Chapter 1 Introduction: Nigga/Nigger/The “N” Word
“When coming over to America, we didn’t give anybody permission to rearrange us”
Erykah Badu Live cd
Nigga the most odious racial slur in the English language, Nigga it is said to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up, make the skin crawl, nigga the word is at the top of the most hated, hate word and a word that gets the most reaction list. The word has been banned and buried all forms yet its cousin found its way to 2010 U. S. Census. So why is the use of the word nigga such a social phenomenal? Although I defend the use of this word, it stills strikes a core in me, my being when I hear the word used in anger within the black community and most definitely when someone from outside the black community uses it. The word is said to be the most vile, ugly and dirtiest word in the English vocabulary, some may go as far to say…in the human language. With all the countless racial, gender and physical slurs out there in the world and throughout the 8,000 years of the journey of man why the word nigga, when now the word nigga is a word as common as mother or father in the black and hip-hop community? Is it because it is linked to (by some) who is considered to be the most vile, ugliest and dirtiest people or human beings (look at the alternative name “black” in reference in the English language)? Or is it considered one of the most provocative words in the English, Amerikkkan, human history because of the perceived shame and/or treatment by and from those who transferred the word from meaning simply a color to a derogatory intent also creating the myth of race and racism? Finally, could it be possibly so (vile, ugly and dirty) because it is linked to the most vile, ugly and dirtiest act in America, by Americans and some may even go as far to say in human history?
An act that is 400yrs (and its direct effects) and counting, whenever brought-up, so many are quick to point-out the Holocaust with its six-million genocide count, two-thirds of the Jewish population lasting during the period of World War II compared to the closely count of twelve million Africans (lost, stolen or strayed) shipped during the 16th to and through the 19th centuries not including the 2 to 4 million that died during the middle passage. “The African was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic, at least ten centuries of slave benefit of the Muslim countries and yet with all the comparison, a slur for Jewish people is not at the top of any vile list. The argument arises that slavery always existed so did the word nigger, which by the way is true . Yet, the slavery that existed was more of indentured servitude and not “chattel” as existed here in Amerikkka, nor did nigger exist in a derogatory content, it was used as denoted of “black-skinned”.(Unknown)
The proof of nigger being used without derogatory meaning is shown in 19th century English literature; Joseph Conrad novella “The Nigger of Narcissus (1897), Charles Dickens, Mark Twain literature, also in colonial American 1619 John Rolfe used negas in describing, the African slaves shipped to the Virginia colony, in New York, the African Burial Ground was originally named by the Dutch “Begraafplaats Van de Neger” translated Cemetery of the Negro. There are plenty of examples of nigger used in advertisements to describe the color of a person. It was around the 1800 in American Boston, Massachusetts that the word had started to become a pejorative word and noting in 1904 journalist Clifton Johnson documented the “opprobrious” character of the word emphasizing that it was chosen in the South precisely because it was more offensive than “colored”.
Now in 2010, you cannot walk up or down any street in an urban or black community without hearing the word, you cannot listen to rap or not so much hip-hop without hearing the word, a book or television program portraying urban, ghetto or black youth or the black community would not be relevant or believable without the use of the word nigga. Why the uproar, why the backlash, why such a social event surrounding this word in all its different forms and fashions? First, let’s consider Karl Marx’s conflict theory with (1) the older generation vs. the younger generation, (2) upper middle class “blacks” vs. “niggas” (3) the power elite, white Americans vs. Blacks and the split in the black community over the use of the word nigga. Secondly, let’s examine from Emile Durkheim functionalist theory the functions and dysfunctions of the people of the Diaspora and their use of the word nigga. Thirdly, let us see how on a micro-level its impact and implied symbols of symbolic interaction fits in with this social phenomenal. Lastly, compare and contrast of these three sociological perspectives and share my own theory.
Chapter 2 Conflict Theory: Double Standard; “Is Everything Gud n Da Hood?”
