Teacher Says Nigga

I’ll admit it – I use this term. Not often, not to everyone, but it will fall right out of my mouth, as naturally as breathing, when I’m talking to people I’m pretty familiar with. It’s hypocritical of me to now stand here and say what I’m about to say, but I’m not afraid of that perception.

We. Must. Stop. Saying. Nigga.

It’s time to put this word where it belongs – in the grave. The situation that happened between the teacher and the student is precisely why ‘nigga’ must go. White people have a hell of a time understanding the correct pronunciation, context, inflection, and intent of the word, and truly, regardless of intent, most black people will get ever so slightly perturbed if a white person addresses them as ‘nigga’.

I have a few white and non-black friends who DO know when and how to say it, and I don’t get offended when they drop it on me. Most likely I’ll just toss it right back to them, making the term irrelevant and somewhat comical. I’ve even corrupted a well-meaning Chinese phrase in an attempt to draw humor from its similarity to that word. And I want to stop. I need to stop.
I’m going to try to stop. I promise. The problem is, the word is ingrained. It’s as much a part of my vocabulary and personal history as the word ‘the’ is.

I grew up very close to the projects, but not actually in the projects, meaning I had an effective escape plan whenever shit went down. And shit went down often in the Huckabee Heights housing projects. Even living there in the late 80s and early 90s, it was fairly common to hear gunshots at night. You kinda got used to it, so long as you didn’t have to go to the ER with a mysterious flesh wound. I had friends who actually lived in the projects, though, and I’d go visit them and play war and crawl through sewers (seriously. We did that shit ALL the time. We’d come up at a drainage indentation on the sidewalk, wait for someone to walk by, and yell “BOO” at them to see if they’d freak out. Good times…) and make pea shooters out of bamboo. And call each other ‘nigga’. When I went to school, I was typically in advanced classes, and in South Carolina that meant that I was one of maybe 3 black people those classes, and I learned I couldn’t use that word with just anyone, anywhere, because other people down there in the South said it funny, and looked at you funny when they said it.

When black people say ‘nigga’ to each other, it’s a term of endearment, but it’s also a slight insult. It implies that the speaker is NOT a nigga, hence placing the listener in a lower caste, albeit not as low as when the listener is called other names. For example, if a man calls another man ‘bitch’, that’s a far worse insult than ‘nigga’. However, ‘nigga’ has a big brother, and that word is pretty much the worst thing you can call a black person in America. Growing up in the South, white people never ever used that word except in its raw, unrefined, “-er” form, and you learned the difference at a very early age. You also learned when it’s ok to say it, and when not to. You wouldn’t say it in church, you know?

As I grew older, I retained this differential knowledge of when to use it and when not to. Hell, my best friend Duke and I STILL refer to each other lovingly as ‘nigga’ when we speak. We’re both highly educated, professional adults – he moreso than I, being a doctor and whatnot. It’s tough to break the habit, but we have to. In my freshman year in college, my three good friends (all black) lived with a white guy, Russ. Now, we were nigga this and nigga that all the time, and eventually Russ thought it would be ok if he said it, too. So one day, we’re all cracking jokes on each other, to the tune of “nigga, yo mama so black, she leaves fingerprints on charcoal” and similar insults, all in good fun. Then Russ, who usually didn’t participate, jumped in with this:

“Nigga, yo mama so black, she bleeds smoke.”

The whole room froze. If it was a disco, the DJ would’ve dragged the needle off the record. We were stunned, and Russ was already laughing at his funny joke, until he noticed the 4 non-laughing Negroes around him. Don’t worry, we didn’t jump him or anything, but we did sit down and explain that it was ok for US to say it, but not for HIM. And naturally, he didn’t understand. That is the crux of the issue, folks. He shouldn’t HAVE to understand, just like that teacher shouldn’t have to. It’s a negative word that’s derived from an even more negative word.

Black Americans are pretty much the only ethnic group that, as a whole, refers to themselves with a term of endearment that’s also the most powerful, most offensive racial epithet for that ethnic group. Personally, I’ve never heard groups of Jews self-referenced as ‘kikes’ or ‘heebs’, nor have I heard Asians call themselves ‘slopes’ or ‘chinks’. Sure, I’ve heard one or two individuals do that, but it’s not systemic of the entire culture. Black Americans need to retire this phrase. It reinforces stereotypes, it portrays us as ignorant and uneducated, and it serves no other purpose, really, than to denigrate the recipient, just to a lesser degree than its big brother, ‘nigger’. And it’s causing confusion. Some well-meaning white person is gonna get beat down because they were trying to be cool with the brothas.

I’m going to stop saying it, or at least start weaning myself. However, knowing me, I’ll probably keep using ‘ni-GAH’, because that’s just plain funny.

A Tribe Called Quest – “Sucka Nigga”
See, nigga first was used back in the deep south
Fallin out between the dome of the white man’s mouth

It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy

Other niggas in the community think it’’s crummy

But I don’t, neither does the youth cause we

Em-brace adversity it goes right with the race

And being that we use it as a term of endearment

Niggas start to bug to the dome is where the fear went

Now the little shorties say it all of the time

And a whole bunch of niggas throw the word in they rhyme

Yo I start to flinch, as I try not to say it

But my lips is like the oowop as I start to spray it

My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray it

My lips is like a oowop as I start to spray the

Sucka nigga, nigga nigga

I throw the sucka in the front for the ones that front.