Is Everyone Saying “N***a” Now?

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Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black | Lil Wayne Unplugged

Lil Wayne at MTV Unplugged
source

“If you having a good time, I want you to say, ‘Hell yeah, niggaaaaaaaaaa!”

“Hell yeah, niggaaaaaaaaaa!” the crowd screamed back at Lil Wayne.

I scanned the stadium of concert goers: a sea of young, white and light faces surrounded me, bopping their heads to the beat, hip-hop hands swaying in the air, phone cameras recording and repeating at Lil Wayne’s command,

Helllllll yeah, niggaaaaaaaaa!!

I looked over at my friend, who, like me, hadn’t joined the crowd.

“What the hell?” I mouthed at her, as my face contorted itself into surprise and disapproval.

This was the situation at a concert I attended in Orange County, California (“OC”) a few years ago. Orange County’s black population is similar to Utah’s in number. That is to say: nearly non-existent. Still, I didn’t expect to be such an obvious minority at a hip-hop concert headlined by black artists. I know white suburban teenagers are now the largest consumers of hip-hop, and Orange County is like one giant suburb, so really I shouldn’t have surprised me. But, there’s what you know and what you actually see for yourself.

____

Last year while in San Francisco’s Mission district with a friend, we overheard three teenagers shouting in conversation:

“Did you hear what I said?”
“Daaaamn, fool!’
“Yeah, that nigga’s cray.”

They all laughed.

My friend and I turned to each other, the same “Did you just hear that?!” looks on our faces. None of the teens were black.

“Huh,” I exhaled. “So, that’s what’s going on now?”

It’s time like these when I feel my age. I resisted the urge to use my budding “kids these days” voice or wag my disapproving finger while giving them an impromptu history lesson on the “n-word.” They weren’t using the word in a hurtful manner. The way the kid said it, the word carried the same weight as someone saying “snow is white.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a teenager cavalierly use the word “nigga.” I’ve heard it from the mouths of black, white, Asian and Latino people. People who no doubt count themselves among a large and diverse group of hip-hop fans.

I’m not sure how to feel about this.

____

No matter how many times I hear people attempt to explain that using the derivative “nigga” is a way of reclaiming the word, stripping it of its power, I can’t buy into that argument. It is a word based in hateAs long as there are people hatefully hurling the word at black people with intent to wound and stake their superiority, that word is still mighty powerful. Even seeing it written stirs up emotion. If other black people choose to use it, that’s their prerogative. It’s not for me. Honestly, I don’t know that I will ever feel comfortable hearing any form of the word escape the lips of someone not black, outside of an academic discussion, and even then I may involuntarily wince.

It was less than 10 years ago when my youngest sister’s white classmate mean-girled her and nastily declared,

“No one wants to sit next to her because she’s a nigger.”

It hurt me to hear of the incident because I’d hoped, naïvely, that by the time my youngest sister reached the cruelest years of school, that kind of prejudiced language would lose favor with her generation. Just thinking of the experience still angers my sister. The girl made her life “a living hell.” I had hoped she could avoid some of the race-related pain her older sisters and parents endured growing up. Unfortunately, the power of the word persists.

Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black | Green Stop Sign Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance | source

The incident at the Lil Wayne concert forced me, once again, to face the cognitive dissonance of my hip-hop fandom.

I recognize that by listening to certain hip-hop artists, attending their concerts or streaming their music, I’m part of the problem. Just as I wish that magazines would quit covering Kim Kardashian’s every move and cleavage-baring ensemble, yet I’ll still click on a link to see her latest fashion atrocity, thereby reinforcing her (perceived) popularity.

I listen to hip-hop despite the liberal use of “nigga” in many songs and the fact that I have issues with the themes (violence, misogyny, celebration of drug slinging) and language (bitch, ho, THOT) in some songs and videos. Last year, popular rapper Rick Ross came under fire for the lyrics in his song “U.O.E.N.O”:

Put molly all in her champagne / She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that / She ain’t even know it.

– Rick Ross, U.O.E.N.O

His lyrics seem to describe drugging a woman by secretly slipping molly in her drink and then having sex with her. Many felt his lyrics diminished the seriousness of date rape and even glorified it. He claimed his lyrics were “misinterpreted.” The lyrics disgusted, but did not surprise me. This isn’t the first time he’s penned sickening verses. I’m not the biggest Rick Ross fan, or a fan at all really, but I can’t pretend his “Blowin’ Money Fast” doesn’t get me pushing out my lips and nodding my head.

Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black | 50 Cent with two Guns

50 Cent from his video “Shooting Guns”
source

How do you reconcile liking music that at times is regressive, offensive and sexist with your personal values and morals?

It’s easy to take the simplistic view: “Why not just stop listening to it?’

The problem is, I grew up on this stuff. It’s part of my history, it’s part of my culture. Rap and hip-hop evolved from the forms of music my parents exposed me to. Those same soul, funk and R&B songs from the ’60s, 70s’ and 80s’ that P Diddy – and later other hip-hop producers, following his lead – made a career out of samplinlaying rap verses atop and producing hit after danceable hit. Songs released during my formative high school and college years.

Of course, Diddy’s lyrics are practically granny-safe compared to some of today’s artists like Eminem, Juicy J or Schoolboy Q. Jay-Z and Kanye West had to go and release a song titled, “Niggas in Paris,” causing panic and confusion among many when singing it aloud in mixed company.

I can’t help but grin thinking of the self-aggrandizing lyrics rampant in many a verse of today’s rap, that give me a brief feeling of extra bravado. You know what I mean. It’s that extra swag some dudes seem to think they have as they blare T.I. from their cars.

I also appreciate the talent of true lyricists who can write and spit an impressive collection of words strung together in clever ways. If you’ve ever tried rapping, even just karaoke, you know it’s not easy, especially freestyle. It requires talent, confidence and showmanship.

At the core, I listen to hip-hop for its high energy. I just plain enjoy listening to music I can dance to. I’ve had many a solo dance party in my apartment, turning my living room into a club floor, free of groping hands and spilled beer.

There’s also a bit of, “If I have to take a stance against everything in the world that’s morally tainted, what will be left to enjoy?”

Not all hip-hop artists use misogynistic language or praise illegal activity. There’s a long list of “conscious” rappers making music, some of whom struggle to sustain careers if they don’t break into the mainstream – where the real money is. I listen to a handful of these rappers and it’s always a pleasant surprise to discover a hip-hop artist who really has something to say. Even Lil Wayne – for all his rapping about smoking weed, sipping sizzurp and his affinity for lady parts – is actually quite witty.

Who should be "allowed" to say the "n-word"? It seems people of all races are throwing it around these days. Read more in "Is Everyone Saying N***a Now? on The Girl Next Door is Black

As film has it’s “popcorn flicks”, so does music | source

Every so often we come across art laden with poignancy that moves us. I think that’s a beautiful, but uncommon experience. Just as there are “popcorn flicks”, Oscar-winning films and myriad film categories in between, the same goes for hip-hop. I don’t need profundity from everything I listen to.

Last month I went to a Wiz Khalifa concert with my middle sister. When Wiz shouted to his fans, “Say ‘Dat’s my niggaaaaa.'” My sister glanced at me with a questioning look and a smile. She knows how I feel about this. I rolled my eyes and shook my head.

I asked my sister after the concert, “Is this one of those things where this is just how it’s gonna be? And I can either choose to adapt and accept it or be that annoying grumpy old person?” She shrugged.

It’s complicated being a hip-hop fan.

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30 Comments
  • wccunningham
    March 21, 2015

    This is a great post and something very relevant to a discussion we were having in my house the other day due to obvious current events. There had been an interview on CNN with the rapper Trinidad James and this question wasn’t approached. I was disappointed. I asked my son this very question. He listens to rap. It’s his genre of choice. He doesn’t like the word, and I can say that I have ever heard him use it, yet it’s prevalent in most songs he is listening to with a lot of the newer artists and even some of the older ones. My musical tastes range from old Motown to Metallica but because we listen to music as a family, I’ve grown to like Ice Cube, Biggie, and Mac Miller (and yes I know he happens to be white). His attitude about the word (used in art) is similar to what you have written yet he doesn’t feel it needs to be there along with much of the derogatory remarks about women or anything glorifying violence. I suppose, I could look at my own musical interests and find the same inferences or innuendos to something negative yet I still like the song and look past it. This certainly provokes thought.

    Again, great post! I’m in NY by way of Arizona btw (and use to work in Orange County quite often in my younger years). 🙂

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      March 23, 2015

      I’m so glad to know conversations like these are happening in some families. It’s so important to have an open dialog.