The basic tropes of “blackness” – black culture, black identity, and black institutions – have been distorted, remixed, and undermined by the logic of the current global economy. At stake is the preservation of a “modern” blackness – that blackness which was posited and circulated as a buffer against white supremacy, political disenfranchisement, slavery, Jim Crow segregation and the collusion of racist imaginations and commodities culture in the early 20th century. In many sectors “blackness” is literally thought to be under siege. It is in this context that many of the contemporary tropes of “blackness” that circulate in commercial popular culture, particularly in popular music, film and music video, are deemed threats to blackness – as tropes of an erosive and inauthentic blackness that is as threatening to the Black Public proper as “death” itself. This sense of threat, has been, perhaps, most powerfully expressed in these debates over the use of the word “nigger” in popular culture which highlights a philosophical divide within “blackness.” March Anthony Neal
When starting with the conflict theory perspective, I first considered the relationship between older black generation and the younger generation gap that have almost been severed single-handedly by the use of the word nigga. When speaking with the older generation blacks they have no tolerance for the use of the word, don’t care about the difference in spelling, and don’t want to hear reason or excuse, some even tearfully explaining their own experience with the word. It is a hateful pure evil word however you spell it. With response from youths they say, they don’t mean any disrespect for using the word, what happen was back then this is now and “they” can’t use that word to hurt me like they did my grandparents and great-grand’s this is our word now, they can and will get their mouth blown out for saying it.
Because the word nigga have such a diverse meaning and history, the knot is tied even in educated settings and surrounding the word has still haven’t had its day of explanation and understanding among these groups. With real life experiences of nigga (or with the growl of the “er” nigger) by red faced, fire-spitting anger, a person whom lived through water-hoses, police dogs, southern trees, white sheets and cross-burnings, having to move to the back of the bus or got to a laughing barrel, move off the sidewalk so “they” could walk past, having to enter through the back, sit-up in the balcony, watch as you are being portrayed on radio, TV., films, traveling stage shows, being ridiculed and embarrassed, how could nigga ever be a form of endearment? But, have the sixties been so long ago that they have forgotten the riff; they had with their older generation?
The older black generation was frighten when the younger generation started to rebel wearing afros’ and signing up with the Panthers, following Malcolm and starting to leave the philosophies of Martin non-violence alone (“I ain’t about to be non-violent honey” Nina Simone). Black became a source of power and pride, Black Pride was in the streets, films, music, and literature. And it was here in the sixties in the underground of the black community where the word nigga came to life. No count, no good, low down dirty nigga both used by men and women usually speaking of a foul man. Then these foul men and their behavior became herolized through their lifestyles “hood rich”, “ghetto fabulous”, Donald Goines, Iceberg Slim, and a popular recording artist Curtis Mayfield a teen growing up in the bricks of Cabrini Green was among the first r & b artist who injected social commentary into his works, his “We’re a Winner” and “Keep on Pushing” songs and lyrics became anthem for the black community and its leader Martin Luther King Jr., yet another of his songs today has been sampled by rap artist T.I. and hip-hop artist B.O.B., in it the hook repeats; “I’m that nigga, I’m that nigga, I’m that nigga, I’m that nigga” (nigga being a used as a sense of pride). It was here when the younger blacks started using the word as endearment, here where no other word would fit or sound as good as, “you’re my nigga if your dick, don’t get any bigger”.
Another conflict that caught my attention is used in the opening paragraph, which taking from chapter 9 of Sociology; a Down-to-Earth Approach, with class the last of four social stratification systems. The conflict over the use of nigga between the upper middle class and those in the working and lower class blacks, a separation for some who go as far to say black people vs. niggas. This separation is purely based on Weber’s three p’s property, power and prestige and came about by way of the upper class blacks trying to function in Americans society and not be pulled down by the melanin in his/her skin or by association of a repressed and dehumanizing tribe he belonged to. So, the upper class redefined nigga from a color, from a hate crime word, to blacks that were shiftless, lazy, trifling not blacks who work hard and are able to become property owners, acuminate power and become well know.
