The usage of the N-Word

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Photo courtesy of Tiffany James

Tiffany James, Staff Writer

The words “Negro,” “nigger,” and “nigga” have always been a sensitive topic, yet it is one that needs to be addressed considering the more common use of its vernacular language on college campuses today.

Body gestures, for example, a nodding of the head or a halfhearted handshake followed by “what’s up” or “ how are you doing” is what you expect to hear as you walk through the halls of a college campus. However, I am constantly catching whiplash when I hear the N-Word being used candidly and with negligence by African-American students on campus.

I ask myself, why do African-American college students use the word “nigga,” as I try to remember the reasons I used it when I was younger? Do they know that being a “nigger,” or “nigga,” disqualified them from attending college at one point in history, since blacks were forbidden to read or write? 

They either have forgotten or do not realize the destruction behind this racial slur — that it has simply become another by-word rooted in ignorance. 

Ignorance is the state of being uneducated, unaware, or uniformed. There is an old saying, “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you.” But I contend that what you don’t know can stifle you from moving ahead. There are so many young African-Americans walking in ignorance to the history of their race.

For example, when I was growing up, my attentive parents often took opportunities to teach me about black history and encouraged me not to sit on the back of a public transportation bus. Their ideology came from the idea that there were many who fought for, were imprisoned for, and even died for my right to sit anywhere on a public bus. However, I consistently watched as my African-American friends immediately flocked to the back of a bus.

Again, I used to mentally ask myself, “Do they not know their history?” If they did, did they not value the costly sacrifices that were made for them before they were ever born?

 I concluded after years of observing many of their wild and rude behaviors on the back of the bus that they had not fully comprehended the ransom paid for the privilege to sit anywhere on the bus, and to be viewed as a respected citizen despite the color of their skin. 

Not knowing our history, in my opinion, hinders us in our efforts to know what we can do despite the adversity we endured and still endure today because of the color of our skin. It also keeps us walking in ignorance about so many important facts, including that there were whites who didn’t agree with the brutal treatment of people of color. I know many African-Americans believe all whites were prejudiced and never did anything to help, and to this day won’t take help from whites because of this false belief. 

I have also been a victim of ignorance with regard to the word “nigga.” Since it had become widely and socially acceptable in the black culture, I used that as an excuse for my use of the word when I was younger. The word “nigga” was used by African-Americans on sitcoms, stand-up comedy shows, music videos, and among my peers. 

It wasn’t until I watched a documentary about the words “nigger” and “nigga” that I gained a true understanding of its derogatory meaning. I vowed never to use that word again, even though I must admit it was hard at first because it had become a common use of my vernacular. 

There are African-Americans who claim the word “nigga” is different from “nigger” in a sense that it is a label they gave themselves to build a private community among one another and as a sign of endearment. It has become a cultural identity, which is accepted by many African-Americans today. 

A college degree does not change what many people outside that private community think when the N-Word is used — it still implies thuggish, ghetto, ignorant, violent, dangerous, and black.  Then, we as African-Americans have the nerve to be resentful when someone of another race is comfortable using the word “nigga” in the same context we do to one another. This confirms that the word itself carries a negative connotation — if not, there would be no controversy when a white person uses it.

 It is not clear how the N-Word came to be, but Lerone Bennett Jr., senior editor of Ebony magazine notes that Americans of African descent have been arguing about names ever since they were forcibly transported from Africa by Europeans who arbitrarily branded them “Blackamoors,” “Moors,” “negers,” and “negros.” 

No matter what the origin, one fact is clear: this word was used as a weapon to destroy and kill the mind and spirit of a race, which has become the self-fulfilling prophecy for many African-Americans today.

Therefore, we should be embarrassed when we allow these words to be used in the world of academics. Perhaps, if our elementary public education system would have taught the ugly truth concerning the N-Word, maybe its usage would have never graduated to the college grounds.

 I know it is too ugly to look at, but we must be brave enough to stare into the face of this ugliness and boycott the usage of the N-Word on college campuses. 

As a community — professors, staff and students alike have a responsibility to educate and to ensure that the elimination does indeed take place. We can no longer blame ignorance when we are part of a community that promotes knowledge. 

It may be that we just need courage.