Thursday, February 09, 2006

Claiming The Millennium...and The Word

A friend of a loyal reader, responded to a forward entitled "New Millennium Nigga" with the response "New Millennium/Old Millennium...I'm not one of them." He included an article he had written a couple of years back outlining why he does not use the words "nigga" or "nigger." I felt compelled to respond, particularly because the author added the tag, "(Regardless of what millennium you claim)". That seemed a personal barb. I hope that the author will grant me permission to at least share a link to his comments and article. I have asked that he do so.

I will forego my usual "First of all...Fuck (insert topic)!" And simply share my response.


As one of the few Black students in a predominantly White high school, I found that I had a lot of roles to play. One of those roles was protector of the younger Black kids.

At our school, as a fundraiser, the Student Government would sell Valentine's Beamers, little messages to be sent to sweethearts and friends on Valentine's Day. Well, one year, some White students decided that they would use that forum to insult and intimidate some of the younger Black students. There were drawings. There were epithets. I don't remember
the specifics but you can fill in the blanks.

Anyway, my buddy Kenyatta and I were shown the messages and we took it upon ourselves to get to the bottom of it. We felt we needed to regulate, to put it simply.

We found out who had sent the beamers and confronted one of the perpetrators in the hallway between classes. Again, I don't recall the specifics. But it probably went something like, "If you see a nigger, you slap a nigger."

A teacher then approached and shielded the White perpetrator from Kenny and me (Two people, though he would later describe us as a mob.) and declared, "We're not going to turn this into some inner-city high school."

I think back on that incident and something strikes me. Someone can say "inner-city" and mean everything that Mo'Kelly claims is the only definition of "nigger/nigga".

Over the course of American history, name changes have occurred, euphemisms have abounded. But whether I am described as an urban youth or nigger, the NYPD will still shoot me dead for reaching for my wallet. And all my Yale degree will be good for is cleaning up the blood.

I understand that many may use "nigga" without thinking, but I do not. I was an Afro-American Studies major. And my study of and thinking about my people has gone far beyond those four years. I once kept the word out of my mouth. But the truth is that I honestly believe that the meaning of a word can be changed. If not, "We're here/We're queer/and we're not going
anywhere" wouldn't be such a powerful refrain.

Further, as a matter of logic, my "brother" (and so far as I know we do not have the same parents) I think it is "cold" (not in temperature, but in sentiment) to "shit on" my blog (need I explain) with your "bad-ass" article (bad meaning good) and demand that I "pump my brakes" (though I am not presently driving). If the word once meant black and it now means all
that you say then the meaning of a word can change. And if it can, then the entire underlying premise of your article is shattered. A new generation can use an old word in a new way. And to use a phrase from my youth, that's "fresh" (though in no way related to produce). But at least you ain't "fuckin' with my cheddar" (though I have no idea about your sexual proclivities or feelings about dairy products), so I "ain't gon raise up" (na'i'm sayin?).

I agree that the social problems that Mo'Kelly cites are indeed plauging this nation. I simply disagree with the premise that the use of or prohibition of the use of the word will change anything at all.

Further, I do not demand that anyone else embrace the word. In fact, I have friends who do not agree with the use of the word and I don't use it when referring to them. As a matter of fact, I generally don't use it much in their presence, just to show what respect I have for their personal decision. (My musing about Al Sharpton is an obvious exception where I used
the word in it's two forms to clearly express my disappointment and anger to Rev. Al.) But here's what I will not do. I will not allow anyone to dictate to me from on high what I must think, do or say. That would make me their nigger. And as a New Millennium Nigga, I ain't nobody's nigger.

I enjoy debate. I think that the exchange of ideas is amongst the greatest gifts life has to offer. But anyone who would dismiss any and all thoughts I express based on my personal and political choice to use the word "nigga" is making a mistake. I believe I have something to offer...actually a great deal to offer our community. And to rebut your assertion that there is only one way for a given word to be received, I will say this. You say that your message is offered in love and I accept that. I accept that, though your words could be taken as an insult to my intellect and an insult to my love of my people. As a matter of fact, we can put this entire exchange onto the blog, if you are agreeable to that, as I'm sure that many would want to participate in this discussion.

So, I hope you and I can debate on the blog, sit down and talk or even just email one another, exchange ideas and "build" as our brothers like to say. And, "my brother," I will not refer to you as "my nigga". But I truly hope that you don't think you can make me yours. I am a New Millennium Nigga and I don't "get down" (not a reference to a depressed emotional state) like
that. Tell a friend!