“Yeah, I love being famous. It's almost like being white, y'know? People are nice to ya; they give you the benefit o' the doubt... You drive a flash car down the freeway and the cops'll pull y'over and before they even look they like 'What the f**k are you doing?' and then they see it's you and they like 'Awww man, it's Chris Rock, it's okay, man we thought you was a nigga'.” Chris Rock
The final conflict is the power elite, the ones who are in charge of American social systems, the ones who publicly dislike and/or denounce the word, yet fund the use and promotion, advertisement of the use of the word by young African-American rap artist and community. There is a strain theory in place, we’ll have you all (Blacks) fighting over the word nigga, while we pass laws that will most likely lock your children up for the rest or most vibrant part of their lives, get you all to think we only was talking about the low-to-no class Blacks when we called you all niggas, right? We all want the American Dream most young blacks acquire this dream through hip-hop, rap and drug culture but the big wigs at the top don’t respect you or take you serious because you use the word to get ahead. In the end only the ones who are able to clean up their act are accepted (Jay Z – reformed Eminem).
Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion (Audre Lorde)
Chapter 3: Functional Analysis “Insane Nigger”
When Jim Crow made its appearance towards the end of the 19th century, it may be speculated that it was the Negro male who was most humiliated thereby; the male was more likely to use public facilities, which rapidly became segregated once the process began, and just as important, segregation, and the submissiveness it exacts, is surely more destructive to the male than to the females personality. Keeping the Negro “in his place” can be translated as keeping the Negro male in his place: the female was not a threat to anyone. Mack B. Morant
Emile Durkheim gave three reasons for the function of deviance: the clarifying of moral boundaries & affirm norms, promotes social unity and changes. By just looking at these three reason applying the use of language or choice of not using this slang by a large group of people in clarifying moral boundaries the older generation and middle class have set the boundary to use nigga is not acceptable or tolerated, the word is not to be used in formal writing, professional circles, it is in no way shape or form considered a term of anything accept for hate (as stated before unless you are of nigga color and a comedian (insane) or lowly rap artist (insane)). English is the language we function by but we also have our own language a derivative of the English language Ebonics, this split function is a perfect example of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis by Malcolm X:
The slave makers knew that he couldn’t make these people slaves until first he made them dumb. And one of the best ways to make a man dumb is to take away his tongue, take his language. You can’t communicate with people, relatives; you can never have access to information.
When someone has no recollections about himself we say that person is suffering from a form of insanity called amnesia. We as a group of people can’t even decide who we are: sure some of us think ourselves as niggers, colored people, Afro-American, African-American, Black and so on. Those whom consider themselves African-American are motivated by the class social system as talked about in previous paragraph, those in upper class, upper middle class professional who like a hyphenated wife showing I come from my father yet I am in union with you and they feel the need to separate themselves from the likes, the acts and actions of “the commoners”, the lower and even working class blacks.
Chris Rock break down of black people vs. niggas: Now we've got a lot of things, a lot of racism in the world right now who’s more racist? Black people or white people? Black people....You know why? Cause we hate black people too Everything white people don’t like about black people Black people really don’t like about black people There some shit goin on with black people right now There's like a civil war goin on with black people And their two sides....There's black people, and there's niggas And niggas have got to go Every time black people wanna have a good time Ignorant ass nigga fuck it up Can't do shit, can’t do shit, without some ignorant ass nigga fuckin it up Can’t do nothing Can’t keep a disco open more than 3 weeks Grand opening, grand closing Can’t go to a movie the first week it comes out Why cause niggas are shooting at the screen What kind of ignorant shit is that Hay this is a good movie, this is so good i gotta bust a cap in here Hay I love black people, but i hate niggas boy, boy i hate niggasBoy I wish they'd let me join the Klu Klux Klan Shit I'd do a drive-by from here to Brooklyn I'm tired of niggas man You can’t have shit when you around niggas.
These African-Americans have their set of moral codes and behaviors, as with the working class folk who possibly feel that there is no need to form alliances, they just need great job performance. The working and lower class that consider themselves niggas and use the word have wants to keep separate the idea of whiteness and rightness and have a sense of pride in being different and separate from white America/America.
Within the different names blacks have for themselves they have carved out by the name group social unity, it helps them when relating and functioning as a sub-group of culture within a culture. Yet, it widens the riff and continues our dysfunction and reason for insanity. We as a race of people have no unity as a whole; we don’t even have unity as a goal in even as what we are to be called/named. Our function as a whole as part of this society is one of the most diverse group of people, not just in appearance but in styles, and morals we share the same experiences yet there was separations from field and house, from young and old from light and dark, our rooted culture here in the Americas is steeped with separation and conflict, our dysfunction is the designed function for living here in the Amerikka.
