By Michael Harriot
Every week, NegusWhoRead’s “We Need To Talk About…” column will address a different issue.
Last week Larry Wilmore apparently discovered the secret location where the NAACP buried the word “Nigger,” excavated the grave and reanimated its corpse at the White House Correspondents Dinner. At the end of the evening Obama ended his hilarious monologue with a mic drop (which, I would argue, was the true “Real Nigga Moment” of the evening. Seriously, Obama? Do you know how niggerish a mic drop is? A mic drop is like doing the cabbage patch while eating a piece of fried chicken with Texas Pete hot sauce dripping down your fingers while simultaneously drinking a glass of grape Kool-Aid after high-stepping into the end zone to score a touchdown. It’s niggerish than a motherfucker–and I loved it).
Anyway, after Obama’s touchdown dance, Larry Wilmore ended his uncomfortable roasting of the Washington media elite with the exultation to the President, “We did it my nigga!” Thus reigniting the furious debate over the use of the word and the generational divide over its (in)appropriateness.
I like niggers.
I don’t mean the cop-out spelling “nigga” that we seem to have adopted to separate our self-righteous hypocrisy from the traditional spelling of the word. I mean the one with the “hard R” sound–the same R you turn into an upside-down e when you secretly say “cracker.” I don’t even just mean the word. I mean–I. Love. Niggers.
I don’t believe in the philosophy of niggers versus Black people. The nigger with his pants sagging below his butt is the same kind of unwanted nigger as the Black lawyer in the tailored suit at the law firm trying to make partner. When the uneducated, ebonics-talking cashier at McDonald’s gets the order wrong, they call her the same kind of nigger they call the Black doctor who refuses to fill their Percocet prescription. Don’t try to make a distinction between the two to elevate yourself and denigrate another. Harriet Tubman was called “nigger” with the same inflection they used for Trayvon, and Obama and 2Chainz and every gangbanger in South Central. If you are not a racist, all Black people are Black people. If you are racist, all Black people are niggers. The two do not simultaneously exist in the same universe.
And I love niggers.
I love educated, woke niggers who want to uplift their communities. I love young niggers who pepper their sentences with “muhfucka” and punctuate them with “nahmean.” I love the gentle serenity of beautiful niggers raising their daughters to be women. I love the exultant joy of drunk niggers when they are “spades tight” and holding the Big Joker. I love the defiance of that young nigger Fred Hampton who organized a Black Panthers force so fierce the city of Chicago had to assassinate him at twenty-one years old. I love niggers so so scary and fearless that white juries are willing to believe an 18-year-old nigger will turn around and run toward the Ferguson police officer shooting at him, or a 17-year-old nigger would attack the gun-toting, neighborhood watch kook following him through the neighborhood. I love niggers who upset people watching Super Bowl halftime shows. I love niggers who set pro-black fires on Grammy stages. I love niggers who be’s in the trap. I love niggers who want to protest injustices. I love niggers who tuck their guns in their waistbands and ask if you want them to go handle this shit.
I love niggers, and I will never say “the n-word.” I’m grown, nigga.
I am also intelligent enough to know and understand those who object to the word’s use. To some people the word connotes pain and a historical subtext they want to reject. I realize that there are some places and situations where the word is inappropriate. I wouldn’t say “motherfucker” at a church or in the presence of my grandmother, nor would I use “nigger” around people who I think would be offended. But, as a writer, I hate censorship and never subscribed to the idiotic belief that people who use “foul” language do so because they can’t think of better words. That’s bullshit.
There is no such thing as a “bad word,” everything exists in context. Telling someone that you wrote some “new shit” is far less offensive that having to listen to someone describe a moist, wet, diarrhea-like bowel movement that made the toilet water look like chocolate milk. One of those descriptions contained a “bad word” and sometimes the “bad word” is the perfect word. I don’t believe a simple word can damn or hurt anyone–it is the context in which it is used. I don’t curse people, but I do cuss.
Nigger is like that. Nigger is a knife–either a weapon or a tool. It is dependent on the context of its use. If you are familiar with my writing, then you know I wholeheartedly believe the current backlash against the term is fueled by an undercurrent of white people’s frustration that they can’t use the word freely. Every time this topic arises, there is always a follow-up question from the bold white guy who wants to know why he can’t say it, but we can. As eloquent as I like to pretend I am, in making this argument I have refined my response to the essence of simplicity:
Because there is no other word like it. Because in the history of the white-people-run world, I know there are very few things you don’t get to do, but this is one of them. Because nothing is “like nigger”–faggot is not nigger to gay people, nor is midget like nigger for little people. Because you know the history and connotation the word inspires, so if you say it, you’re saying it just for malice or spite. Because we can and you can’t. Because you look like someone who said it as they whipped my great-grandfather. Because you already have a BFF and a bro and a dude, so let me have my nigga. Because it is ours.
I’ve had conversations with elders who ask me not to use the word around them, and I don’t. I know there are differences of opinion and I choose to use the word, and am not ashamed of it. It is not just split along generational lines. My aunt Jannie is in her 70’s, speaks with that old school, church announcements eloquence, has dedicated her life to preserving Black history and culture and she will often point out a “trifling nigger.” Yes, she pronounces the “R.” Yet she would never utter the word publicly or around her younger pastor.
Nigger is just like the crucifix. I could never understand why Christians hold dear the constant symbol of torture and death. It’s like John F Kennedy’s son wearing a rifle pendant on his neck. Perhaps the cross reminds them of the eternal hope and strength that past pain gives them. It possibly symbolizes the lost life that gives them strength. Maybe they took one of the tools used to hurt and destroy them and turned it into their own personal emblem. Some people want to drag it in front of Black people’s houses and set it on fire. Others want to use it to reach out to others.
Ultimately, the word may never die. Although it may become extinct in circles of respectability, academia and neo-liberals, it may live long on the tongues of those unbridled by free thought, boldness or simply not-giving-a-fuck. Bury the word if you must, but it will rise again. It might just be unkillable…
Just like niggers.