Ever notice who discusses the “N word” the most? Cooks. Which of course is unsurprising. Cooks, in case you haven’t noticed, love to use Nutmeg in their dishes. But I jest, dear reader. Of course I’m not talking about nutmeg. I’m talking about the darkest, scariest, most taboo word in the history of the English language. A word so filled with hate and vile, humans have had wars over its very use. No, not YWHW. That’s Hebrew. I’m talking about a word so deprived of anything good and wholesome, Gangsta Rap made a song about it.
While her own personal experiences are not something I’m going to argue, because I don’t know her very well, I would like to offer a differing view to her opinion piece. Now, during her deduction of the white use of the word “nigga”, Kovie points out that rap and hip-hop culture has made the use of the word “cool”. Some might argue that since 70-80% of the racial demographic of hip-hop/rap fans are white, that they grow up hearing a word repetitively and will start using it in their everyday vocabulary. However I’d also point out that just might be a myth. But there is some psychological truth to that. As the infamous Joseph Goebbels never said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” (And yes, dear reader, I’ve got the audacity to misquote Nazi’s in a discussion about race.)
When you do hear something enough throughout your life, you tend to take it as common and true. Whether it be about a religious belief, an urban legend, or like how chocolate milk comes from brown cows (I swear, I have seriously heard someone say that with conviction once). When a young white person grows up hearing a word constantly used in a music they love, chances are, they will start to use it in their everyday vocabulary until they are caught and taught that it’s wrong for a white person to use that word. And this is where the topic of discourse really begins. You see, when telling people not to use a certain word, it makes them want to use it more. People like doing things that are considered “bad”, especially when there are no direct consequences. It’s not like this is something new or revolutionary. Even George Carlin made fun of this in ‘7 Words You Can’t Say on Television’ back in the 70s.
Banning words makes them fun to say and easier to joke about, even if the word has a racist or hateful history. Just as our parents told us “fuck” is a “grown up” word, we couldn’t wait to use it when we were still kids. So there might be truth behind that first statement. When you make a word common in popular culture, other people are going to start using it for its same purpose. So, the word “nigga” as a term of endearment is no different in this sense. However, before you grab your pitchforks, tires filled with gasoline, and throw a black bag over my head as you drag me into the Social Justice van, I’d like you to consider the following: Telling a person they can’t say certain words has nothing to do with race or equality. I understand that your first thought jumps to me claiming censorship, but I’d like to ask you to hold on a moment. Let me illustrate a point. Black people, not all of course but quote a few, tend to use the word “nigga” as a term of endearment, even though the history of the word is fueled by racism. As Kovie also pointed out, people can and often have changed the meanings of words throughout history. ‘Gay’ and ‘narly’ have had similar changes to their meaning. So this word is no exception. However, there’s a catch with this word. White people are not allowed to say this word, as it would remind others of the racist history of the word. So far so good? Ok. So what am I trying to point out? What we have is one ethnic group of people having a special right or advantage, only available to them, to use something, in this case a word, while other ethnic groups (specifically in this case, white people) do not have this right or advantage to use this word. In case you’re not getting it, this isn’t about equality, censorship, or even racism anymore. It’s about privilege.
Yes, the evil white man is pointing out an inconvenient truth, and it’s not making you laugh. The use of the word, comes down to simple privilege of being allowed to say it. Of course, there is a fundamental difference between “nigga” and “nigger”. And if you’re reading somewhere that it’s okay to say “nigger”, then I say “Patrick Johnson, please go.” With that said, we have to consider that making something social acceptable to only one particular group makes it a privilege. However, someone within that group can claim that it’s not a privilege because it’s taking the word back. Back to what exactly? Making it a friendly word between that ethnic group? That was never the case until recent history so you can’t take it back to anything friendly. It was always a racially motivated word. The constant use in popular music and culture has turned it into a term of endearment.
However, don’t get confused. I haven’t once said it’s okay for white people to say “nigga”.
Beyond me pointing out the privilege of using the word, there’s another inconvenience to this word. Using it makes you a hypocrite. I’m not just talking about white people using and then saying “I’m not racist, bro!”. Black people using it, and then complaining that white people will use it, is hypocritical. Think about that. It’s like when someone tells you “do as I say, not as I do”. Like the parent lighting a cigarette, while telling their child it’s wrong to smoke. However, Kovie does take the right approach and tell us that we have a God-given right to say what we want. Then she says “What isn’t a God-given right however, is going scott-free once those words have left your mouth.” If it was a case of slander, I would understand. However, we’re talking about the social acceptability of a word by more than one particular ethnic group.
Speaking freely, using language you’ve grown up learning, shouldn’t be punishable by law or social stigma. And of course, this topic is and should be open to discourse. But respectable discourse. As I’ve stated numerous times, the color of someone’s skin does not make their argument hold any more or less merit. So pointing out the fact that I’m white, shouldn’t make any difference. But it will. Very few can think outside of such contexts. So I’d like to close with the following. My argument is not about the right to use a particular word. Instead, my argument is about self-reflecting, and realizing that if you don’t want someone to do something, you probably shouldn’t be doing it yourself.