      I like your taste in music! Mac Miller is one of those white rappers who, like Eminem, respect the roots of hip-hop and also seem to have an understanding of where to draw the line when it comes to the “n-word.” I mean Eminem has said all kinds of heinous things, but even he knows when to quit. (I think he used it once and said never again).

      Thank you for your thoughtful response, Ward!

  • Adventures of a Novice Mum
    January 3, 2015

    A very interesting post on a very complex issue.

    I appreciate the different arguments for and against the use of this word by different groups of people. However, I’m of the opinion historically derogatory words, whatever word it maybe, shouldn’t be used by anyone. I know words get redefined in time and there is no delegated word police to assess which is allowed to be redefined or not. And so I accept that some people will use derogatory words in different contexts. Nonetheless, I choose to keep my space free of them: my and my family’s spoken and written language, the music we listen to etc. Even then, I understand that this isn’t a choice everyone can make.

    Well done for reflecting a really difficult issue in your blog post. #ArchiveDay

  • theseattlethaw
    October 29, 2014

    Great, thought provoking post. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been endlessly streaming Childish Gambino and find myself omitting entire lines when I sing along. Its a word I also grew up knowing to never use.

    However, I also hate the term “N Word” because I feel like that gives it power as well, and is essentially the same as saying it. It is an unfortunate conundrum I have no idea how to approach and I hate that it has become so commonplace in our daily lives.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 29, 2014

      Ooh, Childish Gambino’s got some good stuff!

      I agree with you on the “n-word.” I prefer to spell it out (or “say” it, if I must), but I know it makes some people really uncomfortable. It is what it is. It’s a sucky word. We treat the word so delicately now; I feel like that aids in its continual survival.

  • Samantha
    October 28, 2014

    Great read! I could sit and talk about this all day. I hear kids all the time in my neighborhood of all colors using the “N” word. It’s the time that we live in. We as black people have made it easy for anyone to use that word. I’m much like you. i hear a good song and I get caught up in it. There are times when I HAVE to play the hardest thing I can find. My day isn’t complete without Eminem or Kanye. Just because I like their music doesn’t mean I agree with it thou. In a way I feel like a hypocrite but I love music and I don’t like to filter what I listen to. Unless it’s Nicki Minaj I just can’t go there lol

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 29, 2014

      Lol, no ‘Anaconda’ for you? I can’t help it, the song makes me want to dance – mostly because I already liked the original song.

      I asked this in another comment: Since not all black people use the word(s), is it fair to say that black people made it okay? We say we’re not all the same, so should the behavior and choices of some be ascribed to all?

      Thanks for your comment!

  • blancoa1011
    October 27, 2014

    What one generation accepts the next one applauds. I hate that so many think it’s okay to use it. What’s even more annoying is that Blacks made it okay…

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 29, 2014

      Great points! I also wonder though – since not all black people use the word(s), is it fair to say that black people made it okay? We say we’re not all the same, so should the behavior and choices of some be ascribed to all?

      • blancoa1011
        November 3, 2014

        That’s a great question. I’m one of those old-school people in a young person’s body who uses the collective “we” as we must take social responsibility. We are definitely not all the same – thank God for diversity. But differences do not discount the fact that people of African descent living in the US and making rap music to describe their circumstances in “the hood” have made the use of this word “okay” among people who will never know the sting of the word at the end of the day – especially when it’s written into a housing or employment practice. I know that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We are not just our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, we are our brothers and sisters. And the connection is cross-cultural, transcending time, location and ethnicity.

  • tastytabloid
    October 23, 2014

    Yeaaa, word reclamation is never comfortable. I had a doctor recently refuse to write down “queer,” because she was like, “but that’s offensive! I would never write that!” I’m like, “…but that’s what I identify as…” thinking, “uhh isn’t it offensive to not let me define myself?” But anyway, yea, white people using the n-word is kind of like saying you have a black friend. It really doesn’t matter if one person told you it was ok…even if that person is Lil Wayne, ha.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 23, 2014

      Funny that you mention the word “queer.” I have a difficult time with that word myself. I recognize that, like you, some people identify that way. But, you train yourself not to say certain words, so it’s almost like a “shock” when one of those words escapes your lips, even if it’s “okay.” 🙂

  • rachealizations
    October 22, 2014

    This is a great, thoughtful post! I was actually having a conversation with my 10-year-old the other week about language. While I encourage him to use manners, of course, I also encourage him to speak freely…mostly because I believe strongly in freedom of speech, but I also always want him to feel free to tell me anything. However, even he knows that, in my opinion, there is only one word that is “bad” and utterly off-limits. You can guess which one. And it’s precisely because of what you said–that it was born in cruelty and hatred, and is still often used to make people feel lesser. And I don’t know how that could ever be made into a good thing.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 23, 2014

      I think it’s great that you have these convos with your son! Too many people don’t think to discuss it, unfortunately.

