Nearing the end of 2016 I reflect on all the changes I've had to adjust to over this past year. From our president elect being a misogynist, sexist, racist incompetent, to graduation from college and starting my adventure as an adult...a lot has happened. In between all of that there's been protests to against police brutality amongst African Americans, I've witnessed a country divide itself based on power and privilege, I've had my share of break downs, epiphanies, and tragic love stories. Coming home to Maryland after being away for 4 years was a challenge in itself. I had to get accustomed to living with my parents again and finding a new routine that went with my work schedule and my lifestyle. Being around all my childhood friends has been refreshing too, it's a mix of nostalgia and new beginnings. Seeing how much everyone has grown and getting to know them all over again has been interesting to say the least.
Where I live in Maryland is very, very diverse. Coming from a HBCU and switching back to this environment required me to change my mindset too. Attending Bennett College and being around other HBCU's, our issues, our lives, our interests all coincide. At home the culture is different, the social issues shift and everyone's experiences are unique. Not too long ago I went to one of my friends birthday party and the crowd was diverse, theres hispanics, blacks, whites and a few others. It was really chill, I met some cool new people, I got drunk, I celebrated...all that jazz.
The Dj was making an effort to appeal to all cultures with the tunes. There was reggae, salsa, hip hop, pop and even gogo. When a particular song came on, everyone in the room sang along and when I say everyone, I mean everyone. They didn't miss a beat and knew all the lyrics (wish I could remember the name of the song). What was so interesting that these people sang along, was the fact that everyone was blatantly saying the word "nigga". My mouth literally hung open in shock, my eyes were bulging through my socket and I was just frozen in the moment. As everyone is chanting the word, me and my roommate were just staring at each other marinating in the situation before us. We were stuck, we were surprised, we weren't angry, but we had some questions that needed answers...like asap.
I'd be lying if I said that was the first time I heard my non-black friends say the word "nigga", it probably won't be the last either; however, I am not the same Johnelle from high school. I've learned a lot and grown a lot, my perspective of things have changed and to me, in my opinion, the word "nigga" should not be an everyday vocabulary word to anyone who is not African American. So a few days later I questioned my friend who hosted the party and another associate of mine and asked why they felt so comfortable to openly say the word nigga regardless of who is in the room. They were shocked I even brought up the topic and their argument was that because they hang around black people and they've use the word all the time that it was no big deal. NO NO NO NO. It was a big deal.
Now I know the rebuttal for this is that it is 2016 and in this present culture nigga doesn't mean the same thing it did hundreds of years ago. I hate to break it to you, but the origins of the word does not evaporate because times have changed. The history of the usage of the word does not change because of its present day context. Nigga to me may be just a casual term I use when referring to people of any color, but I AM BLACK and they are not. Whether I say it in polite or negative connotations that is my choice. @Toure wrote for the TIME an article titled, "Can Whites Say the N-word," in which he discusses why nigga is a powerful word. Tourè suggests, "No word in the American lexicon has the emotional force of nigger and yet its colloquial use grows as some young whites (and some Latinos and some Asians) believe it's as innocuous as they decide it is. Words evolve but there is no new consensus on what nigga and nigger mean..." Agreed Tourè, agreed.
Remember what you allow will always continue, so because I felt some way about my non-black friends using the word I definitely had to speak on it. I had to be sure my friends understood that although I get where they are coming from harmlessly using the word, it was not a harmless word. No matter if its 2016, 2020 or 2052, I am still going to pause when I hear a non-black person saying the word nigga (and if they're referring to me I might just spazz). I had to let them know that even if their black friends allow them to say the word nigga around them, does not mean they don't mind it. I made sure to let them know had they been in a room full of socially woke black young men, saying that word as carelessly as they did would not fly with them. Real shit.
We must always be aware that this country is divided amongst race, wealth and privilege. We must not turn a blind eye to racial injustice very apparent in our everyday lives. Our president elect makes racial comments in his everyday speech and for anyone to say it is ok for non-blacks to say nigga must not be educated on their black history. It is a racial slur. Period, point blank. It doesn't matter how many black friends you have, it doesn't matter if your significant other is black, it doesn't matter if you're white and grew up in the hood, you do not get a black card to say the word nigga. Out of respect for your peers who are black and whose great grand parents were treated as second class American citizens, refrain from being ignorant. Please.
Lets keep moving forward and instead of appropriating the word (like white people try to do with everything in Black culture) lets try to educate our peers on why that word may be offensive or may make blacks feel a way if it is being used by non-blacks. You wouldn't let a white cop strip you of your dignity willingly so do not allow your non-black friends subconsciously belittle and insult you.
I Am Nobody's Nigger
Rappers when you use the word "nigger" remember that's one of the last words Stephen Lawrence heard, so don't tell me it's a reclaimed word.
I am nobody's nigger
So please, let my ancestors rest in peace
Not turn in their graves in Jamaica plantations
Or the watery graves of the slave trade
Thrown overboard into middle passage
Just for insurance claims
They were chained up on a boat
As many as they could manage and stay afloat
Stripped of dignity and all hope
Awaiting their masters and European names
But the sick and the injured were dead weight to toss
And Lloyds of London would cover that cost.
I am nobody's nigger
So you can tell Weezy and Drake
That they made a mistake
I am nobody's nigger now
So you can tell Kanye and Jigga
I am not a nigger... in Paris
I'm not a nigger in London
I'm not a nigger in New York
I'm not a nigger in Kingston
I'm not a nigger in Accra
Or a nigger with attitude in Compton
Cos "I don't wanna be called yo nigga"
How were you raised on Public Enemy
And still became your own worst enemy?
You killed Hip Hop and resurrected headless zombies
That can't think for themselves or see where they're going
Or quench the blood lust because there's no blood flowing
In their hearts, just in the streets
They don't give a damn as long as they eating
Their hearts ain't beating, they're cold as ice (bling)
Because they would put money over everything
Money over self respect or self esteem
Or empowering the youth to follow their dreams
Stacking paper cos it's greater than love it seems
Call me "nigger" cos you're scared of what "brother" means
To know that we share something unspeakable
To know that as high as we rise we are not seen as equal
To know that racism is institutional thinking
And that "nigger" is the last word you heard before a lynching.
An excerpt from Dean Atta's, "I Am Nobody's Nigger"