Tag Archives: language

When to Confront a Stranger: A Question of Authority

by Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem

The odd thing about the word “nigger” for me is that as much debate as I’ve heard about the term, my exposure to it in adulthood is fairly limited. I grew up in the Chicago area in a mostly African American family, but a few of my black relatives, all transplants from the South, insisted on complaining about “no-good niggers” and such, despite the fact that I took issue with their use of the word.

Now, as a grown woman who lives far from family and far from the inner-city (the other place where I’ve often heard the word spoken), I’m most likely to hear “nigger” in a rap song or a film than I am in person. That’s why during a recent visit to a Target in an L.A. neighborhood where the upwardly mobile clientele likely dub the store “Tar-zhay,” I froze when I heard a voice cry out, “It’s over there, nigger!”

After stopping in my tracks, two things struck me: the voice belonged to a female and the female in question was probably not black. Continue reading

Still on the Fence About Nas’ New Album

by Latoya Peterson

Skimming through the MTV newsfeed, I saw an interesting item that sheds a little more light on the ideas and concept of Nigger.

MTV explains:

We’ve heard him rap from the perspective of a gun that has been used in several homicides. He’s rapped from the perspective of a kid on a project bench. And on his upcoming album, Nigger, he’s at it again, reciting lyrics from the viewpoint of an insect. One of the standout cuts he previewed for MTV News on Tuesday is called “Project Roach.”

“A roach is what I am, fool/ The ghetto is my land, fool,” he raps on the track, which was produced by No I.D.

“I get to thinking about how we evolved, how the human family evolved and sh–,” Nas said Tuesday from Jimmy Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios. “And I looked at ants, man. One day, I was looking at a bunch of ants. We’ve got a lot in common — just like everything that’s alive, everything that eats and breathes and builds and creates. There’s a connection to even the smallest thing. So I looked at it as the whole world, instead of looking at us as beauty. Inside poverty, inside the street, inside the ghettos and the gutters and the slums, we aren’t looked at as beauty out there. We were looked at as the worst pest, and because of that, because of that treatment, some of us started to believe we were a pest, started to believe what we were told, and started to act like it, and started to reproduce my people, bring kids in the world that were f—ed up in the head.

Continue reading

Body Language: How Nicknames Objectify Minority Women And Why I Don’t Care “How You Meant It”

by Guest Contributor Alex Alvarez, originally posted on Guanabee

Associate Editor Alex Alvarez takes a look at how nicknames among minorities work to keep a good gordita down and why you, shorty, shouldn’t take it anymore.

Words, in and of themselves, are without power. Their potency comes from the relationship between the speaker and the listener. As any woman who has walked by a construction site will tell you, “Hello beautiful” is different coming from a strange man whispering in your ear than from your mother. It’s through these relationships that words can becomes tools, bridges, weapons or any other sort of melodramatic metaphor you want to use. If relationships are defined by power —who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it and who is in the position to bestow it—language, then, is a means of both establishing power in relationships and also of demolishing and subverting it. A “thanks, beautiful” aimed right back at a strange man is surprisingly effective.

While writing my response a few weeks ago to an article in “San Francisco Weekly” that “roughly” and incorrectly translates the Spanish word “negro” to the English word “nigger,” I realized most of the Guanabee readership already understands the nuances that appear in, yes derogatory, but complicated Spanish-language labels. And the same could be said for other ethnic minorities, (or at least the pockets of them that are represented in popular culture and media), who use certain pet names and phrases wrought with prejudice, but excuse them with a flippant, “This is how we are. And, besides, we don’t mean any harm by it.”

But “this is how we are” is not an excuse. Why? Well. It’s not how I am. So it’s not how we are. Adaptation is possible. It just takes effort and exposure to different ways of thinking, even if I have to drill it into you during family holiday get-togethers. It is not enough for us to merely explain — and thus, on some level, excuse — the differences between Anglo and Latino, or Black and White, or any other minority versus majority as they relate to potentially hateful speech. Instead, let’s take a look at why these differences exist and what, exactly, they result in accomplishing, based on history and cultural context. What does a language say about the people who speak it? And vice-versa? Let’s find out! Hokay? Hokay.