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweet! A friend of mine from Texas recently sent me an editorial from some Black author who I'd never heard of decrying the state of Black literature because he found some books by Black authors that did not fit his narrow definition of literature. He was appalled by this "pornography" and said it should not be on the shelves with Toni and Audre and Alice. This is what I said about that NEGRO:

"He sounds like the typical middle class Black American who is threatened and appalled by anything that does not present us as upstanding pillars of the community. ... When is the Black middle class going to realize 'even if you in a Benz you still a nigger in a coupe.' We are all in the same boat and we need to help each other instead of finding ways to further divide. It's amazing how the slave master can leave the plantation but the house nigger/field nigger mentality remains."

So, while I tend not to use the word Nigger or Niggah unless I am making a socio-political statement and tend not to refer to myself in that way, I really cannot tell others when and how to use it. I use queer, fag, dyke and a whole host of other words where the meaning has been subverted and the word has been reclaimed. At the end of the day, my two degrees, my house in Pasadena and my 401k will not keep me from being the victim of a racist LAPD cop and does not prevent some old white woman from getting scared when she sees me walking down the street. In those instances, no matter how hard I try to deny it, I am still just another nigger.

Toni

1:40 PM  
Anonymous VI said...

OB-

preach, nigga!

6:28 PM  
Blogger New Millennium Nigga said...

For those who have emailed wanting to know or who are just curious, you can click the title of the article to be linked to the original article. I hope to make things simpler. Be patient. I'm new to the technology.

5:35 PM  
Blogger New Millennium Nigga said...

My bad. I meant click the title of this article to link to the original article.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Actually, I find it quite easy to "deny" that I'm a nigger. I don't define myself by the perceptions of the Mark Fuhrmans of the world.

I'm an African-American, a man, a New Yorker, an agnostic, a Democrat, and a lot of other things... one thing I'm not, though, is a nigger.

And no, I'm not a "nigga" either... I think I understand the logic behind the embrace by Oz and others of that term, but to me it's logic with a shaky foundation.

Picture this: A random young white guy, a complete stranger, walks up to you on the street and says, "Hey what's up my nigga, do you know how to get to Kate Mantilini?" (The French toast at KM is sublime, and some day I will be lucky enough to have it again.)

Most folk would be pissed off at said white guy. Why? Isn't he "co-opting" that formerly oppressive term, just like you? Look how far we've come!

Ahem... perhaps not.

I'll believe that "nigga" is really the new wonder drug when its use IN THE WRONG HANDS no longer gives offense. When it actually IS just a word, and not a loaded weapon, then maybe I'll take another look at it.

And for those who say, "Look, it's not for THEM, it's for US," I say that I'm not looking for a new way to stress to non-black Americans, "I'm different than you... yep, there are times that I'm just another nigger! Don't you forget that! Don't use this word yourself or I'll put my foot in your ass, but when you hear me and my boys use it on the street, remember, that just shows HOW PROUD WE ARE."

6:44 PM  
Blogger New Millennium Nigga said...

Brian,

A follow-up question. When you say that you will refrain until it is "just a word" or that we all should refrain? I ask because it seems to me that the use of the word is what will get it to the point that you describe.

NMN

8:04 AM  
Blogger New Millennium Nigga said...

Okay, note to self: Do not blog write before morning coffee. I meant "When you say that you will refrain until it is "just a word" are you saying that just for yourself or that we all should refrain?

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of a loyal reader sent the following response directly to said loyal reader - but loyal reader wanted to share it with the world... So here it is:

reply in vent form to you, for whoever originated this probably wouldnt care:

He advised that he loves debates, one of lifes gifts to exchange opinions- so here it is:

I think that keeping multi-meanings to one word does hold a sense of distinctiveness. For we dont seem to have anything for ourselves anymore. It seems like anything we do is incorrect, violates grammar and just isnt professional. But the minute these same habits are adopted into mainstream it becomes okay and is classified as fashion. Jeans used to be for the poor, now the NY Daily News poll shows 98% of people look sexier in them and celebrities get voted for looking the best in them (with a wifebeater at that....oh, should I not have used that word out of context),
Anywhere you go, in the nail salon- they speak to each other and we cant understand, get you hair done by Dominicans, you dont know when they are talking about you (bcuz even if you are fluent in espanol, they have a slang), you go to eat chicken wings and french fries but when they repeat your request to their own, no one knows what they are really saying......My point ...???? Why cant we feel comfortable being able to communicate with each other and only we know what we mean?? Just as they change up lingo come interview time in corporate America, why can't we?? think about it...who's to say that is not the reason Black own businesses dont flourish on the same note as the aforementioned??? Dont sleep- there could be success driven behind a 'secret society language"......
........Thug nigga till the end, tell a friend,,,,,,,,

12:52 PM  
Blogger New Millennium Nigga said...