In short some blacks rise higher in American society with the use of the word nigga, in describing other blacks, their functional goals is to separate themselves from the other blacks who are nigga (Diana Ross, Clarence Thomas etc.) and attain the American Dream;
There is no love left between a black man and a black woman. Take me for instance. I love white women and hate black women. It’s just in me so deep that I don’t even try to get it out of me anymore. I’d jump over ten nigger bitches just to get to one white woman. Ain’t n such thing as an ugly white woman. A white woman is beautiful even if she’s baldheaded and only has one tooth…It’s not just the fact that she’s a woman I love; I love her skin, her soft, smooth white skin. I like to just lick her white skin as its sweet, fresh honey flows from her pores, and just to touch her long, soft, silky hair. There’s softness about a white woman, something delicate and soft inside of her. But a nigger bitch seems to be full of steel, granite-hard and resisting, not soft and submissive like a white woman. Ain’t nothing more beautiful than a white woman’s hair blowing in the wind. The white woman is more than a woman to me…she’s like a goddess, a symbol. My love for her is religious and beyond fulfillment. I worship her. I love a white woman’s dirty drawers. Sometimes I think that the way I feel about white women, I must have inherited from my father and his father and his father’s father- as far back as you go into slavery.
The state of the black family as a unit is suffering from insanity, we are functionally insane. And it is that way by design, by our gracious host from slavery, Willie Lynch letters, keeping us ununified is the best way to continue to hold us down as a whole. Keep us arguing about a word, a word such as nigga. Which some live their lives with that being the one of the only sense of pride and unity. The underground fills in the gap of mentoring black business men whom rose from the slums/ghettos and don’t want to come back, look back or even remember where they came from. The underground welcomes fatherless/motherless children like gangs and say you can make it out of here too, put the mic in your hand first sell some drugs and “get on nigga”. And there’s the cycle of big business jails, and laws are design to hold a nigga longer by way on what crimes are more likely to happen in the black neighborhood/urban ghetto, than what crimes are likely to happen in suburban neighborhoods and this cycle and function works pretty well for American society.
Chapter 4: Symbolic Interactionist – “A Totem Word Equally Powerful Points”
“There’s a certain rhythmic seduction to the word. If you speak in a sentence, and you have to say cat, companion, or friend, as opposed to nigger, then the rhythmic presentation is off. That rhythmic language is a form of historical memory for black people... When Richard Pryor came back from Africa, and decided to stop using the word onstage, he would sometimes start to slip up, because he was so used to speaking that way. It was the right word at the moment to keep the rhythm together in his sentence making.” (Cornel West)
According to Arthur K. Spears (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 2006), in many African-American neighborhoods, nigga is simply the most common term used to refer to any person, male or female. Where y’all niggas goin? Is said with no self consciousness or animosity to a group of women, for the routine purpose of obtaining information. The point: nigga is evaluating neutral in terms of it’s inherit meaning; it may express positive, neutral or negative attitudes.
Nigga (not nigger) brings out a feeling of pride, it is a symbol of pride at times, and it is a word of endearment for some. Nigga the word warrants being a part of something, some ones with shared experiences and offers a sense of belonging. Nigga is a carryover from the Black Power and Black Arts Movement The movements took a word in American English “black” that was associated with negative connation’s and began circulating it in music, literature and slogans to bring about a social unity to fight the injustices from laws and unfair treatment, to uplift the community as a whole.
Dick Gregory even criticize the euphemism and their usage as intellectually dishonest, because using the euphemism the “N” word, instead of nigger robs younger generations of Americans of full history of Black people in America. The symbol of the origin was that simply of a color describing the dark complexion of the skin, the derogatory came from southern whites with the direct intent to hurt and dehumanize an entire people whether Maroon, half and half or black as tar, house or field and now it is being used in place of brotha and sistah, cat, dog, it is just as common to hear nigga than any of the other examples just named, in all its spellings and cousin forms.
