I remember a few years ago when I was a teen, I thought it was pretty ‘cool’ to use the ‘N’ word. I would constantly refer to my black friends as ‘Ns’ because, well, it was part of the culture – I mean we heard it used in rap songs and films and it became a part of our vocabulary and the norm to refer to each other as ‘Ns’. At the time it seemed to be part and parcel of being ‘cool’ and ‘down’, a sort of tool we used for reaffirmation. However, years have passed and with age comes a different perspective and I no longer use that word, because, well, I have my reservations.
Just the other day I was walking across a Supermarket car park when my attention was drawn to a vehicle parked in a bay, blasting the popular song titled ‘My Ni**a’ by rap artist YG. The occupants were jollily rapping and singing along to the words of the song. The irony was that the occupants of the vehicle were not black males (as one would stereotypically expect), but rather a group of white males in their mid 20s I presume. I couldn’t help but stop and think what would happen if these young men had to walk down the street in a predominantly ethnic area singing along to that song. I mean, they didn’t mean any harm after all – they were simply rapping along to a song by one of their favorite artists. Which brings me to the question – is the ‘N’ word really excusable? Is it just a word? Is it justifiable for the word to be used by a black person in any instance, and unjustifiable for it to be used by a white person in any instance? Personally I think the word should not be used by anyone, regardless of their race – black or white the word is unjustifiable and should be banned! I think it all starts with the entertainers who are idolised by the masses worldwide. A good example is Mr Shawn Corey Carter, affectionately known to millions as Jay Z, who is possibly one of the most famous recording artists of our time. If Jay Z decides to make an album and use the ‘N’ word in his lyrics, he does not put a restriction on the album which permits only audiences from a Black Minority Ethnic (BME) background to buy the album and sing along to it. Jay Z has a very large and diverse fan-base and if his white fans buy his album and love his music, surely they will sing along to the lyrics, right? It would then be rather hypocritical for a black person in a club (or anywhere else) singing along to a song containing the ‘N’ word to give a white person a screw-face for singing along to the song they equally adore.
I am not merely berating the use of this word but one must understand that the word isn’t JUST a word and was never intended to be used as a complimentary term or a term of endearment. A great many people do not stop to think exactly where and how the word originated. The ‘N’ word, as stated by Samuel L. Jackson in the film Coach Carter, was a derogatory term used to demean, humiliate and insult black slaves, whilst their masters cracked the whip on their backs. Wikipedia states regarding the term – “Often used disparagingly, by the mid 20th century, particularly in the United States, it suggested that its target is extremely unsophisticated. Its usage had become unambiguously pejorative, a common ethnic slur usually directed at blacks of Sub-Saharan African descent.”
So how then has this word come from being the above, to being something apparently ‘cool’? This word is insulting! It is insulting to the men, women, boys and girls who were slaves, some of whom never knew the taste of freedom all their lives because they lived the life of a ‘N’ – primitive and not equal to a white person. It is insulting to the brave men and women who were involved in the Civil Rights movements in America, Britain, Rhodesia, South Africa and many other parts of the world where racial discrimination and inequality were the order of the day! It is insulting to men and women like Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King, among others, who dedicated and sacrificed their lives to fighting the system that did not allow them the same rights, jobs, education and standard of living as their fellow white countrymen because, well they were seen as ‘Ns’ and had to live as ‘Ns’.
How does one defend this word when at times it seems so difficult to do so? In my opinion, the effect carried by this word centuries ago can never be mellowed down. Despite all the slang variations that have evolved from the word with time (e.g Nucca, Nikka, Nig etc), the ‘N’ word still carries a tremendous weight and we must not allow ignorance to cause the sufferings of a countless multitude, over successive generations, to be the subject of ridicule and jest.