But, um, first: A preface of sorts. It’s important I make it known that I don’t feel I’m qualified to write about slang and language as it pertains to anyone who is not Latino or Anglo. As I alluded to above, anything I would have to say about the experience of any other group would be merely observational and the result of a sort of clinical detachment. It’s not my experience. I can’t offer anything except, “Well, from what I observe… this seems to mean this. And isn’t that interesting?” But it is interesting. And it is important to discuss these observations. So, that said, do let’s continue:

Such A Colorful People, No?: Nicknames Based On Appearance

Many terms of endearment in Spanish are based on appearance. “Cute” little nicknames like morenita, negrita and güerita abound. The diminutive “ita,” as it’s used here, translates to “little,” therefore effectively rendering it’s object to be both small and, presumbably, a possession belonging to the speaker. Continue reading

The Implications of “Note to White People”

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse, originally published at The Coup Magazine (blog)

In light of Reverend Wright’s speech, which you can view in full via the post below, Washington Post guest columnist Jacques Berlinerblau, the program director and associate professor of Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., wrote an article entitled “Note to White People,” in which he discusses the meaning, or lack thereof, behind Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s recent comments. He notes the following in response to Barack Obama’s mentioning that “Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear”:

I was critical of Obama’s speech but it strikes me that this point, in and of itself, is true. Things are often said in African-American oratorical contexts—sometimes the most lyrical, provocative and over-the-top things—which are rarely intended to be marching orders. Those who hear these things may indeed be dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting, but they are acutely aware that they are not hearing fighting words.

Berlinerblau goes on to discuss his initial shock and discomfort at a meeting of racial Afrocentrists during a research project on African-American oratory with relation to intense and incensing speech used by the group leaders, only to be comforted by a friend who explained that their oratorical styles greatly differed from those in conventional (read: white) environments. In addition Berlinerblau asserts that while he recognizes that many black leaders may say things that could be interpreted as dangerous by the outside public, in the end, they are “just talking.”

While the columnist assures his readers at the end that he is not on a mission to dismiss the power of speech in the hands of black orators, nor is he implying that black leaders’ suggestions and calls for unity fall on deaf ears (he cites the highly successful community outreach performed by the Trinity Church congregation as evidence to the contrary), it is difficult not to come away from this article feeling a little raw for several reasons:

1) It speaks in general terms with relation to public speaking and presentations administered by African-Americans.

2) Despite its best efforts to show otherwise, it trivializes black speech and, in turn,

3) insults the intelligence of the black audience (by, in some ways, implying that while we may hear commands or assertions we should put to use, we ignore them or simply dismiss them in our own way of acting out #2 in this list). Continue reading

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.) Continue reading

Anderson Cooper 360: The Asian American Vote

by guest contributor Jenn Fang, originally published at Reappropriate

On Friday night I just happened to turn CNN on, and heard something I really though I would never have heard before. Anderson Cooper was telling his viewers to stick around for a segment on (gasp!) “The Asian American Vote”. We exist!

I dutifully waited about a half-hour for this segment, which turned out to be a short, two-minute piece by CNN reporter Gary Tuchman. After Cooper gave us a quick background about the California exit polls that revealed Asian Americans supported Clinton by a three-to-one margin, Tuchman was sent to Seattle Chinatown to interview Real Live Asians ™.

Let me get it straight: I’m delighted to see even a few minutes dedicated to trying to understand our community. But that doesn’t mean I really liked this segment.

Tuchman went to a local Chinese grocery store and asked the staff and customers who they voted for. Inexplicably, every single person interviewed had a thick Asian accent, and every single one chose Clinton (or in the case of one child, “Lincoln”).

