Nigger

Nigger is a derogatory term used to refer to individuals whose skin color is dark. Most of these people are of African descent. For centuries, the term nigger holds a negative implication, and in contemporary period is taken as a racial insult in most circumstances. Modern slang uses takes in a synonym for a person and an attempt to retrieve the word for black people, which continues to be a contentious subject.

Former variations like “neger” or “negar” originated from the Spanish term Negro which literally means black, and in all probability also the French word nègre, which has also been used negatively, however it was also used in a positive manner such as in Negritude. Negritude originated from the term Negro. In French, they commonly use the term “noir” for black. “Negro” and “noir” alike (and consequently the terms “nègre” and nigger) eventually came from “nigrum”, the accusative form of the Latin term “niger” which means black.

In Colonial America, the term “negars” was utilized in the year of 1619 by John Rolfe, illustrating the slaves which are being transported to the colony of Virginia, “neger” or “neggar” also exists in Northern New York as well as on Philadelphia. For an instance there is an African cemetery in New York which was initially known as “Begraafplaats van de Neger” which could be translated as “Cemetery of the negro” (Pearson, 2003).

In US, the term “nigger” was not always believed to be offensive; rather the term is used by some people simply as a connotative of a black or dark complexion. In 19th century literature, the term nigger had been used in many instances without intending to use it in a negative manner. Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad for one, authors of Nigger of the Narcissus” made use of the term nigger without having any bigoted intention. Mark Twain, another example, often uses the term in most of his works with Southern characters, white and black alike. However, he did not use the term when discoursing in his own voice in his autobiographical work, “Life on the Mississippi”.

In UK, the term nigger was usually used to refer to individuals of individuals with Pakistani or Indian ancestors. They also uses it to denote the dark skinned foreigners generally. In 1926 “Modern English Usage” H. W. Fowler scrutinized that when the term was used to other people who is not a full blooded negro, they take the term as ome kind of an affront to their person.

In 1800s, as the term nigger started to gain the derogatory implication it now have today, the term “colored” attained recognition as a better alternative to the term nigger and other related terms. Southern vernacular in most areas in US modifies the articulation of the term “negro” to “nigra” which is used in particular by Lyndon B. Johnson, a well-known advocate of civil rights. In North American English, the evolution from “negro” to “nigger” symbolized a previously prevalent sound change, in fact in the first editions of Noah’s Webster’s dictionary; he proposed the new spellings of “neger” for Negro.

“Black” happened to be the favored term in English in the late 1960’s, and this prevails up to now. In US this has been replaced to some degree by African American, in any case in politically acceptable practice; this bears a resemblance to the term Afro-American that was in trend in the early years of 1970. Nonetheless, “black” remains to be in prevalent use as a racial description in US and is seldom considered as insulting.

Nowadays, the term is often spelled as “nigga” or “niggah”, in simulation of the way in which some articulate it, there are also other variations of the term, intended to duck the term itself, this includes “nookah”, “nukka”, “nagger” and probably the most popular of them all “jigger”.

However, “Nigger”, according to Professor Randall Kennedy is debatably the most significant racial affront in United States history, although, all together, it is a term that is reminiscent of the paradoxes and problems, catastrophes and splendors of the American experience. In fact, his work “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word” is at the middle of debates because of its controversial issues. It tackles questions among an assorted audiences of students and scholars of all cultural and national milieus in its search to discover how and why the term should or should not be used in today’s time (Kennedy, 2002).

A large number of black Americans claim that the term “nigger” invokes within them certain hatred, resentment, aggression, repression, as well as a very appalling and ill-fated part of the US history. The word represents the perpetual sequences of individuals afflicted with abhorrence and bondage merely because of the color of their skin. Amongst black people, “nigger” is the most derogatory term in the English lingo. Even when contrasted to other racial insults such as “kike, “cracker”, “white trash” and the like, nigger is illustrated as the most horrible affront in the English lingo. The term “nigger” implies that black people are second class citizens, ignorant, and not as human as the whites are.

Although many blacks and whites concur that the term should not be repressed from the English language, it definitely should not be used again by every people due to its historical importance. For an instance, black militants suppose whites ought not to use the term “nigger”. Conversely, the term “nigger” has been “domesticated” by black youths predominantly in the hip-hop culture. These contemporary adolescents maintain that it is merely a word and that people give words meaning and not the other way around. If such is indeed the case, the term “nigger” could be changed once in a while. In other words, youth in the hip-hop culture are maintaining that situation is the determinant of the meaning of the term “nigger”.

Kennedy states the same line of reasoning regarding the use of the term “nigger”. He maintains that everyone, regardless of the color of ones skin, may use the word “nigger”, provided that the framework or the way it was used is apparent and proper (Kennedy, 2002).

On the other hand, the historical importance of the term “nigger” is greatly rooted in American History. For an instance, Kennedy’s book illustrates historical examples of “nigger” in its derogatory milieu. Examples of these were when Michael Jordan was suspended from his school because a white girl called him a nigger and “Tiger Woods was tied up in kindergarten by his older schoolmates who called him nigger” (Kennedy 2002) and it is specifically due to this history that a large number of African Americans are supports the vetoing of the term from the English language.

Even though the historical importance of the term “nigger” frequently sets off deep-seated antagonism in the African Americans, it has also gradually developed into an expression of endearment in today’s African American society. Accordingly, a fine line exists between the past and the present descriptions of the term that heralds the prospect of misunderstanding and the likelihood of further injury.

Should the term “nigger” then be used as a way to express of endearment? Kennedy asserts that the term “nigger” should be used by everyone on the condition that no one be injured. According to Kennedy nothing is wrong with the use of the term nigger no matter what color your skin is. According to him, what should be of importance is the milieu in which the term is being used. Kennedy maintains that the context could influence how nigger is used, and to regard the word otherwise would change the term “nigger” into some kind of an obsession. On the other hand, Kennedy’s contention that everyone could use the term “nigger” is easily challenged because although the term is some kind of an obsession, it is still an obsession with no reason whatsoever.

