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Re: “Dr. Laura looks N-word and finds an idiot

Imagine if Mr. Rogers began his show off with the song, won’t you be mine, won’t you be mine, please won’t you be my nigga. He would have been the recipient of a severe backlash that would have had his show off the air in 24 days rather than the 24 years he was on the air in the US (1967-2001). This is partly because the word “nigga” in American vernacular, that goes back several centuries, was originally used exclusively in a derogatory sense to denigrate, psychologically subjugate, and to mentally scar the individual identities of blacks in the United States by white aggressors. It was a word that the European settlers used to dehumanize, demoralize and weaken the spirits of defenseless Africans and their slave families. The word continued to be publicly used after Emancipation, and during the civil rights period in the 20th Century it was popular with Southern Democrats. George Wallace publicly used it as he campaigned on the segregation ticket when he was elected governor of Alabama in 1966.
It was not until the 1970s that whites publicly diminished the use of that word as the political will of the country was telling us that the word “nigga” was unacceptable in any context. Nearly 370 years later the word became unacceptable and offensive in public speech. A successful effort to remove that word from our imaginations took form, but did it?
The word “nigga” not only has never left our vocabulary, but it is becoming increasingly popular in recent years. In addition, other racial denigrations have become popular in mainstream speech. For example, Shaquille O’Neal, the center for the Los Angeles Lakers said, “tell Yao Ming, ching, chinh chong” when asked about playing against him in an upcoming game. Although many from the Asian community were offended, Shaquille O’Neal did not suffer a serious backlash and his endorsement deals were never in jeopardy (Nestle, Burger King, Swatch Watch, Radio Shack, etc). The word “chink” has appeared on T-shirts, and “white boys” has replaced the 1970s word “honky” for white Americans. Maxine Waters, black Congresswoman and Donna Brazile, black Democratic Strategists have both publicly used the word “white boys” with absolutely zero backlash. Waters once said, “I don’t see them slamming young white boys on the hoods of police cars” when referring to a questionable use of force by an Inglewood Police officer in Los Angeles County during 2002.
But for non-blacks using the word “nigga,” one can expect a certain level of backlash regardless of the contexts. Ironically though, elements of our popular culture are bombarded with the word “nigga” everyday and there is no doubt that the word has not escaped the vocabulary of blacks, young and old, from the inner cities to the ivory towers, among the underclass and elite. In what context do blacks use this word today, and do their justifications of the use of the word create a double standard where non-blacks are vilified when the word “slips” from their mouths? How and why has the word become socially acceptable among blacks? Brandi Polk, undergraduate at California State University, Los Angeles said, “blacks should be the only ones that can say that word,” and this view, extremely popular among blacks, has created for others a double standard. If the word is highly distasteful and unpleasant, some believe (mostly non-blacks); the word should not be used by anyone, especially in public settings. Let’s examine the popular uses of the word “nigga” among blacks today.
Common Uses
The most common use of the word “nigga” is the “term of endearment” a shout out, a greeting to a fellow brother. Sit on the 4, 5, or 6 trains heading uptown, and after you pass 96th Street you might hear a young lad on the train say to a friend, “Hey what’s up my nigga.” This is said among millions of times among inner city blacks and has actually reached the mainstream, when in the movie Rush Hour, Jackie Chan said the exact phrase to Chris Tucker. The line garnered many laughs from black audiences across America and Jackie Chan received no public backlash, partly because Rush Hour is considered Chris Tucker’s movie and as a black comedian he has a “pass” to use that word with little to no backlash. The word “nigga” in this usage can easily be replace by, brother, partner, buddy, homie, dude and homeboy to convey the same point in the above quote.
Comedian Alex Thomas used the word “nigga” in this casual nonchalant manner just over 100 times in a 50-minute comedy performance at the Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles in 2001. His show was entitled ‘Straight Clownin’ and at times he used the word so repetitiously it began to lose its meaning. He said the word more times than Richard Pryor did in his 1974 performance of That Nigga’s Crazy.
Aaron McGruder, cartoonist of The Boon Docks, used the word “nigga” nonchalantly when responding to white guest Michael Graham on Bill Maher’s HBO Reel Time show (April 1, 2003). The discussion was about the validity of the SAT examination used as a college entrance requirement. McGruder was making the case that the exam was racially biased and not a useful way to measure the potential of students, especially blacks. Mr. Graham suggested that the exam was indeed a very effective way for universities to gage a student’s potential, and half the exam is based on the neutrality of mathematics, and this difference of opinion caused McGruder to respond to Graham by stating “nigga please.” Within a few seconds McGruder went from making a strong case against the SAT, by weakening his argument with an unexpected response to Mr. Graham on national television. This extreme casual use is what has created a double standard of the word for many.
