Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How do we feel about the use of the “N” word today?

By today’s Urban Chameleon contributor

Editor-in-chief of HOTUC


What began as casual dinner conversation the other night soon turned into a round table debate on whether or whether not the “N” word should be apart of our vocabulary.

One minute a group of about six of us were laughing, choppin’ it up when someone coolly used the “N” word and the next thing you know another person reacted, “GOD I HATE THAT WORD!”

The person who used the word told him to get over it and stop with the “Black consciousness” as if to say that that fad got played out in the late 90’s.

The “Black Conscious” brotha was then put in the spotlight to defend his position, a position most of us are well to familiar with and even still agree with, which is that the word stems from hate, a derogatory term used to keep Black people down.

A counter argument was made by another, a Latino guy at the table, “Why not change the meaning of the word and take the power out of it?” which is the same point I heard Jay Z make on Oprah just a few days later. Oprah said that she and J would have to agree to disagree, as she could not change her hurtful past relationship with the word.

In thinking more about the suggested solution I can’t help but to wonder if changing the meaning of the word just disguises the negative effect of its origin, which is that we were called the “N” word so much that we eventually began to call ourselves the name in some situations to even assume approval from the slave master and to put down our own kind. I call this slave residue- more on that another time. By changing the meaning of the word will there be rules that apply? For instance does everyone now get to use the word? Because if not that means power still exists in the word…and are we ready for that trade off?

A friend of mine who despises the word in a different conversation brought up the point, “Would Jay Z refer to Barack as his Nigga?” She didn’t think so. Therefore what does that say about how Jay Z looks at his fellow brethrens? Another friend countered this point by mentioning that 1) the term is usually used in the setting of familiarity and 2) more importantly, Barack does not come from that culture. This I thought was a great point as we often assume a person is suppose to behave a certain way based on skin color rather than perspective/ culture as I have Asian and Latino friends (from the culture) who use the word and my reaction is the same as listening to a Jay Z album, immune.

Although I personally choose not to use the word despite growing up in the same culture for my two very proud Black conscious parents who share Oprah’s generation would have had my head. I do however recognize that some of my fellow Urban Chameleon brethrens and sistrens—chameleon back and forth with their use of the word from corporate to ‘hood and do I mind? Honestly no. Because these are Urban Chameleons who like Jay Z know that they are not niggas. What I do mind is that not enough people in the ‘hood who use the word know this.

The problem with trying to redefine the word as something else is that this only works for people informed in the first place and then you have the problem of this being an open invitation for other cultures to eventually use the word (if not already)… and let’s be real the “N” word is too complex for rules. If everyone is not operating with the same level of understanding it leaves too much room for misinterpretation and may just perpetuate a problem that was never fixed.

Have your Urban Chameleon story featured by e-mailing

Click here for: How the Urban Chameleon Came to be

1 comment:

  1. I wonder why is it that pushing someone to think about saying the word cause such various emotions is considered such a negative to some people. I think it's sad that the other guy, "Black Conscious Brotha" who broached the subject was forced to be on the defensive with regards to the N-word.

    I'm with you on this one tho, I think re-defining the word negates the history of the word and sets us up as a society to ultimately rewrite history. Since we're already aware of revisionist history on behalf of various dominant power structures in US, I would hope we wouldn't go down that slippery slope just for the sake of not thinking too hard and dealing with the hard question.