to do with smarter or dumber. The more recent generation of black kids/people are more fortunate of course, and generally more integrated, which does often coincide with increased awareness, but there is no "smarter" or not in the matter. The point is that use of the word, especially non-hatefully, is just not wrong.

      • ShaMecha Simms says:

        Wow. This is precisely why your argument is not credible. I explained in my statement that MY SON IS 1/4 WHITE AND VIETNAMESE; how is this not unlike your argument about loving a Black woman and being great friends with Black people. Except I do not claim to be a part of that culture by association. I am and will forever be a Black woman, I am under no illusions of how people see me or how I see myself in any given situation.

        • David Foster says:

          the whole point of the article is that non-racial use and intention of the word "nigga" is a byproduct of HIP HOP culture – not specifically BLACK culture – and hence its permission should transcend race – and for it not to is a very contrived inconsistency based on arbitrary parameters that are actually impossible to draw. For the last time: this article is not, not, not at all about me or MY individual establishment of permission to use the word based on relationships with black people, whether they number 2 or 15 or 40 or zero. I believe that was made very clear throughout it. Apparently so did e.journal because they would never publish an article whose message was so adolescent and needy.

  3. slsimms says:

    "Nigga" is indicative of a culture. A culture that is constantly evolving but one that those who were "adopted into" will never completely get the gist of. If one thinks being a "nigga" is the highest form of endearment I'd have to suggest you take a closer look at the interpersonal relationships of Black Americans. I love my son and my nephews, I never use the term "nigga" with them; I barely use it among friends, though it does happen, and never with white people.
    It doesn't matter who your best friends were or who you loved—they are just people, that is not what being a Black American is. My son is part-White and Asian but that doesn't mean that I can go kick it with the Vietnamese and understand that experience because I've been closely associated with it.

    • David Foster says:

      1) Nowhere in the essay does it suggest it as the "highest form of endearment." It is a term of endearment. This is a fact.

      2) There are plenty of black people who using the word is very inorganic for, and plenty of non-black people who it is organic for. That's the point of the article: Dialect, even including this heinous word, transcends skin color… just like everything else under the stars does.

      3) My point in depicting close relationships with black people was simply to emphasize my experience – not to support entitlement – as I do not think one has to ever have known a black person to socially use the word "nigga." That's the point: Skin color is irrelevant. Let's not try to over-simplify my argument into the cliche of "Oh, i have black friends at my job, so i can blah, blah blah." Sorry. That's not what's going on here, thank you very much.

      4). Getting "the gist of" what it means to be black – once again: Irrelevant. The point of the essay is that one's vocabulary should not be limited by their knowing "what it means to be" a particular skin color, as would that be racism? Not to mention the fact that there are TONS of black people in this country who do not "know what it means to be black," if your definition of that is a lifetime of oppression, prejudices, and lack of opportunity; and plenty of people of other skin colors who do.

      Your argument sounds like a bad cliche from the movie "Do the Right Thing." But thanks for reading

  4. slsimms says:

    I'm not saying that I disagree with this article, but to some degree I feel it continues to perpetuate all nonsense the traditionally powerful group in this country throws as a cover onto the past. So no, it will NEVER be okay for a person whose mother or father is not Black (Spanish speaking individuals of African descent included here as well) to use that term around me or my son.

    This is just my humble and really long opinion.

    • David Foster says:

      hahahaha! Can you please elaborate on how hip hop kids saying "nigga" functions as a "cover up?" Oh, and what exactly is the cover up? I've never met anyone who's under the impression that slavery didn't exist. What is this fascinating "cover up" you speak of?

      2) Spanish speaking of African descent have permission, you say? Hmmm, okay…. So what if only one of their parents fall into that category? Like one Cuban parent and one white. And what if the Cuban parent is only 1/2 or even 1/4 Cuban? Do they have permission? Oh goodness, how will we figure this out?! Did you actually read the essay, or did you just see that a white person wrote about using the word "nigga," and then proceeded to skim to the bottom so you could post your mediocre philosophy? Haha! Now…. back to that philosophy: What about South African people? Many of them are white! What about West Indians? They're black, yet not African. And please, elaborate: Why is it okay for Spanish speaking people of African descent to say it? Is your rule basically that you have to have had ancestors who were brought over for slavery to have permission? Because if that's the case that means most native Africans would NOT have permission. Clearly you've thought this through.