When blacks assume an aggressive posture with one another, and that exchange gets heated, the word “nigga” will be used in an extremely threatening way that challenges the other to react or respond to some threat. One may tell the other, “What’s up nigga, what you gonna do nigga.” This is commonly said before a fight, or a more serious assault. This is beyond casual use and almost used in a way to demean and belittle the other person who is often Black too. When blacks are in confrontational situations with whites, Hispanics, or other non-Blacks, the word “nigga” is not commonly used to provoke the other. The word is exclusively used in a self-hate method specifically reserved for confronting other blacks. This is true with street confrontations or in prison conflicts.

Snoop Dogg
An example of this use can be seen in the movie Baby Boy, when Snoop Dogg is confronted by the character played by Tyrese in the scene where Omar Gooding shoots and kills Snoop Dogg. Snoop used the word “nigga” in the same way that it is used to confront or challenge the other “nigga” in an attempt to out punk and mentally challenge an opponent. Another excellent example is how Ms. Tate would call little Antoine “nigga” in the film, The Antoine Fisher Story (2002). Ms. Tate exclusively called Antoine a “nigga,” and she did so in a demeaning hateful way. It was as if Ms. Tate, his foster mother, was the oppressor and Antoine was her slave child.
Self Identification
In this form, blacks proudly use the word to show pride about their ghetto roots and the social problems associated with their inner city lives. Tupac proclaimed himself as a “nigga” and used the word in the title of his second album, Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.z. (1993). For many male youths you have to be part of the “click” and be known as a rider, or a brother that will not hesitate to commit the ultimate assault if need be. Most people are not murderous thugs, but like most of American youth they are fascinated with depictions of crime and violence, that include movies like the Godfather, Goodfellas, and Scarface. This was Tupac’s audience and they loved the “nigga” identity.
When asked about the west-coast/east-coast beef in rap music, rapper Notorious BIG responded that “I don’t concern myself with that, I am just trying to be a million dollar nigga” (Luke’s Peep Show, 1996). By self-identifying as a “nigga,” Biggie included himself in that category of uneducated thug affiliated youth fascinated with the criminal underworld; a proud association for young insecure brothers trying to gain a reputation.
The rap group NWA also proudly self identified themselves by the word “nigga”, which reflected their “gangster” persona that they glorified and proudly proclaimed. Eric “Eazy E” Wright, the founding member of this group reveled in the nigga identity and it created a large underground following for N.W.A and future artists such as Snoop Dogg, Biggie, Tupac and W.C. Unfortunately many associated with this form of rap expression have followed trouble or have died young and tragically.
The word “nigga” is almost necessary to use to make a case about the legacy of racism in the United States and the social consequences of the racialized activities of the past such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, Dred Scott ruling, and extreme school and residential segregation that occurred in the United States. Black scholars such as Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson, and Todd Boyd may say “nigga” to express a point, but this is not to be confused with the casual use.
Some blacks have charged that no matter how successful and educated they are, much of mainstream white society still considers them “niggas.” The significance here is that there is never complete inclusion into the American way of life for blacks and that they will always take the back seat no matter how successful they become. Blacks can become extremely educated, own professional sports team, become billionaires, run television networks, get elected into state and federal positions and perform as the best attorneys (Johnnie Cochran) and doctors (Benjamin Carson) in the world. But many maintain that blacks, no matter how successful “are still niggas” in the eyes of white society. An extreme view of this philosophy is that the state of race relations in America are either the same or worse than in the past.
Some middle and upper middle class blacks have used this word to distinguish themselves from the black underclass that is suffering from many of the social ills that has plagued the black inner city for the last 30 years. Many middle to upper-middle class blacks are usually characterized as the conservative bourgeois class. Some have even taken the extreme to call these blacks “uncle toms.” Blacks that have taken advantage of affirmative action, earned educations, moved into the private sector and created businesses have not for the most part experienced the socials that many blacks in the inner city experience.
For their success and their more moderate and slightly conservative political views, they have been characterized as “uncle toms.” But these blacks have often expressed disdain for the underclass, and their behaviors that include teenage pregnancy, single parent households, drug use, gang activity and concentrated poverty. These lifestyles are viewed as repulsive. Some successful and privileged blacks believe that many blacks do not reach their potential and stigmatize hard working successful blacks. For some upscale blacks these people are considered “low lifes” or “niggas.” Chris Rock has discussed this difference in one of his comedy routines.