The idea of a "secret society language" is an interesting one. The truth is that everything from "Wade In The Water" and "Go Down, Moses" being sung by American slaves to capoeira being camouflaged as dance in Brazil, has been the oppressed attempting to slip things past the oppressor. Whether you hear "one-time" or "jake" or "5-0" or whatever, it means the cops are around. Once "they" catch on, a new term is always created. It just so happens that today "big faces get stacked" based on the dissemination of such terms, so no matter what is being "spit" in the street it will soon make it into some rapper's "16" and out to the sub-urban youth (credit given to Soul Child of Midnight Fusion).

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

NMN said:

"When you say that you will refrain until it is 'just a word' are you saying that just for yourself or that we all should refrain? I ask because it seems to me that the use of the word is what will get it to the point that you describe."

I write:

I'll answer your question with a question: Do you want white people to say "nigga"?

Because the more often the word is thrown around in public, the more certain you can be that some non-black people will add it to their vocabulary. Language is free, no one holds any deeds on words... black folk are as likely to hold onto "nigga" as Property of the Race as Jewish Americans are to keep me from sprinkling a little Yiddish into my conversation from time to time... in other words, not likely at all. Trust me on this, I'm not some dumb schmuck you know.

Anyway, quite often when I hear "nigga" used casually in the Rotten Apple, it is from the mouths of young brothers and sisters who weren't raised with the same standards of public behavior with which I was raised (or at the very least choose not to follow those standards).

This very day, for example, as I rode the 4 back up to the Boogie Down, a cluster of YBT were raising ruckus in my car, loudly throwing out "nigga" repeatedly along with other quaint phrases like "shut the fuck up you fat bitch!"

Or take a few weeks ago, when I rode to Manhattan in the same car as a future Image Award winner who was telling his boy about how impressive it was that he so skillfully plays the criminal game that he's "never gotten a felony... a nigga has to be pretty smart to get to 29 without a felony."

Duly noted.

5:02 PM  
Blogger New Millennium Nigga said...

Brian,

First, "... a nigga has to be pretty smart to get to 29 without a felony."?!?!?!? That's fucking priceless. But would it have been that much better if he had said "brutha" instead of "nigga?" The underlying assumptions and realities would have remained just as staggering.

Second, you ask a challenging question when you ask how I feel about people of other races, especially White people, using the word "nigga"?

Personally, presently, it still makes me uncomfortable. And in the right situation, I might be moved to "knuckle up." I think that the relationship between the races is complex and of all the ways in which we can heal and move toward equality, it seems strange to me that so many White people seem to want to start with universal permission to say "nigga." It's like the guy who responds to the very idea of feminism by saying, "Well then, I don't want to have to open a door for some woman." My response is, "That's fine, I guess. But with all the hell women catch and all that is unequal in the relationship between the sexes in our society, why would you start there? It seems self-serving and myopic." So, I guess there is a feeling that not enough has been done to repair race relations to earn the average White person the right to use "nigga."

But then, I've been thinking about it. And I guess the logical endpoint of my thinking is that eventually a White person saying "nigga" won't bother me at all. (I have no idea at all how long that would take.) But, someday, I imagine I'll see an Asian kid turn to a White kid and say, "Wassup, nigga?," and think, "Isn't it lovely how the races have come together?" I don't know that that will ever happen. I believe it is possible. I would not go so far as to say that it is probable.

As for the Yiddish...I have heard a Jewish person describe himself as a "fuckin' Heb." I would not feel comfortable saying that phrase about a Jewish person. And I haven't. I'm not sure that there's something inherently wrong with acknowledging that some people have the right to say certain things. I know women who call each other "bitch." As far as I'm concerned, that's between them. I stay away from it. (Okay, I have used it for comerdic effect. But I also said "Fuck Oprah!" for comedic effect so...)

To put it simply, as a member of your family, you may call your mother "Mom." It would be weird and inappropriate for me to do the same. That is not our relationship. Should you call your mother "Mrs. Brian's Mom" (didn't want to give up your last name) so that I don't start getting too familiar? No. I should play my position. And for the time being, I think White people should play theirs.

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Oz,

No, of course it wouldn't have been better if the guy on the subway had said "brutha." My point is that I don't associate most of those who use "nigga" with admirable qualities, I associate them with the black people from whom I feel alienated... I know some like to embrace every black person on earth as a kindred spirit, but I do not.

It isn't rare for me to come across "nigga" devotees whose behavior/attitudes are appalling, in fact it is common. I associate "nigga" with the conception that "true" blackness goes hand in hand with criminal behavior, crude/obnoxious/aggressive public conduct, and inner-city pathology. I associate it with the slice of hip-hop culture that you have warred against right on this blog.

(All this being said, I'll always love Ice-T's "Straight Up Nigga" from the Original Gangster album, but hey, a good song is a good song.)

Okay, you've heard a Jewish person refer to himself as a "Heeb." Do you think this is a common thing? Do you think young Jewish people are routinely (and loudly) calling each other Heebs in subway cars and on streetcorners? I don't.

