(Dear readers, I will occasionally have guest posts that I think are provocative, informative or just plain hilarious.
This guest post is written by Christina, friend and sister blogger, who blogs at Cool It Now.)
Yea, I said it.
I’ll say it again.
The enigma of racial language is funny to me. Not amusing, but definitely laughable at times.
Are you appalled? Squirming in your chair? Not sure what to feel about this word and/or my usage of it?
Don’t worry you’re not alone. Consider this a taste test. So you don’t like this taste, if the n-word was used would you feel the same way? If you feel two different reactions to these very similar words, then you have entered the “Racial Slur Enigma Zone”. (Cue Twilight Zone Theme) This zone consists of mixed feelings about words that for all effective purposes are synonyms
I do this occasionally, especially when people use “n-gga”. It’s a social experiment of some sorts, Some words are more acceptable to be inserted into daily conversation. “N-gga” here. “N-gga” there. “N-gga, n-gga” everywhere. Society is so de-sensitized by the pervasive use of the “n-gga” that we can’t even recognize when it is used.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not standing on a soapbox that wasn’t a little dirty at one time. In high school, I used the “n-gga” like it was my job to plug it in conversation. But somewhere between 11th and 12th grade, not long after I finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X my cultural and social awareness was fine-tuned. Soon after, I went on a “Bay of Pigs”-type mission. My quest was to purge the world of using this horrid word because it is filled with negativity. In actuality all I did was point out when people used it in conversation, without really understanding why. I guess I felt it was my “black” duty. (I was a naive teenager…don’t hold it against me.)
Fast-forward to my junior year in college, and I took a course called, “Issues in Social Justice”. This is when I starting taking a more analytical look at racial slurs. Despite being invisible, words can pack a punch, which is why I respect language. People feign apathy about words hurting, when realistically words have the power to trigger various emotions. However one thing always confused me, why are some slurs less offensive than others?
Words like coon are interesting, made even more interesting when inserted into general conversation replacing the “-n-gga”. Why are we (black folks) the only ethnic group who uses racial slurs to “endear” each other? The English language is one with the most words in it, so it is reasonable to assume there will not be a shortage. Thus leading us to assume that there can be other words used besides the “n-gga” or coon, to name a few.
I completely understand that us Black folks are resilient. We take things that are supposed to harm us and use them to help us, much like what people have tried to do with racial slurs. However, some things (in this case words) need not be used because they actually do more harm than good. This philosophy ONLY works when you take something negative and turn it into a positive. Saying, “Hey, my n-gga.” is fine if you want to greet a friend in that manner. My issue isn’t with the use of the word; it’s with the definition of it. As of late, “n-gga” has become synonymous with the exact slur it is meant to be and we are trying to avoid, ignorance. Somehow this feels counter-productive.
Racial language is complex. But one thing is for sure; racism is rooted in language. Making white synonymous with purity means that black is synonymous with impurity. By ranking slurs on a 5-point scale of offensiveness or acceptability, is headed in the wrong direction. The best course of action is to use different words for articulation. It is good practice for the mind, and rather than garnering negative attention for the words we use, we will attract attention for what we say. I always tell people, “The breadth of your vocabulary shows me the depth of your thoughts.”