Hip Hop
As mentioned earlier, the word “nigga” is heavily used among many of the top rappers and among those that have mainstream audiences. For example, Billboards top 40 included 11 rap songs during the first week of April 2003 and those lyrics had the word “nigga” in the lyrics 17 times. The number one single in the country, In Da Club by 50 Cent, used the word “nigga” 9 times. Not surprisingly though, NAS’s positive song, I Can never used the word, along with Lil Kim’s song, Busta Rhyme’s song and the two Eminem songs that were in the top 11 rap songs. For the other seven rap songs, the word appeared 17 times in the lyrics. Eminem, who has been known for making controversial comments in his lyrics, told Rolling Stone Magazine (November 22, 2002) that he would never use the word “nigga” in his lyrics, but many have suggested that his two underground albums that were circulated regionally did use the word.
In the late 1980s, rap group Niggas With Attitude (NWA) hit the rap scene with their gangster style but the group was more commonly known as NWA. They used the term in a self-identifying manner and an expression of how they viewed themselves. They later released an album entitled, Efil4zaggin (1990) or Niggas 4 Life spelled backwards. They became extremely popular during the 1990s and Ice Cube & Dr. Dre, members of NWA, are still are still very active and successful in the rap game. Using the word “nigga” for NWA never damaged their reputations but actually added to their credibility as ghetto rap stars.
In 1993 Tupac Shakur released his second album entitled, Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.z, an anthem about the ghetto. This album put Tupac on the hip-hop map for those that were unaware of his first album, Tupacolypse Now or his appearance on Digital Underground’s his first album. Tupac is arguably the most well known rapper in history with his songs still charting nearly seven years after his death.
50 Cent’s debut album, Get Rich or Die Trying (2003), shows how popular the word “nigga” is in the lyrics of rap songs. His album sold 872,000 albums during the first week of release in February 2003 breaking the old record of 803,000 set by Snoop Dogg’s 1993 album, Doggystyle (both albums were produced by Dr. Dre). The new rap sensation from Queens, New York used the word “nigga” a total of 131 times in his debut album, and his hit single In Da Club, which had the word “nigga” in it nine times, was the number one single on Billboard chart during April 2003. Rappers almost always used the word “nigga” in a casual way.

Richard Pryor
During the 1970s, comedian Richard Pryor released a comedy album called That Nigga’s Crazy where he poked fun at his ghetto experiences that included crime and drug use. More recently Chris Rock used the word “nigga” in his comedy routine to distinguish between blacks and underclass blacks. In what can be considered one of the most popular lines of his routine, Chris Rock referred to “niggas” as black folks that you don’t want to encounter and should avoid at all costs. He makes a very clear distinction between “niggas” and black people where he says, “…niggas have got to go…I love black people but I hate niggas.” Niggas for Chris Rock where of the criminal elements of society that break into your house, cause clubs to close down early have low expectations in life.”…when I go to the money machine tonight, I am not looking over my back for the media, I am looking for niggas.” Chris Rock was using the word in the elitist manner that I described above and as a black man he received little backlash for his use of the word “nigga,” of course because he is black.
On June 9, 1997 during a tour to promote his September 13, 1997 bout with Oscar De La Hoya, Hector Camacho was asked his opinion of Mike Tyson after he bit Evander Holyfield’s ear in their 1997 rematch earlier that year. Camacho responded in part by saying, “That’s what Mike’s problem is, he’s got too many ‘niggas’ around him.” For many, that was an unexpected and inappropriate response. Two days later he felt the need to clear up what he said so that there was no misunderstanding, but in his attempt to apologize for what many believed was an inappropriate use of words, he just dug a bigger ditch when stating:
“And I also want to clear up a little thing that the people are repeating around about niggers, OK, when I made the comments about Mike Tyson, they asked me, “What do you think about Mike and what is going to happen to Mike?” I said Mike is a very unhappy character. Instead of having classy African-American people with class who make him look good, he got all these nigger-attitude people around him that make him act the way he does, like a little beast. And he ain’t. I love Mike. He’s a great man.” (June 11, 1997)
His comments made a clear distinction between “classy African-Americans” and low class “niggas”. He stated that if Tyson had surrounded himself with “smart African Americans,” instead of “niggas” he may not have found himself in as much trouble. Camacho was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in el barrio of Spanish Harlem, and he is a straight shooter. So his use of the word “nigga”, offended many people. There was a sizable backlash that Camacho endured for using the word “nigga” in the same way that Chris Rock did but the difference, Camacho is not a comedian and he is not black. If Camacho was something other than a boxer, we would be talking about his comments as the country did then Jennifer Lopez said the word.
