Me and an ex of mine that shall remain nameless on the internet, had just suffered a blow out about two blocks from my mother’s house. I didn’t have the necessary tools to fix the tire, so we walked to get my mother’s husband’s tool box. Upon arriving there, he insisted that he drive us back. I conceded. In the car, a conversation about sports ensued, and my ex, the loud mouth sport fanatic she was, began to discuss her favorite teams and players. Now, she’s not the average Black woman that watches sports. She is still to this day a very athletic woman that doesn’t mind running a mile in high heels and a dress. She is very passionate about sports and understands many of the nuances that make the discussion of sports thrilling. So, when she began to relate her stance on the Rams’ season, she dropped the n-word several times. My mother’s ex was a very disciplined guy. Growing up, I got whippings for crying for falling off my bike. He doesn’t have an accentuated view of the word, but he doesn’t use it. To the point that when it was used around him, it felt like when you say the word around whites. From experiences like this, I developed a sensibility about the word,”nigga.”
Now, let us not pretend I’m not Owl. I use ‘nigga’ more than I use toothpaste, soap, and powder. In fact, for me, the word can be hygienic. As a person that grew up around Moors that worked out heavily and would punch you within seconds the ‘n’ in the word came out, I know the anger surrounding the term in my community even from the mouth of Blacks. I’ve also allowed white people to use it around me affectionately. I also get upset when certain Blacks use it.
In most of the cultures I’ve studied, there is a framework of kinship and bonding based on economic position. I actually picked up the words, “bitch,” “nigga,” and “fuck” from a classmate in one of my mother’s Sunday school classes in church(I swear my life gets more ironic the more I write about it). It didn’t dawn on me that some Blacks don’t use the term until I said it around this sister-that-stayed-up-the-street-from-me’s more affluent cousin. By that time, the energy of the word had lost much of its force, and I didn’t think of its affect on others. It would be a lesson in class that I’d never forget. We didn’t fight about it like one of my Moorish brothers back on the yard may have, but it was the frown on young “Carlton’s” face that caused my naive, yet observative and sensitive Self to pause. And with that, I learned to be cautious with the word around Blacks.
Urban culture has always had an appeal. With the advent of hip-hop and it’s evil twin, commercial rap, many began to venture into the culture of the darker elements of the US subculture found in many of the urban centers of the US. When I was in college, I was in a discussion with my 2-d graphics teacher about how she and her friends would recite the lyrics of NWA. She spoke of this with a certain regret found when Black people discuss that time they used to dance to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby.”
Her statement was that she felt she lacked a certain “authenticity.” I understood immediately what she was referring to.
can’t speak to my work in the community without someone asking me if I’ve read such and such book, or if I know such and such person. After I wrote “The Green DJHTY,” I had to deal with people asking me about obscure symbols of Kimit and even more obscure raps and movies. I can’t sell a nickel bag of weed in the streets without someone seeking out my resume. My culture is extremely conservative; we question one another with the precision of a veteran district attorney. You cannot just speak to a thing or even participate in an activity without critique or investigation. And my culture isn’t just Black culture. Not every Black can possibly understand why I don’t turn around when police are behind me, or why I don’t say phrases like,”assed out” or why I don’t avert glances when someone looks me in my eyes in passing. I support a monolithic Black presence, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that all Blacks share the same culture. We don’t. And many Blacks in the public eye know they are getting away with something that would get them jaw strokes if done in the Black communities they attempt to speak for. And let us be completely frank here, most of those in the public eye speaking as ambassadors of Black urban issues have no true field work. It is like the difference between a critique from Malcolm X versus one from Louis Farrakhan in the 1960s.
This isn’t a piece about street credibility. It isn’t. It is a piece about when neocolonialism goes unnoticed. The same feelings I have about Toure discussing anything about Black people in the United States, I have about Obama telling Black church audiences that their children need to pull their pants up, but not doing the same to white parents whose children walk around college campus borrowing the same style. I listen to Drake. I like many of his songs. I don’t like when he uses the word because he not from the same experience. I don’t have the measuring stick of who should or shouldn’t use the word, but I do have my instincts bred out of the experiences of those that usurped the terminology. No, we are not all inheritors of certain elements crafted and engaged by Blacks.
The very fact that Toure writes,”That said, I do see two instances where I would argue that it is acceptable and potentially useful for whites to say nigger” is very telling to me. The fact that he would give some sort of cultural clemency to Tarantino is even more telling to me. I’ve been in a room full of white people watching “Reservoir dogs.” I know that awkward feeling that comes from having to bear the word not only coming out, but being placed on the lips of a white person. I’ve been on a college campus in a classroom forced to listen to some “liberal” instructor use the term in the “intellectual/artistic” context that Toure discusses. It doesn’t change anything. Like Debo might say,”Das my word, punk.”
I’ve stated this elsewhere, the word ‘nigga’ is a cultural commodity. You are absolutely right, Toure, it is sexy. It is powerful. And the discussion from a guy that allows mainstream media to play him like the token nigga is frightful. I don’t care how many disclaimers Toure uses in the piece, or how much others will label this piece as ad hominem, the fact is that just like most white people, he can’t speak to a phenomena of a culture that he isn’t even apart of. I don’t care how many music artists he has spoken to. I can interview every dentist in the state of Iowa and that don’t make me a damn practitioner worthy of speaking for dentists with an authoritative tone.
Regardless of the two cent disclaimer, hell, mine are at least believable, Toure presents an argument. In the world of psychology, an argument is a weapon. You are probably reading this because you’ve read many of my arguments with others. They work. Well. The same way that Randall Kennedy offered a reason why ‘nigga’ shouldn’t be consider ‘fighting words,’ in his book, you are being given an excuse to infringe on the cultural power of Blacks. Whether you use the word or not, it presents an opening into a discussion that is not even for most people to have. I agreed with Toure for the most of the article until he started giving out passes. The stage that speaks of is also where Mel Gibson gives his racist rants and where a certain alum of “Seinfeld” evoked images of Blacks being lynched.
I await the debate, I’m not saying that only Blacks of the lumpen can use the term, but maybe still…