When It’s Okay For White People To Say “Nigger,” “Nigga,” Or Any Other “Nigger” Derivatives

"Desean, I said you're looking much "bigger" this season, not...you know what. Nevermind."

“Desean! Relax, man. I said you’re looking much “bigger” this season, not…you know what. Nevermind.”

Between Paula Deen thinking she’s Scarlett O’Hara, Accidental Racist, Georgef*ckingZimmerman (“GFZ” for short for now on), the fact that the most talked about movie in the country has made Black people who’ve seen it so angry that they’ve started hating cauliflower just because it’s white, and Riley Cooper’s ass forgetting he has to line up every week against irrationally angry and unbelievably coordinated descendants of slaves who happen to look like this and this, I imagine this summer has been quite difficult for our lighter-skinned brethren.

Because of this, I’m here today to lend the White people of America a helping hand with one of my favorite subjects: the word “nigger.” While most understand the historical context of this word and stay the hell away from it—or don’t understand it at all but still stay the hell away from itsome still seem to be confused about why they’re not “allowed” to use it, and whether there is ever a situation where the rules regarding nigger use are relaxed.

To aid with this issue, I invited a random internet White person (“RIWP” for short) who’s still unsure about nigger use and usage to a quite an enlightening back and forth. Our conversation is below. (His statements are in italics)

RIWP: Thanks for inviting me. You definitely are a very smart Black person.

Me: Yeah, this already isn’t getting off to a great start.

RIWP: I’m sorry.

Me: I know. So, you had some questions…?

RIWP: So yeah. When is it okay for White people to say nigger?

Me: Never.

RIWP: Never?

Me: Ever.

RIWP: Not even…

Me: Nope

RIWP: How about if…

Me: Nah.

RIWP: What if…

Me: Hell no

RIWP: You’re not even letting me…

Me: F*ck you. 

RIWP: You’re not even letting me finish my ques…

Me: Re-F*ck you. 

RIWP: How can we have a conversation if you won’t even let me speak?

Me: I’m letting you speak. Just not letting you finish.

RIWP: You know what I mean!

Me: I guess you make a good point. Speak away.

RIWP: Thank you. So, like I was trying to say, what if…

Me: Did I say f*ck you already? LOL. Just playin. Go ahead.

RIWP: So, what if you’re dating a Black woman, and you’re at her house for Thanksgiving, and her drunk uncle calls you his “nigga,” actually asks “Are you my nigga?” and pauses to wait for a response? 

Me: It’s a trap. The only Black people who do stuff like this at family gatherings are fresh out, so he’s likely waiting for justification to rape you. 

RIWP: That doesn’t make any sense.

Me: It doesn’t have to. 

RIWP: Ok. So, what if I’m at a club and my favorite Mobb Deep song comes on. Am I allowed to repeat the lyrics?

Me: Look. It’s not uncommon for Black-owned nightclubs and bars to be in debt. And, if it’s 2013 and Mobb Deep is playing, it’s usually a sign the owner said “F*ck it. I’m going to lose this place in a month anyway, so I might as well play shit I like.”

Anyway, since he’s probably losing the place, he probably stopped paying the bills months ago. Why does this matter? Well, when the music abruptly stops because of electric bill nonpayment, you don’t want to be the White guy who happened to be screaming “Kill dat nigga!!!” when everything gets silent. 

So, no. But, it’s for your own good. 

RIWP: So, let me get this right. Only Black people can say “nigga” and no one can ever say “nigger?” There are no other circumstances where it’s okay for a non-Black person to do it.

Me: Well, there was a window from 1999 to 2004 when Puerto Ricans from the Bronx and Dominicans from Harlem were “allowed” to say it. But, we only let them do that because we still felt bad about Big Pun. Plus, they’re Black anyway, even if they don’t want to admit it. The only difference between them and us is that the guys steering their slave ships were drunk.

Aside from that though, no. Well, lemme rephrase that. You can say it. Shit, you can say anything. But, if you do, don’t be surprised if someone with the last name “Vick” puts a bounty on you. And, by “someone with the last name Vick puts a bounty on you” I mean “Michael Vick’s little brother randomly shows up outside of your home.”