  • jarretr
    October 20, 2014

    This was a great post. I’ve never really been a hip-hop fan, but as a historian of the 19th Century U.S., I’ve spent a good many hours thinking about racial hegemony in all things, including language, which can be empowering and degrading at the same time.

    As a white guy, I obviously don’t use the “n” word outside of an academic context, but I’m still kind of undecided about that word’s role in black political and popular culture. Your post reminded me of this Chris Rock bit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iau-e6HfOg0in) in which he describes the only time white people can use that word. Looks like you experienced that one rare time at the Lil Wayne show.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 21, 2014

      Thanks, Jarret. I totally forgot about the Chris Rock bit. Hilarious. “He’s [the black guy] not here, turn it up!” Lol I’d love to hear his take on going to hip-hop concert and hearing the whole crowd shout the word.

  • Heidi
    October 20, 2014

    I was thinking about this the other day as I sang along with Tupac…. Do I stop listening to it or just accept it? I think supporting those that are ‘conscientious’ hip hop artists might be better, but unless you are into ‘the scene’ you don’t know where to find them. Personally I really miss the Tupac/Biggie style of hiphop from the 90’s and RunDMC/Beastie Boys rap style from the 80’s. I haven’t heard much that is any good recently – then again the radio here only plays Brit shit pop so that doesn’t help. Let me know some artists I should check out.
    I will probably keep listening to the ‘classics’ and will wince when I hear these lyrics. But I think it’s a bit like Michael Jackson – You can like the music without liking the man (he’s a bloody child molester FFS), you just have to separate the two. However, this is often not as easily done for the younger generation… kids these days… sheez.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 21, 2014

      Lol @ “British Shit pop.”

      You might like Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Nas or Common. They are more mainstream rappers who have real stuff to say – mainstream conscious. Plus, Common is hot. 🙂

      The Michael Jackson example reminds me of my conundrum anytime I hear an R. Kelly song I like.

  • wanderingfireflies
    October 19, 2014

    Great piece. I’m also a late Gen-Xer/early Millennial, and I wonder if maybe the “n-word” has a different meaning for us than for the younger generation. I’ve never said that word, and I will never say that word because of its historical associations with hate, fear, and oppression. The younger generation, it’s like they say it without being aware of how it has been used — and how some continue to use it to put African Americans down. How will they know if we do not teach them?

  • teachezwell
    October 17, 2014

    Wow, you covered a lot of ground here. I appreciate your analysis of the issues surrounding hip-hop. If you look at “American” music historically, you’ll see that black musicians paved the way and white boys (like Elvis, among many others) recorded the music as their own. In those days, black singers had very limited access to recordings and publicity. Radio stations and recording studios reflected the Jim Crow era. I personally don’t think it helps anyone to use derogatory language. Sowing bad seeds. Even if the music is contagious, I worry that the meaning will be, too.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 18, 2014

      I have long had mixed feelings about Elvis Presley and his success once I learned more about our (collective American) music history. I could probably write a post on that alone. 🙂

      I also think about the impact language has on impressionable minds. It’s one things for me as an adult to listen to the music. I can easily brush off lyrics, but younger minds are different.

      • teachezwell
        October 18, 2014

        I know. I’m concerned about all the media, not just music. Even tv commercials are beyond PG-13.

  • valerietaglinedesign
    October 17, 2014

    When I want to be edgy, I’ll break out “Black” instead of “African-American.” As usual, your blog is refreshing.

  • andreathompson2
    October 17, 2014

    Excellent piece. Very deep thinking. Loved it.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 18, 2014

      Yay, I’m glad it provoked thought. It certainly did in *my* head! 🙂 Hope you’re having a fun weekend Texas-style weekend!

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