The word is like the dichotomy of the people in question of using or not using the word nigga. If words can have consciousness it is double in its meanings, triple even as stated earlier it can be a fighting word, just a word or a word that can fill the heart with tears, “you’re my nigga!” The word held this sense of togetherness, niggas went away to fight in the war and came back to nigga entrance round back, we don’t serve niggas, when niggas had served them, getting some of the highest honors entire platoons and coming back home to “I hope you don’t think you special boy, you still a nigga”. The word took on a different form with this new gained sense of pride not denouncing that they/we were niggas but saying That I maybe but it don’t make me no lesser than you, Niggas started realizing anything the white man and woman could do we could do and have done did better (lol). The word wasn’t tossed, the belief that the word held was tossed. Here is an example of what I mean when saying that sense of worth behind the word was tossed/old time:
The lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till August 29 at Ruleville, Miss., exacerbates racial tensions. A visitor from Chicago, Till (allegedly on a dare) converses with a white woman, the wife of grocery store co-owner Roy Bryant. His body, savagely beaten, shot in the head, and bound with barbed wire, is found 8 days later in the nearby Tallahatchie River. Bryant’s half-brother J. W. Milam will acknowledge that he and Bryant murdered Till, saying, “I like niggers— in their place . . . But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live . . . They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger even gets close to talking mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired of living.”
J. W. Milam isn’t talking about economics he doesn’t care about social class; he is talking about color of skin. Nigger meant black, colored, one drop of nigger blood light skinned octoroon whatever.
Nigga is a symbol of blackness strong whether a “taker” on every level meaning a hood-boy, dope-dealer making his own existence in America or that business owner of his own fashion or music who is making his own way not having to submit to what it is to be a Black man/ Black woman to America for the American Dream will use the word “nigga” and be proud of that. Personally, I feel it is not my ancestors shame, the word “nigga”, I feel like Cornel West it has a lyrically tone to it and being poetically inclined the word fits in certain instances. I feel that if the word was buried, banned what have you that like Dick Gregory says, it only helps to deprived future generation of the real account of our story. It only helps the people who turned the word “nigga” into such an evil, hurtful, degrading word in the first place to forget their atrocious behavior.
When asking young people why they use the word nigga, they all mostly say the same thing, “it just sounds better”, “the word just fit, no matter what, there is no other word, like it.” The word is like “boom” you know, it is heavy hitting whether you telling someone “I love you man, or I hate your guts and it is on, the word just works and it feels right.”
Lyrics to a poem Under My Skin:
I’ve been caressed by death/ now hes under my skin/ I’ve been swept-up by this mess/ now the blocks are stacked and I may never win/ all I ever wanted was to be loved/ and he came promising me the moon and the heavens above/ and I laid down with him/ and I took off my clothes/ but how’s was I to know/ how was I to know/ this niggas body was as dark as night/ and I was taught the dark was light/ and he said shit that made shit right/ and all I ever wanted was to be loved….
As the poem goes on I replaced the word nigga with; man, brothas, cat etc. and although brotha was the closest fit, the poem still took on a different feel, it move from something that could put any face to he, to a black man’s face and I didn’t want that feel, the poem is universal it is a woman and a man, not just a black woman and black man…nigga is the perfect fit.
Chapter 5: Compare and Contrast – In My Own Words
Both conflict theory and functional analysis focus on the use of the word nigga (or not) by entire groups of people of society on a macro-level. They both deal with the unification of a group based on the use or not of nigga, by way of social stratification like class as a means of separation or by who using it or not bare benefits as a form of function getting to a certain job level or status/achieved status. Conflict theory and functional analysis also identifies with the groups in the making of moral codes, decision and ideals also, there stereotypes. Both perspectives identify how they use a form of social ethnocentrism in making judgments based on their own ideals and expectations. Which in symbolic interaction the closest to compare to this idea is rappers and comedian who use the word to be more authentic in its portrayal of the black community, “keeping it real” as Dave Chappelle would say. In symbolic interaction the individual uses of the word “nigga” to achieve a certain status to bring about Weber three p’s property, power and more importantly prestige.