RIWP: Wait, he’s broke isn’t he. How will I know he’s there to beat me up? What if he just needs me to co-sign on a couch set?

Me: Good question.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Why I’ll Never Stop Saying “Nigga”

n-word

It’s one of our most valued and treasured yearly traditions.

A famous White person is caught saying nigger or one of its various derivatives. White person is immediately (and rightly) criticized. The criticism starts many sub-conversations, including one about whether it’s ever okay for White people to say that word, and if saying that word automatically means that a White person happens to be racist.

This sub-conversation spawns another sub-conversation—basically, a criticism to the criticism—where Black people’s use of the word is put under the microscope, with popular rap receiving a lion’s share of the blame. “As long as we continue to incorporate it so freely,” says the sub-sub-conversation, “we can’t really be all that surprised when White people think it’s okay to say.”

I even made a contribution to this tradition last year, spending 700 or so words over at The Root attempting to deconstruct the meaning behind our collective angst over the world’s most beautiful woman’s “niggas in Paris” tweet.

Ultimately, the tradition concludes with the same implied resolution. If we want non-Black people to stop saying nigger and nigga, it would help if we stopped saying it ourselves.

It’s an argument that makes sense on both an emotional and intellectual level. It was a word used to degrade and dehumanize, and regardless of how convincingly we’ve “taken it back,” the history remains. The nigga we use is only two generations away from this nigger. Yet, despite the history attached to it and the context surrounding it, I can’t bring myself to remove it from my vocabulary.

Why? Well, I love words. I love the way they sound. I love the way they look. I love learning what they mean. I love how different pronunciations—a stressed vowel sound or a pronounced vocal inflection—can give the same word multiple meanings. I love their rhythm. I love their personality. I love their etymology. And, most importantly, I love the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of them at my disposal when trying to get what’s in my head outside of it. Included in that hundreds of thousands are nigger, nigga, cunt, f*ck, f*ggot, bitch and every other word where the word alone is enough to offend, and I love and respect language too much to permanently cut any of it out.

Interestingly enough, my knowledge of and affinity for words could be an argument for not using some of them. Since there are hundreds of thousands of them—and since I seem to be very aware of this fact—why use one I know will offend when another will suffice?

That’s the thing. Knowing exactly what words mean and exactly how you want to use them means that, in some instances, another word won’t suffice. Sure, “man,” “dog,” “cat,” “dude,” “my man,” and even “ninja” exist and work, sometimes. Most times, even. But, there are other times when only nigga can accurately convey the feeling or thought I want expressed. And, in those instances, nigga is used.

This knowledge also comes with the realization that certain words probably shouldn’t be used unless you’re completely aware of the audience. Nigga is one of those words. Not only will I not use it around “mixed” company, I won’t even use it around Black people I’m not familiar with. This isn’t self-censoring as much as it’s just being considerate. (Who said niggas didn’t have feelings?) 

Ironically, I don’t even say nigga that much. Aside from when I’m joking with my girl or my friends or repeating lyrics from a song, I rarely say it aloud. Same goes for pretty much every other word on the “do not say” list. If nigga was a condiment, it would be Dijon mustard.

This conversation actually reminds of an experience I had during the first couple months of my teaching career. I started in the middle of the school year as a replacement for a 9th grade English teacher who was on extended sick leave. And, since I was the new guy, I had to be hard. (The “Welcome to the Jungle” beginning of Lean on Me was definitely a great teaching tool.) This hardness included me throwing kids out of class for saying nigga. For the first few weeks I was there, any time that word was said aloud in my classroom, I sent the kid to the dean’s office. Sometimes I’d just write “said nigga” on the referral slip.

I (obviously) didn’t have an issue with the word itself. I did it just to ingrain the concept of acceptable classroom behavior in them. Some of them used nigga so much that they didn’t even realize they were saying it.

After a month or so, I started to see some changes. You’d see kids literally catching themselves in mid-sentence, or letting it slip and immediately blurting out “my bad, Mr. Young” right afterwards. Point made, I started to soften.

A few months later, a couple of them were at an AAU basketball practice I was helping my man run. After practice ended, we all played together for about an hour. Although we (and coaches) were grown men, some of these kids were pretty good, so the games were pretty intense. During one of the games, one of the kids didn’t call out a screen, and his teammate—who happened to be one of the kids in my classroom—went over to him and said “Come on, man. You can’t let that nigga hit me like that. Call out the screen!”

