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…