Friday, December 09, 2011
A Young Writer Takes on the "N" Word!!
By Nieema A. Foster
A few months ago, I joined the fascinating and addictive world of Facebook. One of the activities that most interested me while on the site was studying people’s characters and states of mind based on what they write on their status updates. I was not surprised when I saw the “n” word appear, or that explicit rap lyrics were consistently popping up on my live news feed. Completely in touch with the ignorance of the times, I didn’t shake my head in disbelief. I only sighed because by now most individuals are aware of where the “n” word originated.
Being an African American woman with consciousness, I could never accept the “n” word as identification for myself or for any of my close friends. Even when “nigger” was shouted out at me by a car full of white boys while walking home from community college one day, I didn’t allow the word to define or degrade me.
I’ve often heard the argument that variants of the “n” word (nigguhs, niggahs, niccas, and niccer) are all okay to use as long as they are not said or written in the original form “nigger.” Personally, I disagree. I don’t care how you spell it, it’s the SAME word, with the SAME meaning, and it conveys the one and the SAME level of ignorance. The word bothers me to the extent that I will tell young men I speak to that it’s their choice to use the word, but out of respect for me, they are not to use it while conversing with me on the phone, face to face, or otherwise.
About three years ago I went on the Black College Tour where a group of African American students were traveling by bus to different historically Black Colleges. While on the bus, I heard a boy use the “n” word and sought to educate him by stating "Please brother, don’t use this derogatory term because you wouldn’t want to be viewed by society as one, and there are other words you can use.”
So what does he do with the knowledge I am trying to bestow upon him? He decides to be childish and make a song out of the word. Meanwhile, I am sitting in the seat in front of him as he leans his head in closer to me to start repeating it in various tones and accents. The only thing I could think to myself was what a shame that this young man wasn’t even willing to understand the science behind the word or what I was saying to him.
What is even more troubling is my inquiry of black teenage boys and girls as to why the “n” word is acceptable for them to say.
The kids always respond by telling me that “it's a term of endearment” and that since white people used it to degrade black people, we should change the meaning behind it and make it something positive.
Now when I ask them if it is okay for a white person to use the “n” word, they say it is not okay ever.
I don’t hear Italians refer to one another as "wops" or Spanish people calling each other "spiks" or Asians shouting out at each other "chinks." It’s only African Americans who choose to engage in such ignorant behavior.
I’d like to know what would be the harm in calling each other brothers and sisters; maybe that’s too corny for the young and middle-aged generation of African Americans. I’m unsure how there will be hope for black community if we can’t rise out of our chains of slavery. The slave masters were successfully able to create a degrading term that many of us today have come to utter and praise.
My question is why?
Writer Nieema A. Foster is a junior at the University at Albany, SUNY, majoring in journalism, with a minor in Africana Studies. Her "N" word piece was first featured in her community college newspaper, called the "Vignette," published at Nassau Community College. Nieema writes: "Using the power of my pen, I hope one day to travel the world and document the lives and stories of people from different languages and cultures." Stay tuned, as this is a writer who will deliver on her promise!