Nigga Please



Not long ago my white friend jokingly said that I shouldn’t get to celebrate all of Black History Month because I’m not 100% black. I’m actually 36% West African according to my DNA results in case you’re interested. She said that I should get the back end of the month obviously referencing the back of the bus. I was so astounded by her comment that I fell silent. What does one say to a friend that pretty much just said your black side still deserves to take a backseat to your white side?

At the time I laughed it off; she is one of the more sarcastic people I know and may have been saying it in response to my repeated use of the word “nigga” and felt that she could join in on the frivolity I was having. I do have to admit I was going gangbusters with the word “nigga” that night because 1. I had never really used it before and there was something about saying it that was in fact liberating my black side. 2. I was also saying it in response to having heard it a bazillion times in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained as well as on my recent trip to St. Louis to visit the “black” side of my family.
Nigga is not a form of vernacular that I have ever chosen to partake in. My first experience with the “N” word was when I was 7 years-old and walked across the street to visit my friend Pepsi, also known as Juan by his parents. I went to his door looking for him in the dilapidated cherry colored apartments across the street and found his brother standing at an open screen door.
“What are you doing here nigger?” I froze. I had never been called a nigger and didn’t know how to respond, but I knew that it was bad. My mom had told me that it was bad, so instead of asking for Pepsi and telling him why a nigger was there, I ran as fast as I could back to my house where my mom looked at me and said, “girl, where is that boy? I’m gonna go give him a piece of my mind.”
I didn’t let her give him any piece of mind, mostly because I wanted to be able to go back across the street and visit Stephanie and Pepsi. I figured that it must come with the territory; though I wasn’t sure why Mexican’s would call black people niggers when they were minorities too.
As I grew older I heard about the people who called each other nigga’s, but I wasn’t sure who that was because it wasn’t me and it surely wasn’t my mom. She told me, “If I EVER hear you say that word…” there’d be a long pause and nothing but an “mmhmm.”
That long pause meant you don’t even want to see what happens if you do that thing I just told you not to do. So I mostly never did any of those things my mom told me not to do because there’s something about a powerful black mother saying, “Nicole that’s one…” that scared me so straight I made sure to do whatever the exact opposite of what she said not to do was just so I would stay on her good side.
That brings me back to slightly more present day, my first real run in with Nigga. It’s mid October 2011 and the sky is drained of color as are the people on the streets of Manhattan, when my girlfriend and I decide it’s time to head back to Brooklyn via the F to the G train to get us up to Lorimer stop. We’re exhausted from a long day of touristing about the city. We hit Ground Zero, the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and then we hit up some local pizza joints.
When we make it to the station, my pedometer says we’ve gone ten miles, but there are no seats in sight and so we rest against poles that look like carriers for meningitis because we can no longer hold our own body weights. The exhaustion keeps us from speaking or perhaps it’s all the fighting we’ve done, but it never seems long before the train station fills up laughter, the rustle of bags, and friendly conversation.
We watch the stairs because one day of people watching at a subway station seems so much more interesting than a full year of doing the same at any Seattle bus stop except for 3rd and Pine. Three young black men, limping from the weight of holding their pants up, make their way down the stairs. They anchor themselves to the bottom few stairs and a conversation begins.
“Nigga whatchoo thinking bout doin’ nigga?”
“I don’t know nigga, why you wanna know?”
“Nigga I don’t, I don’t fo sho, I just wanna do something sick.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know nigga, like you know… coo nigga.”
“Yeah? Let’s go to the shop nigga.”
Their speech is fast and it’s hard to move my ear gracefully in between their sentences, but I’m keenly aware of all the nigga’s being tossed around. Nicole seems even more floored.
“How can they even say that so many times?” She asks.
I really don’t know; I’m shaking my head. How the hell could this be real, I thought this was just on TV shows? What I understand is that I really have been distant from a large part of the black experience. Mine has always been from the perspective of a semi-privileged biracial girl that’s sequestered herself in the whitest parts of the country for most of her life. It’s not that this was intentional, just that it happened and hasn’t seemed to change much since my inception.