      Your argument is racist. This is just my pompous, and concise opinion

    • Kjer says:

      You should be happy that people choose to "throw a cover onto the past" now and then. Or else this world would been much MUCH uglier than it is atm.

  5. missbernklau says:

    I know this is probably hypocritical, but I feel like a white person doesn't get to give other white people permission to use the word "nigga". And I really don't think I need to justify that opinion with anything other than reminding us all of the concept of "white privilege" (as slimmms touches on above when he mentions whites are a "traditionally powerful group"–that tend to believe they can say or do certain things because they believe they have good intentions, when in reality, they are highly misguided). While our generation is not responsible for the horrors that black people endured at the hands of our white ancestors that only ended a little over 150 years ago (not really a very long time) we are still a more privileged group and despite Jim Crow laws being gone, there's plenty of socio-economic factors that keep black people and other minorities from having the same opportunities as a lot of white people. So, in my mind, white people don't get to tell people what the rules are about "The N-word." I'm white and I spent my youth and preteen years being raised in predominately black and hispanic neighborhoods, my best friends were black, too. I never had the urge to refer to my friends as "nigga" (being girls, we referred to each other as "sista" anyway) but I still don't think it's something we get to say. Even when I'm singing along to "No Vaseline" in my car, as much as I fucking love that song, I still feel wrong and slightly ridiculous repeating the word "Nigga" as a white girl. I just don't understand this obsession that some white people have with being able to say this word. White people get to do so much shit, they can't just be okay with not getting to "own" this one little thing? Honestly.

    • David Foster says:

      Your first 6 words were intelligent. You fell off after that.

      All you mediocre minds keep doing is making this about race and the past when the entire essay is based on why that's irrelevant. You don't feel comfortable singing the correct words to "No Vaseline?" Hahaha! Your problem is you're too obsessed with skin color… in spite of thinking you are the opposite.

      This has nothing to do with white privilege, but just freedom of speech. Nobody's obsessed with "being able to say this word," but we're all obsessed with being able to do what comes naturally, no matter what it is, so long as it is not harming anyone. Has the status of black people increased or decreased in the past two generations? Oh, okay. Thanks for chiming in.

      • missbernklau says:

        I am not personally offended by the use word (obviously the word alone is harmless and can only be offensive in context and to certain people) and, it's just not natural for ME to say it. If you like saying it, cool. But I feel like you are trying to get other people to not feel offended by your use of the word, and that, is not something you cannot achieve. People also have the freedom to feel offended as much as you have a right to use that word whenever you want.

        • missbernklau says:

          Dammit, I can't type properly.

          I was saying, I'm not personally offended by the use of the word…

          And also, that it seems like your goal is to get others to not be offended by your use of the word, and that is something you can't achieve.

          • David Foster says:

            i hear u…. it's just frustrating when people look at things so surface and typically and insist on bringing debate down to their level, making both parties' arguments completely obsolete and incomprehensible

          • Ladakh says:

            Regardless of the intentions of the person using the word, for some people the word brings up the memories of a horrific past..we can't ignore that. . If it does ..it does. YOU have no right to say how blacks should feel or not. You have no right to say "it's just frustrating when people look at things so surface and typically insist on bringing debate down to their level"..who are you to get frustrated.? This is not about you. Just accept that some words are off limits because people are offended by it. You are clearly not a racist person..I get that. You don't want to offend people..but if the use of the word does offend people then you are not getting anywhere. So, your frustration is arises..because you can't do what you want. ummm

          • Ladakh says:

            Also, 'free speech' is just the name we give to verbal behavior that serves the substantive agendas we wish to advance

  6. pedrosahn says:

    Omg, this article makes me cringe. Dude, your two buddies are cool with it–good for you. Say what you want around your two pals. But please, when you're in public, keep it out of your mouth. You'll sound and look like an ass. Your little laundry list of street-cred badges won't make it any better. Trust me.

