So, the other night I attended a program entitled “The Color of Language” sponsored by the UGA Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. In this program, they discussed the usage of the word “nigger”, along with “nigga” and what it meant for our society. As expected, common questions that arose were the following:
1. Should we use the word “nigger” or “nigga”?
2. Is there a difference between the two words? If so, how is there a difference and what makes it that way?
3. When, if ever, is it okay for a white person to say “nigger” or “nigga”?
One of the themes that came from this discussion was the idea that we give the word too much power in our society and that we can determine if it is truly negative or not. One of the panelists followed with an explanation that fits this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
However, the moderator followed by asking, how do we give a word too much power, or too much meaning; especially a word that is a charged as the word “nigger”? And, do we (people of color) really have the social power necessary to change the meaning of the word? Are we truly reclaiming the word when we use it over and over again in our communities or do we make it seem that it’s okay for us to be called that by whites (and others) because we call ourselves that? This situation was likened to the gay community “reclaiming” the word “queer” or how some women have decided to “reclaim” the words “bitch”, “slut”, and “whore”.
At any rate, as the discussion continued, the theme shifted and it was said that the problem lies in education and that there is a generational battle taking place. We are not adequately educating our children about the history and what the word means and how it has been used in the past. Also, there is a battle taking place between the Civil Rights generation and the Hip Hop generation. Each generation is trying prove that their way of handling business is better and more profitable for our people.
I believe that the problem is this: there hasn’t been enough sharing and dialoguing taking place between the Civil Rights generation and our Hip Hop generation. Therefore, we don’t have as sufficient understanding of what took place during the Civil Rights Movement as we should have and we’re trying to find our own place without knowing our history. As Marcus Garvey has said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
All that said, I’ve been thinking for the past few days about what the cause will be for our generation. What will we be known for? Will we address poverty issues? What about AIDS in our community? Or how about social injustice against race, gender, class, ages, disabilities, and religions? What about educational inequality? Health care reform? Social security? The list goes on and on…
While I was at UNC, I had the privilege of being able to serve as the president of the Black Student Movement. While in that role, I recall having a similar discussions with others about what causes our generation would take up. While I do believe that we will be strong and stand for something, I’m not sure what it will be. Sometimes I like to think that our generation is one of preparation. We’re on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement and we’re still trying to figure out what our cause is. We’re not sure who our leaders are. And we’re not certain how we’ll go about addressing the issues. But we’ll figure it out, and be able to adequately prepare and equip our children for the next movement.
And then there are times like this where I’m reminded that at the forefront of every mass movement has been young people. I know that we’re young and capable. But are we ready?
Post your thoughts…
Oh yeah…this poem fully captures the essence of what I’m talking about…
October 23, 2006 at 12:18 am
I think about this same issue quite often. But, I feel like we’re living the answer right now. It’s essentially what Rell said on my blog when I was searching for a purpose for our generation. And, God is preparing our hearts for something “historic” in the future. Something is gonna happen. And, we’re gonna be ready because we’re being molded now. The fact that you’re asking this question is evidence that you’re ready to answer it. And that’ll be half the battle in the future.
October 23, 2006 at 5:29 pm
We don’t have the social power to CHANGE the historical meaning of the words nigger and nigga. No one does. But I do believe we give words too much power.
October 23, 2006 at 5:48 pm
KB, you’re such an optimist. I think that I needed that little bit of encouragement. Thanks 🙂
Gene, I agree with that. One thing that I left out of this blog, and that I may go back and edit is that when blacks (or other people of color) use racial/ethnic slurs towards whites, the implications are not the same. And how do you feel that we give words too much power
October 24, 2006 at 10:23 pm
I mean the fact that we invest energy getting mad at someone because they called us nigger. Or that kids get in fights for talking about each others mothers. No ones FICTIONAL words should discombobulate you on that level.
October 25, 2006 at 1:11 am
facebook, myspace and texting
October 25, 2006 at 1:15 am
our generation is tight
but it’s just different from all those other ones
we do great things everyday
it’s just not praised like it used to be
October 25, 2006 at 5:22 pm
Very interesting Erin. I appreciate you sharing your personal story about this issue. And thanks for reading the ybp guide!
October 25, 2006 at 6:22 pm
I’m with you Rell. Our technological advancements have revolutionized the whole world – from healthcare (computers are literally saving lives) to communication (people are getting pertinent information in seconds where as it used to take months) to business (you can invest online and become rich with online shops) to education (people are getting bachelor’s, master’s AND Ph.D’s from their living rooms) to ministry (biblegateway.com and online podcasts), etc.
Folks our age are coming up with things for computers to do that we couldn’t even think of four years ago. I don’t think I’ve seen Rell since KB’s wedding and I talk to that dude more than I talk to the woman who sits RIGHT ACROSS FROM ME! That might not seem significant to some, but taking communication to the next level has completely taken our whole society to the next level because its allowed us to do so much more.
And folks always like to talk about the bad, but black folks are richer, more educated and more powerful than they have ever been in American history! Fact.
There is education inequality, but there are also more black studies, latino studies, asian studies, women’s studies, etc. departments now than there have ever been. Hip Hop is producing some garbage, but its also producing some insight comparable to and perhaps exceeding the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance.
I could go on and on and on, but things are getting better. Yes there are some serious ills in our world, but I feel blessed to be alive in this generation and to be a part of it and am excited about what God is going to do in the future.