What I don’t understand is why anyone needs to say nigga in every single sentence, sometimes 2 or 3 times? Aren’t there any other words to say what you mean? I realize though that I’m an educated nigga. I roll the word around in my mind, wondering what it means to be a nigga.
I just don’t really want to say nigga, because I don’t feel comfortable using a word that is basically just a variation on the word nigger and connotes a deeper branding of the African-American body and history.
For me nigga is like saying motherfucker, it just doesn’t feel right.  I feel unusually uncomfortable thinking about anyone fucking their mother, but saying things like shit, damn and your run of the mill fuck are totally game.
I Wikapedia’d nigga when I got home because I had some questions about its origin. First I read this article, this will make sense momentarily. Nigga began as an eye dialect (use of nonstandard spelling for speech to draw attention to pronunciation) of the word nigger. It’s a variation of the Spanish/Portuguese noun negro, a descendant of the Latin adjective niger, meaning the color “black.” It was first brought to stage by comedians such as Paul Mooney, Richard Pryor, and Nipsy Russel in the 70’s to joke about blacks. The term was quickly appropriate by other comedians, hip-hop artists, and the African-American community. Tupac Shakur “who has been credited with legitimizing the term, said his song N.I.G.G.A. stood for ‘Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished.”
With my slightly better understanding of nigga I am still unsure if it’s a word I would want to use, but I can see why some would want to use it, however I doubt most people using the term no why they are using it in the first place.
On this particular Wiki page there is a box where you can listen to an audio recording of the article; I pressed play. In the first thirty seconds I wrapped myself in a prickly and uncomfortable blanket of reaction to hearing it. I can’t believe a white man is reading this! I said to myself. The words sound disingenuous with the tight pronunciation and lack of soul. I was quick to judge the narrator until I stepped back for a minute.
I gave myself a moment to ponder a few questions. What does a black voice sound like? Why would I assume that the narrator isn’t African-American and why does it matter to me at all when it’s the verbatim reading of an article?
Well the fact is that I had to check myself. It is true that in certain parts of the country you can hear certain characteristics in a voice that are telling of where someone is from and what their cultural background is, but it is likely only because certain inflections are ingrained in the culture just as in some cultures where certain words must be spoken with specific tones in order to be understood. It is likely that when a large majority of a culture speaks one way then many will continue carrying on this tradition and the likelihood that others will believe this is how everyone speaks, will be perpetuated.
I “assumed” I knew the speaker without hesitation because it is still part of my belief system that African-American voices sound a certain way. However, without reservation I can tell you that I can’t count on fingers and toes how many times I’ve been told I “sound” white. I was angry that I would do the same to another.
Also, so what if a white man was reading this article aloud? Would I be angry if a white scholar had read something in another context? Why should one be more acceptable than another? It wasn’t just some man riding roughshod with nigga. There is a lot of controversy over who is allowed to say nigga, but in this instance my general call is that anyone could have read this and I should have been okay with it.
At the party as I said, “what’s up with you nigga?” that bazillion times, I realized as I said it that the word for me feels disconnected with my personal black experience. The word though ultimately stemming from nigger doesn’t feel like or connote the same meaning for me. Tupac said, “a nigger is black man with a slavery chain around his neck,” while “a nigga is a black man with a gold chain on his neck” Though I don’t completely agree, I hear and feel the difference between these two words. Nigger sends chills up my back and shards of glass through my heart; nigga just makes me think please.
As for the friend that told my black half to get to the end of the month. She most likely said it in jest, but the fact is that I don’t actually get to hide the black in my skin for half of the month. My DNA card might say I’m 36% black, but it doesn’t mean I’m only black 36% of the time. As we all know, what people can see is what they judge you by. I went ahead and took the whole month. Only a few short days left to celebrate.
And with that, have a good day nigga.
***  Side Notes
Spell check hated this blog
There’s a lot of other shit that can be said about nigga. I’m only one girl and I’ve only got so much time and am certainly not writing a book on the subject.
Let me know what your experience with nigga has been!
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s