    • David Foster says:

      it has nothing to do with "street cred." so cliche

    • David Foster says:

      While hip hop, in the eyes of much of the masses, is synonymous with gangster rap and a thug image, hip hop culture is much, much broader than such depictions. Not all rappers are violent and/or from the projects, and neither are all of their fans. This is where perception gets tricky. If we can agree that hip hop is not exclusive to black, poverty, or the violent few then why should any of the aforementioned qualities be prerequisite for adoption of any of its cultures practices? This is something that was known (if not intellectualized then at least intuited or conveniently accepted) by the many members of this subculture while I was growing up, thus perpetuating its wonderful racial transcendence. And yet people tend to frequently insist, any time something is new or uncomfortable for them, on setting up parameters based on skin color or superficial experience. Obviously this is contradictory to the exact definition of this subculture, which surely was initially propagated mostly by a particular race and class but is obviously long since removed from being exclusive to it.

  7. ShaMecha Simms says:

    My (former) White husband once used the word nigga in discussion with me. I let him know that he was not, under any circumstances, to use that word around me or our son. Why? Because he married ShaMecha, who just happens to be a Black woman. You're ragging on technicalities when it isn't about technical arguments, I dare you to go and say "hey my nigga" to any person of African descent you don't know and let me know the results.

    What you basically are looking for is justification to take something that isn't for the masses and use it to say "Yes we have overcome all of our race issues." This is thread is exactly why WE ARE NOT READY to permit carte blanche use of nigga to individuals not directly linked to the culture. It's messy and ignorant.

    But I thank you for coming outside of your "enlightened" shell to show the world exactly the kind of nonsense we Black people have to deal with.

    • David Foster says:

      you misunderstood everything. Oh, and "black" and "white" don't get capitalized – they're not nationalities… but make sense that you think of them as such.

      • ShaMecha Simms says:

        That's the best you got? You clearly weren't ready to have this discussion with "real niggas" outside of your immediate contacts. You stated your point of view and you will be singing "nigga" at the top of your lungs in a Lil Wayne or Kanye song but you don't have the heart to understand that many Black people and people who truly understand what it means to be culturally sensitive can't agree to the nonsense you espouse here.

        But I got you. And if the editors here allow it to be posted. You can feel free let it rip, but I promise you it will be in stark contrast to this blackface foolishness you're getting away with in this article.

  8. ShaMecha Simms says:

    And to the individuals who just happen to be White but understand the negative connotations that are STILL associated with the use of this word, THANK YOU for your sensitivity to the subject. That lets me know the mankind hasn't completely lost touch with their sense of reverence.

  9. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Thanks for the appreciation up above, David. Hope you don't mind if I use that as an excuse to give a bit of advice. You're coming back pretty aggressively against people that don't see things the way you do, several of whom have been quite reasonable. And you have to admit, it's more than reasonable not to see eye to eye with you on this. As a linguist, I'm fascinated in your explanation on the meaning and evolution of Nigga. But it absolutely is not for everybody. You make a good case that it is for you, but I assume you understand it's only for you in very limited situations, right? As I said, it's not for me. And would almost certainly not be for me even if I were Black. (BTW, capitalizing or not capitalizing Black and White is a fuzzy borderline issue as far as I'm concerned, and not really relevant anyway.)

  10. David Foster says:

    You can't call someone a word and then disallow them from using that same word. As soon as that happens we are forced to examine what's wrong with the situation.

  11. UrNigga! says:

    I'm white and I'm convinced! Peace niggas!

  12. Mmmm says:

    You know exactly why it bothers black people, and yet you don't care. Call your two black friends nigga all you want. For you to expect that other people won't think you are ridiculous, racist or stupid for doing so — you're being very naive.

    Also, if you find it so unbelievable that a black person could speak proper English, you're not as enlightened as you think you are.