After the game, he walked over to me and apologized. Apparently, he knew that I saw him correct his teammate.

“My bad, Mr. Young.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s cool.”

“I thought you didn’t like that word.”

“I don’t have a problem with it. Just wanted you to know when it was inappropriate.”

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

10 Things I Think I Think About Django Unchained, Slavery, Nigger/Nigga, Race, And The Reaction To Django Unchained

***Although the following post is about Django Unchained, I made sure to make it as spoiler-free as I could. If you do choose to leave comments that could be interpreted as spoilers, please leave spoiler tags before you do so***

1. “War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”

This take on the popular “war is hell” cliche is from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a semi-autobiographical and metafictional account of the Vietnam War, and one of my three or four favorite books. Basically, something as random, arbitrary, and complicated as being in the middle of a war is too, well, complicated to be reduced down to one adjective.

After reading dozens of historical texts and memoirs, sifting through several documentaries, and watching movies such as Roots and Django Unchanined and Amistad, I think the same type of quote could be made about slavery in the United States. Perhaps different adjectives would be used, but it’s not possible to distill a description of that time down to a single word.

I mean, anyone with a brain and/or a Black grandparent should know that Django is not an exact representation of the antebellum period. But, one historically accurate thing it does show is that the relationships between slaves and slaveowners were complicated as well.

For instance, there’s a 20 minute stretch in the movie where you witness each of the following:

A slave who, with the way she was dressed and with the way she was treated, was clearly (slaveowner) Calvin Candie’s girlfriend.

A slave who, because he attempted to escape, is sentenced to a very brutal death.

A house slave who is clearly the second most powerful person on the entire plantation.

While each were slaves, each character had a completely different relationship with their owner, and each probably had a different personal relationship with the concept of slavery. Shit was just…complicated. While the “girlfriend” and the house slave both had vastly more freedoms than the average slave, neither was actually free. (The situation with the girlfriend was especially bizarre. I mean, yea, she’s his girlfriend—and, from the looks of things, he treated her like a, well, girlfriend—but could she actually say “no?” Isn’t this—sex without consent—rape?)

With that being said, it’s irresponsible to neglect to mention that while certain movies and texts may show that certain slaves may have had a more, for lack of a better term, “benevolent” relationship with their masters, the majority of slaves were not treated with any sort of human kindness or compassion. Maybe it wasn’t “hell,” but for many, it was even worse.

2. I think Django Unchained is quintessential Tarantino. His movies are frequently homages—to spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation flicks, etc,—and mishmashes of different genres, but Django is almost an homage to himself.

Basically, if you like Tarantino movies, you will probably like Django. If you don’t, you probably won’t.

3. I think Django is my fourth-favorite Tarantino movie. (Kill Bill 1 and 2, and Inglorious Basterds would be the others) I didn’t love it—I thought it was a bit too long—but I did like it very much.

4. I think one of the many possible reasons why people who aren’t Tarantino fans aren’t Tarantino fans has to do with the fact that typical Tarantino movies frequently shift tonally in a way that can seem a bit too inappropriate. For instance, if you’re going to see, I don’t know, Precious or something, you go into the movie knowing how to expect to feel. You may laugh at the absurdity of a certain situation, but a scene designed to make you guffaw in a movie like that would just seem out of place.

Tarantino movies don’t follow that same script. And, despite the fact that I am a huge fan of his work, I can see how someone would be put off by a movie that depicts the brutality of slavery in one scene and has a slapstick scene involving the Ku Klux Klan (more on this in a sec) in the same 15 minute span.

5. I didn’t think the Klan scene was that funny. I think you can make a good joke about anything, so me not thinking it was funny had nothing to do with the attempt. It made me chuckle a little, but, I don’t know, it was more The Hangover funny—humor where you’re supposed to laugh at something because it’s supposed to be funny, not because it actually is—than actually funny.

