If Hip-Hop Is Dead, Why is The N-Word Still Kicking?

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Warning: Uncensored language in this post.

Grabbing lunch one day in my work cafeteria, I requested a bacon cheeseburger.

“Sorry,” the guy behind the counter said, “no swine.”

I nodded, but must have had a quizzical look on my face because he then asked me if I knew what swine was. I told him that I did and he asked me why I looked puzzled. I told him that saying “swine” for “bacon” is kind of like sayng “negro” for “black” – it’s correct, but that is not the word we are accustomed to hearing.

As I compared the terms, the counter guy paused.

“I’m not black, I’m a nigga.” He said.

The other two black guys around him (one behind the counter with him, the other waiting on a sandwich like I was) chuckled.

“That’s nigga, n-i-g-g-a, not er,” the other guy behind the counter clarified.

I didn’t know what to say, so I said thank you, took my swineless burger, and went back upstairs to my office.

That was last week. (Incidentally, the same week I found myself browsing a recent issue of Vibe at the newsstand and saw Mary J. Blige self-identify the same way.) I’m still thinking about why a person would reject the word black and self-identify as a nigga. (No “er” for those of y’all keeping track.)

Are we supposed to be reclaiming this word, in the vein of “queer” and “cunt?”

I have heard that argument before but I don’t quite buy into it, especially as the word still has race based negative connotations.

Carmen pointed me toward this facebook group earlier in the week. The group’s manifesto explains:

Fuck mainland guys u made beautiful educated HK pipo shameful. We are different from this disgrace peices of shits, here i clarify that these niggers are not a part of us, although they are our brothers, we dont wanna accept this brainless guys. Sometimes I see some of these retards i just wanna put my fist in their face and fuck these guys up man fuck!

[...]

I’ve even saw some nigger Mainlanders steal ketup in Mcdonalds so they dont have to buy, fuck U!! Shame on you and ur family for 5 generations…..

In her email to me, Carmen explains:

To me clearly they do it because that’s the worst possible insult they could come up with: they’re all chinese, so saying “chink” doesn’t cut it. But by relating them to blackness and using the n-word, it’s the ultimate insult.

(For those of you who erroneously think that the word nigger did not originally have racial connotations, Jabari Asim has a book for you.)

And then came the Grammy awards, with Nas and Kelis promoting an album by pretending to make a social statement (thanks Tawra for the video):

SOHH took the time to transcribe some of the comments:

“It’s all the experiences we go through every day — all ethnicities, black white, indifferent,” Nas told the CNN reporter. “We’ve all been discriminated at some point whether it’s in the Dominican Republic, whether it’s China, whether it’s Iraq where soldiers get their heads blown off for reasons we don’t know why. The meaning of the word is supposed to be ignorant, so there is money being made off us poor so-called ignorant people, no longer are black people n*ggers, today it’s also me and you.”

Appearing dumbfounded by Nas’ response, the reporter attempted to recoup by asking him about Hip-Hop Is Dead, which received a nomination for Best Rap Album, however Nas quickly made it clear that he’s tired of talking about the subject.

“That was last year, that’s been done, I appreciate all the response I got from that,” Nas said. “This is a whole other channel. That train has left the station, now I want people to think about what I’m thinking about today. There is a more current issue, with the presidential election — there is this thing that doesn’t allow black people to vote in another twenty-three years.”

Despite his emphasis on the election, Nas was careful not to make any public endorsements last night.

When asked which candidate he supports, Nas told the reporter, “Whoever can abolish this thing that doesn’t allow black people to vote after twenty three years.”

The Queens rapper isn’t the only outspoken artist in the family either, after the interview concluded, his wife, the R&B star Kelis had a few more words for the reporter.

“By the way, John Lennon had a song called ‘Woman Is The n*gger of the World’” Kelis added. “That was many years ago [and] it still hasn’t changed.”

(Pssst…Kelis. You know that song you mentioned? The one with the indifferent person involved in that, named Yoko Ono? There’s some context for that title, you know…)

The Average Bro weighed in this morning, discussing the facts behind some of the ideas spouted by Nas on the red carpet:

Uh, Earth to Nasir Jones: The Voting Rights Act is a permanent federal law, which allows the right for everyone to vote, regardless of race. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 which covers some minor pre-clearance requirement of Section 5, the authority to use federal observers, and some of the statute’s language was extended last year. I suppose it’s never too early to start worrying about it being renewed in 24 more years (not exactly the 23 noted here), but in the grand scheme of things, if that’s the biggest of your problems, then clearly you’re doing a lot better than the rest of us.

[...]

Talk about Barbershop K-Nowledge at it’s worst. Damn.

Personally, I’m still stuck on “The meaning of the word is supposed to be ignorant, so there is money being made off us poor so-called ignorant people, no longer are black people n*ggers, today it’s also me and you.”

I’m still not buying the “we’re all niggers” update to “we are the world.” I am not saying that someone somewhere can’t make an argument for why we need to reappropriate that term and embrace it as our own.

But to me, it appears that words and actions of Nas, Mary J, and the guy behind my lunch counter all make a very compelling argument for the dangers of internalizing hatespeak.