A while back I came across an article about a talk by author Tahesi Coates, in which he supposedly provides an excellent answer to the question “Why can’t White people say the N word?” I am not familiar with his work but I have strong opinions about the N word and I have even written a long rambling post about it. I was therefore curious to hear his opinion.
In summary, Tahesi says there are words certain groups use that he has no desire to use (bitch, white trash), and the fact that White people want to say the N word is due to their entitlement issues and basic disregard for Black people.
The problem with analogies is that it is difficult to make a perfect or halfway decent one: Neither Bitch nor White trash are taboo words in the way that nigga/er is. Yes Coates may not call his wife’s friends bitches but there is no argument over whether men can say the word bitch. The argument is not whether white people can call black people nigga/er, it is whether they can say the word at all.
A better analogy is faggot. For some reason people who cannot understand why anyone would want to say the n word, suddenly become very understanding about the use of the word faggot. There was a semi-viral video of two guys arguing in which one refers to the gay one as a faggot. Un-surprisingly a lot of the I-better-not-hear-any-non-Black-person-saying-that-word crowd were all “oh please he didn’t mean it as a slur, it is just a word people use.” I hollered. I bet if a gay singer brought out a hit song titled fag and then said only homosexuals could use the word, the chant would segue from why do white people want to say the n-word to “well if you don’t want people to say fag then why put it in a song”
Coates went on to say; “The question one must ask is why so many white people have difficulty extending things that are basic laws of how human beings interact to black people.” He gave a potential answer: “When you’re white in this country, you’re taught that everything belongs to you. You think you have a right to everything”
These are valid points of course, but it is frustrating, and quite weird, that even an intelligent person such as Tahesi fails to ask the one pertinent question: “Why do black people insist on trivalising a racial slur and turning it into a catchy jingle?”
There is always outrage whenever someone says the word, not even as a slur or as a reference to Black people, but literally saying the word-usually when they are singing along to a song in which the word is prominently featured. Every time this happens, the same question is asked “Whyyyyyyyy do White people want to say the word? I just don’t geddiiiittt.”
Really? You don’t get why people would want to say a word that is inextricable from Hip-Hop which is the mainstay of popular culture? A word that is blaring out of radios in public spaces? I feel as though I am in the twilight zone. Everyone seems genuinely confused as to why non Blacks sing along to the word, and I’m thinking no way are y’all this dense.
The whole thing is so ridiculous. Kendrick Lamar recently brought a white fan up on stage to rap one of his songs in which the word is omnipresent, and then got offended and kicked her off when she said the word nigga. Ridiculous. What exactly did he expect her to do? Why did he pick a White person to sing the song? Does he really believe that all the non-blacks at his concerts are censoring themselves?
The argument about reclaiming nigga only works if the word is used only within the community by black people about black people. Otherwise the word is not being reclaimed but being trivalised. By exporting the uncensored word worldwide through music, you have implicitly given permission for people to use the word. You cannot name a song Niggas in Paris, sell it to all races, perform it at a concert with (mostly) non-Blacks, then turn around and feign confusion when someone simply says the title of the song. That is stupidity. If the word is truly being reclaimed, then you cannot call non-black people niggas (Prince Harry is not your nigga), and the word is not to be flippantly used in the presence of non-blacks. You look foolish parading on stage repeatedly shouting a racial slur when those who may use the slur to demean you are in the audience. Nothing has been reclaimed, you just look dumb.
Tahesi also makes the same reductive mistake of making everyone either White or Black. If White people want to say nigga because they are taught that everything belongs to them, then what is the explanation for the non-black people of colour who also say the word?
I once came across a tweet which listed a number of racial slurs, and asked why nigga is the only one of the slurs that people want to say. This tweet was supposed to be piping hot tea, and everyone marvelled at this revelation. To start off with, most people could not even identify any of the other slurs and I imagine it is because none of the groups the words are associated with have incorporated them into pop culture. Did Seinfield ever refer to himself or another jew as a *insert Jewish slur here*? What other group is prancing about parroting a slur in front of others?
I do not want to hear any white people saying nigga/er, and I sure as heck would not like to be referred to as one, even as a joke or cordial greeting. I am however not going to pretend to be confused that someone who claims not be racist still feels comfortable saying every nigga in his favourite rap song. My grouse still remains with the artistes who continue to popularise this slur.
Why do non blacks say nigga/er? 1) They are racist and use it to demean black people 2) They are following the pop culture trends.