6. I think many (if not most) of the people upset by the ubiquity of nigga and nigger in Django are upset because they feel like they’re supposed to be upset by it, not because the word actually offended them. It reminds me of the conversation surrounding Gywneth Paltrow’s “niggas in Paris” tweet last year. Despite the thousands of articles, blogs, tweets, and status message threads about it—and yes, I was guilty of making a contribution as well—I doubt many of us were actually that mad about it.

It’s almost as if we’re playing “pretend” mad so White people won’t get too comfortable. It’s kind of like how a dad gets pretend mad at a child for peeing in the front yard. He doesn’t want the kid to do again, so he’s appropriately upset and makes sure the kid sees that he is. But, he’s not losing any sleep over it, and probably thinks it’s more funny than anything else.

7. I think I’ve reached a point where hearing “n-word” bothers me more than “nigger” does. (I think Sam Jackson agrees with me)

8. I think one of the most jarring things about Django was seeing slavery in “color.” As I mentioned earlier, whether through Roots or some other movies and/documentaries, most of us have seen that time period on screen in some fashion. But, while Roots (and Amistad) definitely was graphic, there’s a difference between the relatively grainy film used in something made in the 70s (and the documentary-esque feel of Amistad) and the type of picture you get with the high definition cameras used today. Django is, in many ways, the most colorful depiction of slavery any of us have ever seen.

9. I think the movie was a bit tamer than I expected it to be. Rapes and castrations are implied instead of shown, and for all I heard and read about the violence and the brutality, the violence actually seen on screen was so over the top that it bordered on camp.

Now, I’m sure some of those who have seen the movie may disagree about the campyness of the violence, specifically in regards to a scene involving dogs and another scene involving two Mandingos fighting to the death. But, both of those scenes were edited in a way that even though you definitely knew what was happening, you couldn’t really see it. (I wonder if Tarantino intended to do that or if he was instructed to by Miramax.)

Still, there were a few scenes that were particularly hard to watch, and each involved Kerry Washington’s character. Without giving away too much, she’s put through a gauntlet of dignity-erasing horrors that make you want to cringe, cry, and, well, kill.

10. I think a conversation I had a couple weeks ago shows why, despite its flaws and despite the fact that it’s not a completely accurate account of the antebellum period, a movie like Django is necessary. (Well, at least more necessary than unnecessary)

Once a week for the past four or five years, I play basketball at a local high school. It’s a regular group of 20 to 30 guys who vary in age and skill level, and many weeks I’m the only Black guy.

This particular pick up game has been going on for decades, and one of the traditions is that the guys who come gather in the coaches’ office afterwards to kick back and drink beers. (The person who’s supposed to buy the beers revolves every week. And, if you’ve gone too long without bringing a case, you will get clowned and eventually uninvited)

Anyway, Django happened to be one of the topics of conversation during one of these kick back sessions. It stayed superficial for a couple minutes—most of the discussion was just about who had seen the movie and whether they liked it—before seguing into a conversation about Tarantino movies in general.

Admittedly, I was happy that we’d left that subject. As much as I enjoy talking about the type of topics a Django conversation might touch on, I don’t want to have those conversations everywhere and with everyone. And, honestly, part of the reason why I wasn’t looking forward to a deeper Django discussion is that I generally like and enjoy being around those guys, and I didn’t want someone to express an opinion or viewpoint that would make me start to think differently about them. Perhaps that’s “wrong” in some way, but I just didn’t and still don’t see the need in introducing that dynamic there. When it comes to reliably fun pick-up basketball, ignorance is bliss.

A few minutes later, though, Django was brought up again. A guy sitting right next to me on the couch had a few questions about the movie—things he wasn’t particularly sure about—and, well, when else are you going to have the opportunity to ask a very smart Black guy about some of these things?

Now, for a moment I considered doing the “I can’t answer for all Black people” thing with perhaps a little “I’m offended that you’d even ask me that” mixed in. But, his questions (more on that in a sec) let me know he was both genuinely curious and genuinely ignorant, and with that realization came another one:

There are people—millions of people (millions of Americans!)—who literally know nothing about slavery other than it was kind of bad and it ended some time ago. And, while Django isn’t Roots, a movie created by a person as culturally relevant as Tarantino will at least spark conversations that some people would have never had.