    And, as for your statements about Jewish people and Germany, and how no people born in the past 60 years are responsible – Germany is still paying reparations for the Holocaust, nonetheless. Regardless, it's a stupid claim. Your idea that you're somehow outside the problem because you think your Jewishness removes you from the taint of slavery – well, white privilege exists today in 2013 and you have access to it. You can walk down the street in the rain in your own neighborhood and not get shot by a vigilante, and if you do, people won't be calling your character into question. You can walk down the streets of New York and not get frisked and manhandled by police.

    But anyway. I judge you as ridiculous. Enjoy yourself.

    • David Foster says:

      Ahhh… Partial attention to speech or writing: so dangerous…

      I acknowledged throughout the article sensitivity to the black journey in America and that i WOULD BE naive to be unaware of how the masses perceive my opinion. I believe i state that explicitly. Also did not say it's unbelievable for a black person to speak proper English. Come on… There were specifics in that analogy that you're ignoring.

      Regarding your angry obsession with race (which is understandable but also undoubtedly can cloud your potential for progressive thought), let's be clear: Your contention is that in spite of hip hop culture labeling ME (and every other dude) as this word (which is thus obviously redefined) that I should be restricted and censored because there's no chance of my getting shot by the cops? Come on, Mmmmm… really? That doesn't sound silly to you? Not to mention the fact that we both know that there are tons of black people (who i know personally) that have never dealt with any prejudice or oppression, nor seriously worried about getting shot by cops because of their skin color. Nobody's saying that this doesn't exist in our country and that it isn't abhorrent when it does, but when you continuously determine permission on having or had this experience it is impossible to not point out that not all black people have… which is a beautiful thing to point out, as it is another depiction of another thing transcending skin color… which everything does.

      God bless : ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99e-5n581Yk

      • Mmmm says:

        You can say "nigga" all you want. There's no law against it. You can also go up to the next woman you see and say "Nice tits," because presumably there are women you've met to whom you can say that. That doesn't mean that you won't offend people.

        Also, your claims to black cred or whatever are invalid. You don't know tons of black people who haven't experienced prejudice. Every black person you know has experienced prejudice. It's part of American society and culture.

        You're so clueless, and so common. You're writing this essay as if you're bring up points that no one has ever heard before, and it's the same old shit.

  13. Mmmm says:

    I should have understood it from your essay, but I get it now – you're a troll. You're not interested in the actual argument, just stirring up shit. Congrats.

  14. tali says:

    Mr. Foster, you responded to someone above with: "Namean, nigga? I think you're an 8 (but you shoulda said you were black… these people on here are obsessed with race)." I just want to point out that the only people who don't HAVE to be obsessed with race are white people, because of racial privilege. People from non-dominant racial backgrounds must be obsessed or concerned with race because our culture in this country is set up according to white people. White people do not have to examine their racial identity (though we really should), whereas other people are faced with it on a daily basis.

    I highly recommend a film called, "The Color of Fear," as well as the book "Power, Privilege, and Difference," by Allan Johnson.

    You also might want to take a look at "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life," by Marshall Rosenberg. This will help you craft your responses in a way that doesn't alienate your readers.

    I am white and I am constantly in a state of examining m own privilege, admitting where racism and micro-aggressions show up in my life, and striving to get better with all of it. I understand that this is probably a life-long journey for all of us, but non-violent communication and compassionate dialogue are probably the way to go (as opposed to defensive and insulting speeches).

    I'm sorry you're upset that people are arguing an opposing point. May I recommend lots of breathing before responding to comments? Good luck!

  15. David McQueen says:

    Need to digest this more as I find the premise quite problematic.
    Quick question in the meantime to the author, why do you think it is that many key rappers such as Em, Paul Wall, MC Serch, etc never use the word if it transcends race? Why is Kreyshawn the only one who does, it seems, consistenly?

  16. Angry Black Lady says:

    As a black woman can I just say thank you for trivialising my past and my present. I really appreciate it.