The real difference between conflict theory vs. functional analysis is with conflict theory two of the groups I focused on white American and the power elite/capitalist/bourgeoisie planted the seed and designed a strain theory if you want this American Dream even though we know this is your way of expressing yourself you can’t say “nigga”, you can’t use your term, you must think like me, look like me and live like me, we must relate or you can’t play. Functional analysis on the other hand is about people groups being able to live their lives whether as white America or as being able to move ahead and keep it real at the same time without being accused of trying to be white.
With functional analysis I believe our functional dysfunction; our insanity is by design and fit into the norms of American society. The system, the American system is set up for African-Americans, Blacks, Colored, Negro/Nigger/Nigga/Nigah to fail, prison is big business that is why more prison are going up than schools or companies looking to hire, why laws are designed to keep drug dealers (rock or crack form) in jail for 15yrs to life and rapist, attempted murders of spouses hit man for hire loose cocaine, etc. sentences varies. Just the other day a young white girl 16/17 fights and stabs another white girl because she caught her with her ex-boyfriend the girl was seriously hurt but didn’t die the white girl who stabs her is looking at probation. A black boy same age rob a pizza delivery guy with an unloaded gun no one got hurt and he is looking at 15yrs, attempt murder probation vs. armed robbery 15yrs., it is something morally, spiritually, physically, mentally wrong with this picture.
With my most preferred sociological perspective symbolic interactions, is saying is; I can understand the pain that is associated with the word nigga/nigger. I know and can understand our elders who survived through all the racial injustices. I can empathize with the elders hurt over the word, the history, the over-all pain of their all too real past. But, Behold-the-Underlying-Truth, they need to understand why the youths and some of the elders won’t let this word rest/die and it does have a lot to do with the history associated with nigga and its uses. Many, far too many of the problems (our problems), Blacks social issues here in America is a direct result of White Americans racial, bias, prejudistic nature and behavior.
White America today lies about her past, he/she covers-up the wrongs, cruel injustices that he/she has done and still does. He/she wants the word nigga dead and buried, along with stories of the Middle Passage, proof of bills of sales of niggas, lynching post cards any evidence of slavery and of slaves. Examine the way Texas has been preparing history books that we sleep on. Symbolic Interaction shows up close and personal how and what nigga means or represent. For some nigga saying/hearing is like a lash going across the skin, for others it is a punch in the face to/for someone who did you wrong or it is a tight hug, a show of loyalty of deep love or it kind be just a filler word with no rhyme or reason. And that portrayal of the “N” word being carried down the streets of Detroit and being buried, the mock funeral was a waste of time and of money, nigga the word nigga ain’t goin’ nowhere anytime soon.
Symbolic interaction brings us up close and personal to the reason “their/my own words” as to why we use or choose not to use the word nigga, and what the word symbolizes for those of us who uses it and those who say they don’t use the word, but define people of the word. Spike Lee’s Movie Bamboozled is a perfect example of how this one word could have such a diverse meaning even with one individual person. There’s a scene between Mos Def (hip-hop artist) and Jada Pinkett Smith they are brother and sister in the film, who are in two different social classes. In conversation they go back and forth over different issues and at one point Jada character ask if her brother is trying to call her a house nigga. Within the previous scene Mos Def make reference to himself and his crew as niggas, telling Jada, “niggas ain’t perfect.” Yet in another scene while expressing himself of the contempment and disgust over Savion Glover and Tommy Davison roles he uses nigga in and old Uncle Tom, conformist way showing hate.
Another example of nigga being used as two different symbols is one of my favorite rap groups, The Geto Boyz, the have a song on the lyrics they say, “let me introduce you to some real nigga shit, we don’t play wit you boyz we kill niggas quick,” in that one line they are calling themselves “real niggas” and in their second breath saying “we kill niggas” not the nigga like them real just the fake niggas. They also have a song title niggas and flies and we all know how most people feel about flies.
Personally, I feel like Paul Mooney a quote from the Dave Chapelle Show, “I say nigga a hundred times before I go to bed, it keeps my teeth white”. Either way by accepting or not accepting the use of the word nigga we are all charged (as with Thomas Theorem theory) with its consequences.