The term “nigger” produces a fixation for people because of its historical connotation. In other words, if the history of the term stigmatizes it, then how could the ordinary use of the term, even by those individuals who ring about its historical significance, produce a new meaning? Kennedy’s insinuation of individual’s using the word only with good intents illustrates his setting aside of the background of its past. Kennedy also asserts that background determines the meaning of the term “nigger”, nigger, according to him could signify numerous things, all depending upon, amid other things, intonation, the site of interaction, as well as the connection between the speaker and the one to which the term is being addressed.

Kennedy, among other thinkers, maintain that African Americans use the term themselves, the fact that the term “nigger” has been and remains to be used by the African Americans themselves makes up a logical fallacy on the part of the African Americans because for them to believe that they could use the term undamagingly without question whatsoever while others could not use it is nothing short of illogical (Kennedy, 2002). In fact, Vernon Davis on his work, “The Sense and sensibilities of Using the N Word” stated that only when African Americans unite and insist that their society stops the use of the term in any milieu could they have the moral power to contend that the term not be used in any place or by anyone at all (Davis, 1999).

This standpoint on the contention implies that the blacks, and not the whites, stopped thinking about their own history. There could be contentions claiming that rappers such as Jay-Z and comedian Alex Thomas, that the blacks took possession of the term and thus they are did not really stopped from thinking about their own culture, rather they are merely rewriting some part of it. In juxtaposition with the hip-hop culture, Kennedy asserts that the blacks are regaining the term and redefining it in so as to disrobe the term nigger of its initial meaning (Kennedy, 2002).

For example, a performance on Black Entertainment Television, a cable system meant for black Americans, illustrated the term “nigger” as a “term of endearment, Davis also stated that in the African American society, the term “nigga” (not the term nigger) elicits a feeling of pride. The term, here, calls to mind a sense of community and oneness among Black Americans (Davis, 1999).

A large number of teenagers I have talked with believe that the term does not mean anything or could not hurt a person when it is being used by a friend. However, when it is used by white people the word suddenly changes its definition or meaning. Alex Thomas could be noted saying that he does not want the whites calling him a nigger. This philosophy is in a way self-defeating. If only black people are making use of the term “nigger” and they are doing so in so as to achieve a conversion of power, the endeavor is useless because the hurt which accompanies the term has not yet been stopped.

The whites, for an instance, still could not utter the term “nigger” without inducing some kind of an antagonistic response. If blacks have effectively transformed or domesticated or repossessed the term, than everyone then anyone would be open to use the term without concerning one’s self with matters of race, class, or perspective. And while this may actually be the final objective of redefining the term “nigger”, it is evidently not the case at today’s time.

It is mainly due to this that Kennedy proposes that everyone should be allowed to use the term, in so as to avoid people from being held back from the use of particular terms, which would be a kind of suppression (Kennedy, 2002). However, historical importance looks like it weigh heavily on the mind of a large number of black people. For example, Shani Saxon (music editor of VIBE magazine) could be noted saying that white people makes use of the term in an insulting manner and she also stated that this is primarily the reason why they should not be permitted to use the said term, since it is insulting and it brings about unpleasant memories (Saxon, 2002).

However, it is for certain that words do evolve, however history could never change the way words could. In today’s time, I found through my research and close examination that “nigger” is not an acknowledged word. Jay-Z among other artists makes use of the term in their music in order amuse their audiences, however, their use of the term does not necessarily mean that the term no longer holds any kind of power to hurt.

Take into consideration Jay-Z’s song “Jigga my Nigga” or Eve’s “What y’all Nigga’s want?”, the said songs may appear harmless since they make use of the term in a milieu of amity and friendship, however, it could be maintained that while milieu could alter the meaning of the term, contexts or milieu itself could never modify history. Kennedy states that the term on speech or literature, while Kennedy may have a point on his assertion, one could not just pay no heed to history.

The term “nigger” is very much stigmatized that redefining it entails that slavery and oppression never occurred, in spite of the fact and many other things which point that it did. Try to examine an account given by Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, “The word Nigger carries with it much of the hatred and repulsion directed toward Africans and African Americans. Historically, nigger defined, limited, and mocked African Americans. It was a term of exclusion, verbal justification for discrimination. Whether used as a noun, verb, or adjective, it reinforced the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, dirty, worthless parasite” (Pilgrim, 2002).

Truth is the present use of the term “nigger” could never be wiped away, changed, eliminated, or effectively redefines its authentic and appalling description. In truth, if the persistent use of the term “nigger” could eliminate it of its original meaning then by now it would be alright for a white person to call black people a “nigger”. However, a white person could never do that because of the deep-rooted history associated with the term.

It is then very important that people come to an understanding that using the term in numerous instances does not alter or take the sting out of its original meaning, because, as already mentioned earlier, although words may change, its history could never be altered. In addition, this new use of the term does give “nigger” another connotation; probably the notion that language is the same could disprove the argument that history overrides the modern usage of the term. Even though there are several long standpoints which surround the controversy of the usage of the term, there actually is no right or wrong answer for using the term “nigger”.

Works Cited

Davis, Vernon. “The Sense and Sensibilities of Using the “N Word.”” Journal of National

Association of Black Journalist. Fall 1999 (1999).

Kennedy, Randall. Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word.” New York:

Pantheon Books, 2002.

Pearson, Kim. “Nigger.” (2003).

Pilgrim, David. “Jim crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.” Fall 2002 (2002).

Saxon, Shani. VIBE Magazine 2002.