  17. Nekkocite says:

    Everyone can…at least in Miami. Here, nobody gives a hoot. I said it atleast 20 times today. My homeless friend say "my nigga every time he sees me and just last night I got hassled by a dealer calling me a punk nigga! I'm clearly white…but I guess, I'm still a nigga. Context is the key. Today, everyone is a nigga. Get over it.

  18. Jackie Summers jack says:

    Here's my test to see if it's okay to use the N word. Take the A train to 125th and Malcolm X Blvd, walk up to the first black person you see, and say: "Hey ni99er, how do I get to the Magic Johnson theaters?" If they give you directions, consider your use sanctioned. If they beat your ass, you might want to reconsider your "right" to use the word.

  19. Gabrielle says:

    It will offend people. It will always be offensive to some people. How many populat white hip-hop artists do you see openly using the word nigga in their music? I know I dont see any. Even hip hop realizes the issue with that. I guess it’s not something you can easily understand if you are a part of the dominant culture in America. I don’t understand how you believe your opinion has any relevance. How can you make such a bold statement about how the history is irrelevant? Because you are not a part of the oppressed culture. I don’t want to make assumptions but it sounds like you want validation from the Internet, but that’s not what you’re getting so you’re getting feisty and leaving snarky comments. You can’t get everything you want. Respect other people’s opinions.

  20. Stu says:

    No argument, just a comment that fag, queer, nazi, kike, spic and so many other slang words derive from similar historical context and the closest one in the context you explore might be 'fag' but the queer kingdom didn't embrace it the way you're describing 'nigga' and I sense a selective prejudice in the application and gentrification of derisive labels.

  21. Gray says:

    Patti Smith in '79 or thereabouts did a song "Rock & Roll Nigger"…. where she tries to get the word to mean someone "outside of society" regardless of their color (and being outside was GOOD!) But alas it didn't catch on. Good song tho'.

    Can we use the word "niggardly" now?

  22. Polymon says:

    The origin of the word is what makes it so controversial. Much like the word "fuck", "nigga" has violent roots and is considered by most people to be offensive. Also like the word "fuck", "nigga" has, over time, been transformed into meaning something completely different than its original meaning, and has entered the language as part of the generally acceptable vernacular. Or have they? I still have to hear my father-in-law refer to virtually all black people he encounters as "niggers" and he does NOT use it as a term of endearment, I still have to hear my 16 YO son tell me "you're a fucking retard" when I won't hand over the car keys. Neither use of the words is acceptable to me, and probably not to most people. I think you need to know the original meanings of the words to understand the power they have when people hear them, and to understand why a large percentage of the population finds ANY use of the word "nigger" (or the vernacular derivative) to be an extremely ugly occurrence. I do not get why hip hop culture has chosen to use a word as a term of endearment whose root meaning is essentially the term used to refer to ones slaves – and the fact that you OWNED this human being and could demand compliance of them without justification or any expectation of pay or reward, under penalty of flogging, rape, castration or even death. I guess as long as YOU know what the word really means, you should feel free to use as you see fit. But don't expect society at large to accept it.

  23. maneeyah says:

    I am black and i am offended when i hear the word by n e one of n e ethnicity…. u can say it proper "Nigger" or improper ( slang) " Nigga" horrible i don't like it…..it is negative on every level….if it offends a group of people and is a terrible reminder of our bitter past y bring it up, y speak it. David i don't believe u r a bad person( Racist) if u were a racist person u wouldn't have written this article ( ususally they r scared to talk about these matters,) i am sure u love all people but just respect people and understand that it is offensive and u shouldn't use that word, no one should say it ( Let ur 2 black friends know as well.)
    There r words that r offensive to other ethnicities as well and u don't hear people try and rationalize or turn it around, make it beautiful…..

  24. ^_^ says:

    Mr. Foster,
    Black-Arab-American woman here. Hello :)
    I found your perspective interesting. Your story gave me some various points to ponder.
    That said, reading all the comments I was quite taken back. It feels very combatant from your side. Why does it feel like you've a need to call any & everyone who disagrees with your view unintelligent and dense? As if to disagree means "they just don't get it". O_o I respected your opinion on this complex issue completely, until I read your many churlish replys.
    They just beg me to inquire: Dafuq is your problem?! Chillax. Let's dialogue, not deprecate.