Tuchman asked the interviewees why they chose Clinton, but seemed to edit out their answers. One person mentioned Bill Clinton’s experience, another alluded to Clinton being more qualified. A professor at the University of Washington suggested that Clinton’s name recognition and message of returning to the first Clinton administration appealed to immigrants, whereas Obama’s message of change will fail to resonate with immigrants (sounds a lot like what’s been said in the blogosphere already, including what I covered in my own post: “What Happened to the Asian American Vote“). However, overall, either a language barrier or apathy on Tuchman’s part left the segment scant on explanations as to why the APIA vote leans so heavily towards Clinton.

Tuchman did interview a fourth-generation Japanese American who supports Obama, but he was depicted as a minority, noting that other Japanese Americans are afraid to vote for a change from the status quo.

But what was most clear to me was that this segment was a half-assed fluff piece by a disinterested reporter. When Anderson Cooper asked for more details from Tuchman following airing of the piece, Tuchman launched into a description of the size of Obama’s rally compared to Clinton’s rally. No, not about Asian Americans — the focus of his segment. No, he talked about the size of the rallies. As if he really couldn’t give less of a shit as to why Asian Americans support Clinton.

So, I guess we exist. Sorta.

Forget Spanglish! The New Wave is the ‘Japoñol’

by guest contributor Laura Martinez, originally published at mi blog es tu blog

I love, love these guys.

Peruvian reggaetón trio Los Kalibre is making the Japanese shake their butts with catchy songs and lyrics mixing Spanish and Japanese in what the media is already calling Japoñol. The Peru-born recent Japan immigrants are convinced the Japanese will embrace their music and dump the salsa rhythms, simply because reggaetón it’s easier to dance… and to sing. (Really, how difficult is it to learn the lyrics of Gasolina?)

According to Lando, Dando and Nani, their music gets an inspiration from Rafael, Celia Cruz, Nino Bravo and José Feliciano; the trick, they say, is to mix both languages (Spanish and Japanese) and inventing new forms and verbs. ¡Que Viva el Japoñol!

White Authors, Ethnic Characters

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to give my overly analytical brain a break and delve into some light reading.

I love to read, and as a result of being willing to read anything and everything, I have picked up a few interesting habits.

Case in point being my affinity for paranormal romance novels. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I love reading about the exploits of women with supernatural powers. After blowing through most of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the OtherWorld Series, and waiting on the library to stock Kim Harrison’s For a Few Demons More, I was drawn to pick up MaryJanice Davidson’s work.

A bit fluffier (and more in line with the typical romance novel) than I am used to, I picked up the first few novels while smirking at the ditzy Valley Girl Vampire Queen Heroine. I was amused for three books, but was brought up short at the fourth. In fourth friend, the protagonist’s token black friend is riding in a car, and instigating a coversation about the n-word, much to the chagrin of the other white characters in the car.

“It’s just a word, I’m past it…” says the black character, before turning to a white character and saying, “You can call me it just once.” The white character stutters on the page.

I take a break from reading. I flip to the back flap to check out the author’s photo. Yup, just as I suspected…white. I continued reading the book to see how the situation was handled. Luckily, the conversation was dropped in favor of other pressing matters – like staking the undead.

Still, I felt a little shaken by the exchange. Can an author realistically portray someone of another ethnicity?

As a writer, I would say I hope so. Having cut my teeth working on short stories and screenplays (non-fiction writing didn’t happen until recently), my stories do not work in a mono-racial bubble. Some of my characters are black, some are Americanized Latino, some are mixed race-Asian, some are white…the character’s racial background and physical characteristics are chosen with care. The images that are afloat in my mind become realized on the page in the form they shaped. It is almost as if I do not choose a character’s ethnicity – it is simply there, one small part of the overall character. And while I do occasionally assign racial characteristics to my characters for social commentary purposes (i.e. the token white character in my screenplay, office friend to my two protagonists, largely serving as the sidekick/comic relief), for the most part, I let the story unfold as it will. Continue reading