Etymology: alteration of earlier neger, from Middle French negre, from Spanish or Portuguese negro, from negro black, from Latin niger
1 usually offensive; see usage paragraph below : a black person
2 usually offensive; see usage paragraph below : a member of any dark-skinned race
3 : a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons
usage Nigger in senses 1 and 2 can be found in the works of such writers of the past as Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens, but it now ranks as perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English. Its use by and among blacks is not always intended or taken as offensive, but, except in sense 3, it is otherwise a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry.
Of all the racial slurs that exist, I think perhaps "nigger" is the one that inspires the most outrage. Don Imus lost his job. So did that Bounty Hunter guy. Yet hip-hop artists regularly infuse their music with the word and in some neighborhoods it is as common as hello. "What up, my nigga!"
There are rappers like Jay-Z who claim that they have taken the power out of the word. Made it their own and turned it into something different. But really...have they? Or have they just made it more acceptable. There is after all the double standard of how blacks can use the word, but other races cannot. And I must ask...what kind of sense does that make?
Hip-hop claims to have taken the power from the word by using it in their music and speech amongst each other. Jay-Z defended his use of the word in an interview with Oprah (see the excerpt below). But is this really how it is?
No. If a non-black person uses the "N" word all hell still breaks loose. If you are a public figure you can loose your job. If you are a private citizen you may find yourself in a very uncomfortable position. Where did hip-hop get the idea that if they used the word amongst themselves as a term of endearment the rest of the world would stop using it as the worst kind of racial slur?
Many black leaders and community organizations have called on the hip-hop industry to change their lyrics and stop the use of the word. Many artists have pushed back, defending themselves and the use of the word. It used to be that when you looked up the word "nigger" in the dictionary, it was defined as an ignorant person. It did not specify race or class. Well that has certainly changed.
I don't make a habit of using the word. Have I used it? Yes. Will I continue to use it? No. Why? It sends the wrong message. After being approached by a friend who was of Filipino descent with the standard, "What up, my nigga!" and finding myself horrified that this person would be so comfortable using it in my house to my face I had to have a change of ideology about the word.
It's not okay if we say it to ourselves. It's not okay if it is said by others. It is just not an okay word to use. It's not a term of endearment. It's not a way to greet your friends. It's not okay when a black person says "Fuck that nigga." It's not okay when a non black person say "I hate those niggers." It's just not okay, people. I am taken back to a point in time not too long ago when there was all the hoopla about Ibonics being a second language. IT'S NOT A LANGUAGE!!! It's severe misuse of the English language and should not be celebrated! It made black people sound ignorant. Using the "n" word makes you sound ignorant!
Then there is the double standard. Blacks can say it but non-blacks can't. Do Latinos go around calling themselves Beaners? Do Arabs go around calling each other Towelheads? You don't hear white people greeting each other with, "Hey, cracker!" Why? Because they are derogatory words. I don't care what you say in the 'hood, the big wide world out there still sees it as a racial slur. And as long as we continue to use it amongst ourselves, we continue to validate the world's use of it.
Jay-Z, maybe you have never had a non-black person look you dead in your eyes and call you a nigger. And so it's very easy for you to say it is a generational issue. But I am 32 years old and at 17 had a white man look me in my face, call me a nigger-bitch and then spit on me. This happened in Los Angeles not in the South!
Racial slurs should not be used. You cannot change the meaning of the word. It is not generational. It should not be used by anyone. Period. That is all...
Added 10/26/09 - My husband thought this clip would go well with this post (as he noted in his comment)...so here goes!
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Oprah Interview with Jay-Z
Oprah: Speaking of conversations, when I met you a few years ago, we discussed our disagreement over the use of the N word and misogynist lyrics in rap music. Do you believe that using the N word is necessary?
Jay-Z: Nothing is necessary. It's just become part of the way we communicate. My generation hasn't had the same experience with that word that generations of people before us had. We weren't so close to the pain. So in our way, we disarmed the word. We took the fire pin out of the grenade.
Oprah: I was once at a Jay-Z concert, and there was a moment when everybody—including white people—was screaming the N word. I gotta tell you, it didn't make me feel good.
Jay-Z: That's understandable.
Oprah: But it didn't seem to affect you. You were having a good time up there onstage.
Jay-Z: I believe that a speaker's intention is what gives a word its power. And if we eliminate the N word, other words would just take its place.
You know, hip-hop has done so much for race relations, even with its ignorance—which, by the way, we do have to take some responsibility for. But even without directly taking on race, we've changed things just by being who we are. It's difficult to teach racism in the home when your kid loves Jay-Z. It's hard to say, "That guy is beneath you" when your kid idolizes that guy.
Oprah: I'll give you that. But when I hear the N word, I still think about every black man who was lynched—and the N word was the last thing he heard. So we'll just have to disagree about this.
Jay-Z: It's a generational thing.
Imus backlash has rappers cleaning up acts
Chamillionaire, Master P, others abandoning offensive language
Chamillionaire figured he could still make good music — just without the rough language. The rapper, who won a Grammy this year for his socially charged smash “Ridin,”’ says he never cursed all that much in his music anyway. The N-word was a different story: “I’ve always used the N-word.”
But after the success of his last album, he went out on tour and saw mostly white faces lip-synching the epithet along with his lyrics. Now Chamillionaire has had a change of heart for his new album, due in September on Universal Music Group, a unit of General Electric Co.
“I was like, ’You know what? I’m not going to say the N-word on this one because when I go back on the road, and I start performing, I don’t want them to be saying it, like me teaching them,”’ he told The Associated Press.