    • David Foster says:

      ur absolutely right : ) I've been guilty of allowing the anti-issue to be as inflammatory to myself as the original one is to others. The truth is that even when calm I do think there is an element of unintelligence, more specifically ignorance, any time someone chooses to repress anyone in anyway based on their skin color. Ironic as it may be I find this to be a social injustice that I've had to endure – not an atrocious or harmful one to say the least of course – but an injustice nevertheless, and that's never going to sit well with the victim, no matter how minor or ironic it may appear on the surface. But again, you're absolutely right. I lost my cool above for sure, and obviously it did not help my cause. Ha! Be well : )

  25. I admit, this is an extremely well-written article,and as a black American, even I was almost convinced that it's okay for a non-white to say it. I do agree Hip Hop culture is largely to blame for its careless usage, but I actually believe NOBODY should be saying it, mainly because of the ugly history associated with it. Although various groups of society throw around slurs–"B" word for women, "F" words for homosexuals, "H" for whites, etc–I believe the "N" word is in a category all on its own, so vitriolic it should be banned forever from ALL races. If the N word were a criminal, it wouldn't be some intoxicated hobo stuck in the county jail for the weekend because of drunk driving. Oh, no. The N word is Hannibal Lector, and it needs to be far from the mouths of anyone with some sense and locked away forever.

  26. Jill Meraz says:

    I guess I just don't understand how some Black people can say "That's OUR word." No, it's really not ,just as women should not be saying,"SLUT is OUR word," either. Those are words that nobody should be saying to one another, regardless of race. All those words are are words that were invented to degrade people. Why even act as though we are somehow entitled to "Claim these words as our own<" when all they do is set people back???

  27. jeff starrbukz says:

    The Pyramids in Egypt were built by slaves. The Romans built whole cities using slaves. Slave labor was commonly used by most Countries and it continues today. In this country the north was Industrialized while the south was Agricultural. The southerners and northerners went by ship to Africa to take workers for their fields in America. The country in Africa where they found a lot of workers was called Niger. Since they came from Niger in the 1860's they pronounced them to be NIG-grrrs.
    (the country was pronounced Ni-jeer in the 1960's)
    I'm not saying slavery is good, but their are still slaves in this country and I don't hear any outrage! Drive thru California some day and look at all the rice paddies, orchards of every sort and hundreds of miles crops to be picked. You can drive at 70mph and they never end. Maybe we should stop calling them Mexicans?

  28. I give you credit for at least making an effort to understand, and it is a well written and thought out work..

  29. Amrita says:

    You cannot use this word. And how pathetic that it makes you feel 'liberated' to use this word. You say that you come from privilege as a white person so what link and what right do you have to this word?

    White people using this word is problematic. Both when it ends in A and ER. Because they don't understand it. Young people using this word is extremely offensive as it belittles the past and infers we live in a post racial society. WE DO NOT.

    White people, you have access to everything – you are even Hip Hop's no.1 consumer base now ( it is clearly not created for black people anymore). Leave this word. It will never be acceptable to say this word. THANKS.

  30. Justin says:

    This is one of the most hypocritical and contradictory arguments for justifying the use of a word that shouldn’t be used….hip hop was ignorant to use it in the first place and although I have never heard a white kid use it, I would be extremely offended and saddened. No matter what you argue, the history of the word will not and should not be forgotten and it will ALWAYS hurt people. For that reason alone, it shouldn’t be used, especially by white kids….

  31. Chris says:

    Anyone who is offended by any word is pathetically weak.

  32. Boxie says:

    Thank you for this article. I am 57, and I raised my boys where the use of the "n" word was completely unacceptable. Fast forward to their children and a Facebook post where they wished my baby "a happy birthday nigga". This article helped me to not freak out and understanding life today. Thank you, again. (PS>>I still hate the N word…sorry) FYI I am white, and my boys are white. It is so confusing. I like to think we are all Americans and Human. Maybe I am just an old hippie.

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