One of the questions had to do with Sam Jackson’s character. Basically, he assumed that Jackson’s character wasn’t a slave. I corrected him. And, since he had no concept of the difference between house slaves and field slaves, I gave him a quick explanation.

Now, is it every Black person’s duty to go around educating White people about slavery and race? No. I have many hats but “African-American History Tour Guide” isn’t one of them. At the same time, as frustrating as it is that an educated man would know so little about American history that he’d even conjure that question, asking the question is better than the subject never even crossing his mind.

And, you can never go wrong when educating and/or reminding people that while some of the shit in Django didn’t happen, some—the hot boxes, the branding, the whippings, the rapes, the murders, the sell and purchase of humans, the intentional splittings of families, etc—did.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

sh*t i just haven’t figured out yet

as you all already know, panama jackson and i are smart as hell. we’re super smart. very smart. uber smart. we’re to smart what ray j is to condoms. we’re to stupid what southerners are to soap. if “being smart” was “discreetly becoming more and more irrelevant” we’d be aubrey f*cking graham. if ken norton was mandingo, then we’re twin, ummm, mand…smartgos.

but, despite this ubiquitous smartness, there’s a multitude of sh*t i still haven’t completely figured out yet, and here’s some of it

why some black people can’t say “nigga”

now, i’m not referring to black people who’ve never had nigga as a part of their lexicon or those who’ve said nigga before, but have stopped saying it for some personal or political reason. no, i’m talking about the black people who say “nigga”, but, for whatever reason, just can’t say it.

you can’t exactly place it, but you just know that something about their nigga saying game is completely faulty because it sounds so forced, awkward, and unnatural coming from their tongues that you always notice when they’re saying it, like a seven year old saying “sh*t” for the first time. and, when you hear it, you’re always tempted to stop them and ask “wait…hold up. did you just call me a nigga, nigga???”

why paul pierce always looks like he got his haircut six days ago

while some have perfected intentional scruffy and others stay with the clean look, paul pierce is the only ninja i’ve ever seen who always looks like “its saturday and i haven’t been to the barber since tuesday”, and i have no idea how (or why) he does this

the female orgasm

some shiver, others shake.

some squirt, others hurt.

some cum, others can’t

some cry, others lie.

some scream, others sheen (ok. i know sheen doesn’t make any sense. i just needed something clever to rhyme with “scream”)

some get off when “spots’ are hit, others, well…i just read that g-spots aint sh*t.

like i mentioned before, knowing that mostmany women themselves have no clue about the female o provides a bit of solace, but can’t ya’ll provide at least a little consistency here? damn, we don’t ask for much.

how to react when free sh*t abruptly ends

for a year or so, a manager in one of the departments on the third floor of my building at work would buy five giant boxes of dunkin donuts every monday, and place them near the elevator for whoever happened to stop past the floor. sometimes his secretary would even send out a mass email to each department reminding everybody about them. as word got out that this was a weekly occurrence, everybody in the entire building started to look forward to donut day. offices started planning staff meeting times around them (no manager in their right mind would schedule a staff meeting on the morning of donut day, unless he wanted a full mutiny), and one guy (supposedly) met his now-fiancee for the first time when they argued over who would take the last boston creme.

then, one monday, no donuts. then, another donut-less monday comes and goes. and another. and another.

thing is, although we were all shocked and disappointed by the sudden death of donut day, we were even more flabbergasted by and confused about how to respond. i mean, we were in the bitching and complaining mood, but how exactly do you bitch and complain about somebody ending some free ass sh*t?

are you even allowed to be upset about that? what can you possibly say to admonish someone who all of a sudden decided to stop spending 120 bucks a month to provide your greedy ass with frosted mini-crullers? if a black blogger tells a long-winded pastry story with a weak punchline in the woods, would you leave a comment?

what to do when you’re out with your girl and this…

…walks past

i mean, you can’t stare, but you can’t not look either. in my opinion, the best tactic is to just make a snarky remark about her (“haha. wow babe. look who just robbed the ass store” usually works) so that now both you and your girl can look at her and snark at the same time.

anyway, people of vsb, i need your help. can anybody help me figure this sh*t out?

also, is there any sh*t that you very smart brothas and sistas out there just can’t figure out?

the carpet is yours

—the champ