Another Puerto Rican, Jennifer Lopez, used the word once in a 2001 remix song “I’m Real.” Immediately the critics surfaced and began to attack her for the use of the word in her song. Hot 97 radio (NYC) program hosts Star and Buckwild had publicly criticized Lopez for using the word, and called to boycott the album until she issued an apology. They also petitioned their listeners to call Lopez’s record label, Epic, to complain. Even though the remix was written by a black rap artist JaRule, and the word was used in the casual form non-maliciously, Lopez continued to receive further criticism from blacks. Not a one criticized Ja Rule for writing the lyrics. The controversial line states:
“People be screamin’ what’s the deal with you and so-and-so / I tell them niggas mind their biz but they don’t hear me, though.”
The “so-and-so” in that line is a reference to Sean “P. Diddy” or “Puff Daddy” Combs, a black man that she had a relationship with for two years. Her relationship with Combs should serve as a clear indication that she herself does not have racist thoughts about blacks, and one could argue that her level of comfort with black people, living in Bronx, led her to feel at ease about using the word in the first place. But many blacks believed that she should have never used the word and the comments on the radio when that occurred was indicative of that opinion. Arthel Nevel, host of Talk Back Live (CNN show now canceled) discussed the controversy around Jennifer Lopez using the word in 2001.
Stephanie Eccles, 22, a Queens College student who is black told the Washington Post, “Her [Jennifer Lopez] using that word shows you that she doesn’t care about black people. She has no right to use it. Children look up to her. She’s saying it’s okay to use it. It’s not okay and it will never be okay. Eminem is the top rapper in the world, and he has never used that word. He has respect for black people.” But what Ms. Eccles is unaware of is that before Eminen became a star rapper, he used the word “nigga” in many of his underground demos.

Jennifer Lopez
The attack against Jennifer Lopez, was completely unwarranted,
especially by those in the music industry, because these same radio personalities played the songs of Christopher “Big Pun” Rios, who said the word “nigga” several times in many of his songs before he died of heart complications in 2000. Not one voice of opposition to Big Pun’s use of the word “nigga”, another Puerto Rican from the same borough that Jennifer Lopez is from, who also became the first Latin rapper to go platinum, but Big Pun does not have nearly the celebrity of J. Lo and those that attacked her but said nothing about Big Pun exposed an obvious double standard that turned criticism of a word into a personal attack against Lopez. These people are nothing but J.Lo haters because for the last several years she has clearly been the most talented all-around artist. I don’t hear anyone hatin’ on Fat Joe, Angie Martinez, or Cuban Link whom have all used the word nigga in their lyrics.
Scholars such as Mike Dyson, professor of African American studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell West from Columbia University have used the word in a more historical sense described above. Todd Boyd, professor in the School of Cinema and Television, in the department of Critical Studies at the University of Southern California wrote in his recent book, The New H.N.I.C.: The Death of the Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop (2003), “I love the word “nigga.” It is my favorite word in the English language because no other word incites more controversy today. To me, hip hop has redefined the word…” Here, Boyd makes a distinction between “niggers” and “nigga” where the latter has been redefined and has a completely different meaning from the negative connotations of “nigger” and “the more you say it, the more you desensitize it.”
At the beginning of the 21st century the word “nigga” remains as popular as ever among Blacks, but also among others living in America whether it be used in music, among politicians, entertainers or used in the privacy of our own home. Comedians such as Richard Pryor and Chris Rock did not hesitate to use the word in performance and Pryor actually entitled his classic comedy album, “That Niggas Crazy.”
One of main issues surrounding the use of the word is whether it is racist, insensitive, and disrespectful when it is used. A double standard has formed from the use of this word, a word that is all around us everyday even on Billboard’s music chart. There is no doubt that our society is cloaked with double standards and they will always exists but these senseless attacks against Jennifer Lopez, Hector Camacho and others such as Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante for saying the word nigger have gone too far because it is not always used maliciously.
Regardless of the long nasty history of the word, it is part of American culture, literature, and music. You will hear this word used in casual conversations, mostly among Blacks, young and old. “Hey, what are you doing today my nigga?” can be heard every day when riding the 4-train from downtown New York to Uptown. Get on the Crenshaw bus in Los Angeles from Adams Blvd to the City of Inglewood and I can assure you that you will hear young Black males and youth using the word as often as one would use a definite article. We need to get to a point where our society gets beyond whining about words and start dealing seriously about problems that exist in our communities. There are far too many other issues we should be consumed with rather than the speech of another person.

Posted by Xenon on August 14, 2010 at 12:32 AM
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