the n-word (or “Nigga, Nigger, Nigguh”)

This is an article by Divinity Barkley, a student out at USC and a friend of a friend from UW-Madison. In my next few posts my reasons for posting this may come to light, but in the mean time, it’s profound and well worth your time to read- no matter what your color. So here’s Divinity’s “Nigga, Nigger, Nigguh”:

I’m currently writing a 60 page thesis on the Politics of Naming. The paper focuses on Group Naming (i.e. the Black vs African American debate), the history of naming during and after slavery, the significance of naming in West African culture, naming practices and rituals on the African continent, the use of racial epithets (specifically the recent use of “coon” and the n-word among African American youth), and the rejection of the slave name by high-profile African Americans like El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Kwame Toure, Amiri Baraka, Assata Shakur, Muhammad Ali, Molefi Kete Asante, etc. I will also be focusing on name discrimination and the relevance of black sounding or what some scholars are calling “ghettoized” names. Lastly, I am arguing that Afrocentricism is a viable political philosophy that speaks directly to the needs of the African American community.

My thesis is arguing that African Americans must take ownership over naming and self-identification in order to (1) restore cultural integrity, (2) achieve group solidarity, and (3) claim political power.

So, I am about halfway done with the paper, which is due in late April, and I have just started the section that focuses on the n-word and am finding it difficult to write. Among my many sources, I just finished reading Harvard Prof. Randall Kennedy’s book entitled “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.” In the first chapter, Kennedy lists several jokes taken from a white supremacist website named KKKomedy Central. Here are a few of the “jokes”

Q: What do you call a nigger boy riding a bike?
A: Thief!

Q: Why do niggers wear high-heeled shoes?
A: So their knuckles won’t scrape the ground!

Q: What did God say when he made the first nigger?
A: Oh, shit!

Q: What do niggers and sperm have in common?
A: Only one in 2 million works!

Q: What’s the difference between a pothole and a nigger?
A: You’d swerve to avoid a pothole, wouldn’t you?

Q: How do you get a nigger to commit suicide?
A: Toss a bucket of KFC into traffic.

Q: How do you stop five niggers from raping a white woman?
A: Throw them a basketball.

**please note: this is not some historic website. this shit is up and running right now**

Prior to writing this paper, I was on the fence about the n-word. I was one of those people who said WE can say it, but I’ll fuck a white person up if they say it. I just learned that Agatha Christie’s play “And Then There Were None” which I had a lead role for when I was in 8th grade at McKinley Middle School was originally titled Ten Little Niggers. That fucked with my head. After my research, I have done some reflection and decided that I will not use this word to describe or address other people and I do not want it used to describe me by anyone, regardless of their race.

To those black people who say that we can take back the power of this word by using it internally, I would challenge you to really ask yourself if you can ever render this hateful word powerless. Even if you greet 10 million black people as the n-word, let a white person say that word, we be ready to lose our gotdamn minds. Aside from the fact that this logic promotes embracing a term that has and is still being used to denigrate our people, it will never cease to be a contemptuous word. I don’t care if you pronounce it with an “er” or an “a” at the end. Furthermore, alot of black people at USC that I hear use the word often are not using it to express “affection” for other black people; rather, they use it disparagingly.

For the record, I also object to black people referring to other black people as “coons” or describing the way someone acts as “coonin.” Certainly, we must be educated enough to know the history of this term and to still be degrading each other with these hateful terms in the 21st Century at an institution as prestigious as USC is simply ridiculous. I do not think that this note will stop anyone from using the word, but my hope is that it will stop you from referring to me as a nigger, nigga, or nigguh. If you do refer to me as that word in my presence, odds are that I will let out the repressed angry black woman inside of me and whoop yo ass. I don’t care what “race” you are. Divinity is a lot of things but I aint nobody’s n*****.

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