Reader discretion is advised. This blog contains language that may offend.
Can you remember the first time you heard the word Nigger?
I remember the first time somebody called me a Nigger. I was in primary school, probably 8 or 9 years old at the time & it was by someone whom I had considered a friend. We were play-fighting and from what I remember I punched him in his arm, then he exclaimed,
“Ouch! You stupid Nigger!”
As soon as I heard it, I froze. Time stood still for that split second felt like a few minutes. I was considering my reaction, because I had never heard it said with such anger and malice. Of course, this was not the first time I had heard this word. It was just the first time it offended me. Whenever I had heard it, it was coming out a black persons mouth.
Nigga is prevalent in Hip Hop today. Artists such as Nicki Minaj, Jay Z & Kanye West use it so loosely in the context where it’s now acceptable for anyone to say it. The most notable song would to be Niggas In Paris by Jay Z & Kanye West, taken from their collaborative studio album WatchTheThrone released in 2011.
Niggas In Paris – Jay Z & Kanye West
Nicki Minaj has caused upset recently with her recent unofficial single ‘Lookin Ass Niggas’. Not for the use of the word, but for the unofficial cover art which was the famous image of Malcolm X standing by his window with a rifle. This was at a time when he realised the Nation Of Islam and the Government were conspiring to have him killed. This shows an incredibly low-level of respect for one of history’s greatest black leaders, a word in which he despised and gave his life to educate. Here’s a quote of Malcolm X speaking on ‘The N Word”:
“Afro-Americans must reanalyse and particularly question our own use of this term, keeping in mind all the facts. In light of the historical meanings and current implications, all intelligent and informed Afro-Americans and Africans continue to reject its use in the noun form as well as a proper adjective. Its usage shall continue to be considered as unenlightened and objectionable or deliberately offensive whether in speech or writing.”
Nicki Minaj Unofficial Cover Art for ‘Lookin Ass Niggas’
The BET department at VIACOM now owns music channels dedicated to giving black music a platform such as BET, founded independently in 1980, from 2001. Since its takeover, this channel perpetuates and justifies racism by enforcing the negative stereotypes held about black people, and also by affecting the psyche of its young viewers through its bombardment of negative images of blacks. This can also be said by the fact that there are particular artists who are banned from being played on BET. Conscious artists such as Mos Def, KRS-One and Raekwon, have all been banned from ever featuring on BET – For whatever reason, i’ll allow you to come up with your own conclusions.
It hasn’t always been like this. When rap was first introduced, it had a conscious message; the message of the revolution and collective consciousness. Artists like Public Enemy and KRS-One were the pioneers of this movement.
Nigger (noun): an extremely offensive word for a black person
Cambridge Dictionary Definition
Nigger is considered the most offensive term in the English language but it hasn’t always meant what it does today. Language is always evolving – every language changes, it’s a part of our continued evolution and Nigger is no exception. It has been traced back to the 16th or 17th century, at the time when the Transatlantic Slave Trade was taking place. Etymologists believe that it derived from Latin – The mother of all European languages – which meant black; Negra (adjective). It was around the 17th century that the word evolved; from Latin to Spanish to French to English – It had transcended language and its function deceptively changed from adjective to noun. In intentionally changing it’s function, its application would be used to portray persons in a position of objects or things; a sub-human. A slave.
Further studying, however, will take you as far back as the Ancient Egyptians. It is well-known that the Ancient Egyptians didn’t use vowels in their language so it would be written NGR pronounced ‘en-gar’ which means GOD. In his book, The Hieroglyphic Dictionary famed Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge has at least 14 definitions of “NGR”.
“The root word NGR existed in ancient Egyptian Sacred writings and hieroglyphs…and has divine origin and meaning.”
Ernie A. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Linguistics and Doctor of Internal Medicine.
N-ger-s refers to …The Goddess Neggur (Hathor) who is one of the oldest female deities of ancient Kemit (Egypt) who was worshipped thousands of years before Genesis and the Bible existed.
Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, (1857-1934), Egyptologist
Goddess Hathor – One of the most important deities in Ancient Egypt.
So – from this, we can clearly see that the origin of the word doesn’t have any negative connotations. It was a sacred word – A beautiful word. It started as a symbol of spirituality. What had happened is the Romans who invaded Egypt had misunderstood the Egyptians, who would describe themselves as a NGR (noun) but they understood it to mean black (adjective) and then introduced it into the Western societies. It was then introduced as a word constantly associated with pain and suffering – the context had completely changed.
Today, Nigger/Nigga means different things to different people. The word can be categorised into four main definitions:
1) NIGGER – As an insult; usually said by non-blacks to a black person to indicate they were of inferior caste, Non-human.
2) NIGGA – A term of affection – Usually used in this context with a group of friends/family. For example “What’s up my Nigga?”
3) Blacks Vs. Niggas – Used to differentiate from the ‘good’ blacks from the ‘bad’ blacks. Chris Rock famously had a segment in his ‘Bring The Pain comedy stand-up
4) Universal – Hip Hop culture has made Nigga socially acceptable amongst all ethnic groups. They do not see it as an offensive term.
Actually, I’ve thought of one more definition
5) Real Nigga vs. Fake Nigga – Used by some of the black community. Real Niggas tend to be the blacks that have been to jail, particularly for ‘not snitching’. Quite simply, you’re not a real Nigga unless you’ve been arrested, cheated on your woman and/or you have an education beyond secondary school.
Be mindful of where this word has come. Not everybody will accept the use of the word in its context that it’s so widely used today in popular culture. When an elder tells you that you mustn’t say it, it’s not because they’re trying to ‘kill your vibe’. It’s because the definition of the word, the context hasn’t left their consciousness. Whenever they hear it, they associate it with pain and suffering.
Since I started writing this post. I have changed my mind about the status of the word. Initially it was clear-cut for me; take the word out of the English Language. But would erasing it really do anything to change things? No! Merely enhance the power in a word from a time we much rather move away from.
I will leave you with a piece of poetry by an artist named Dean Atta. I hope you enjoy. Its called ‘I Am Nobody’s Nigger.
THINK!! IT’S STILL LEGAL.