As for the whole family thing... listen, I have a literal family, a mother, a father, various other relatives... yes, it would be bizarre for you to call my mother "Mom," as you are not her son.

And I have a figurative family, a larger family... it includes people like you, and Jamal, and my old friend Jordan... all three of you are black, but that's not why you're in my figurative family.

Our shared racial background certainly play a role in how I relate to you, but hopefully it is not a dominant role. For me that would be a wrong-headed way to form a figurative family.

As for the aforementioned 29 year-old criminal proud of his lack of a felony conviction... well, let's compare him to Collin, a friend of mine from high school. The criminal is black, Collin is white. Which one is part of my figurative family? Do you even have to ask?

The idea that I would feel more kinship with or loyalty towards that criminal than I would to my old friend Collin, well, that's absurd.

So I don't feel the need for a racial family; my figurative family is made up of individuals (of various racial backgrounds), not a billion members of a race.

I'll leave you with a new version of your MLK 7th Heaven episode.

This time, as the black guy and the white guy are washing the slurs off the car, one of their black classmates comes up to them and speaks to the other black guy, who he knows slightly from school:


"Hey, what's up my nigga?" (A nod to the white guy, who just stands there silently, watching.)

"Oh, you know how it is, nigga, living day by day."

"I hear that, I hear that."

"But listen nigga I'll talk to you later; I've got to finish washing the slurs off this car with this white boy here. Holla at me later though. We family!"

Free at last?

8:18 AM  
Blogger New Millennium Nigga said...

Brian,

You make a good point abiut the show, but I think that context has to be considered. In my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to deliver a few sermons. I assure you the delivery style was a little different than what can be found on this site. Both were sincere, even "real," if you will. They were just designed to be most effective given the context.

So, no, the exchange you suggest probably would not have worked on "7th Heaven." But I do think that a similar exchange could work on say..."Everybody Hates Chris". And I have personally been a part of writing a scene that included the line: "Only niggas can call niggas nigga, nigga." In the right context I think the exploration can be funny and evocative.

As far as the family point, I was simply using a basic in-group v. out-group scenario. But I do think there is some relationship to the kids on the train that you recognize or their behavior wouldn't bother you. Whether that makes them "figurative family" or not.

Several people I respect and believe to be highly intelligent, including Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Aaron McGruder, have used the dreaded "n-word" in their work. So, certainly in the public sphere, the use of it is not just the domain of the great unwashed. Further, in my own life, there have been many times where I felt much more accepted and respected by niggas around the block than I did by the "Jack and Jill" types who looked down their collective nose at them. So, the more I think about it, the less interested I am in turning my back on any of my people, particularly niggas who have not had the opportunities, educational and otherwise, that I have been blessed with over the years.

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

(So, someone just sent me this in response to post of mine... if you want to read it, i am denelian at livejournal.)
i know that this article of yours is almost a year old, but i hoped it would be okay to add to the discussion.
i am half irish/half cherokee - which according to an actual mob in montgomery 12 years ago makes me all white - and tend to ignore "skin". i do NOT ignore speech. in my mind, ignorant sounding speech is ignorant whether it is Eubonics, a heavy southern drawl, or valley-girl. (i spent MONTHS training away my valley-girl, after i left CA).
so, a number of months ago, my boyfriend took me to Cleveland to meet his family and some of his friends. His friends took us to a hip-hop bar. Not a fan of rap, but whatever, there is a beat, i can dance. Kamisha decided because i can dance that i should be "black" - and set about trying to teach me Eubonics.
it failed.
Because i cannot say the "n-word" - like the c-word, or the k-word, or the s-word, it seems to me to only be demeaning. sure, the Vagina Monologues claim that the c-word should be positive - i have never found it so.

i remember my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Littleton. She was the Epitome of Black Woman, and i worshipped her. It was from her that i first heard the n-word, and it was very firmly a BAD word. fuck can be a bad word, depending upon context, but "nigger", or even "nigga", has the sterotypical "lazy fucking barbaric heathen good-for-nothing..." preceding it. i have never understood the desire to use a derogatory epithet as a positive thing - i don't call my sister and say "Heyla, bitch" or "Hi Apple, how's tricks?" - and i have been told that this lack of understanding is a flaw on my part. it may be. but sometimes, it is easier to feed the sterotype than fight it (i reference some of the strippers i know, with MBAs, who gave up trying to make it in the "man's world" of business), but if one doesn't even fight, if one in fact actively FEEDS it... one ends up with the fucked up mess we have now.
but of course, the only people i know who listen to me agree with me. My boyfriend hates the n-word, and has yelled at people for calling him that.
ignorance is not bliss.
ignorance is hell.
we are creating hell with our ignorance.

7:38 PM  

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