Niggas, Bitches and Faggotts

Quentin Tarantino
Language is a funny thing. It is dynamic. Context is everything.
What can offend one person can be appropriated by another to mean something totally different all together.
At what point does a word change from insult to endearment?
Does it ever?
Does it matter?

Niggas
So once again this word has raised it’s head again. Quentin Tarantino has released yet another film, Django Unchained, with a liberal dash of the word nigga (as opposed to nigger, the adjusted spelling being a term of endearment. Aparrently) in it. 110 times according to those who have seen it. Spike Lee has taken him to task again, Kat Williams has threatened to pop him in the face and again QT makes no apologies for using it. Indeed die hard fans of Mr Tarantino have become accustomed to the use of the word in many of his films especially those where Samuel L Jackson is present. Personally I agree with his statement in 1997

As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are, all right? And to say that I can’t do that because I’m white, but the Hughes brothers can do that because they’re black, that is racist. That is the heart of racism, all right. And I do not accept that … That is how a segment of the black community that lives in Compton, lives in Inglewood, where Jackie Brown takes place, that lives in Carson, that is how they talk. I’m telling the truth. It would not be questioned if I was black, and I resent the question because I’m white. I have the right to tell the truth. I do not have the right to lie.

If black artists can use it then why shouldn’t non blacks? Words are not the property of any group by gender, ethnicity or age or whatever. Although it pays to be Chris Rock using the word and not Michael Richards.
I believe it is a word that comes with as much negativity as it does so called endearment, as I wrote previously. I personally refuse to use it given the historical context and the fact I have so many other words I can pull on for endearment.

I will say however I wonder as Spike rightly said if he used the word kike, an epithet which lends itself to Jewish illiteracy, in Mo Better Blues, his directorial career would be dead in the water. Why is it that Tarantino’s just seen as caricature and art, yet if a film director like Spike used kike, paki, chinky or faggott in a film with same aplomb the outrage caused would be so different? Food for thought.

Bitches
In conversation with some young students online I wondered why they referred to other females as bitches. It was off the back of a twitter conversation where the term was being used interchangeably as compliment and insult. They were at a loss as to why the word was used but were comfortable being referred to as such.

The history of the word refers to a woman acting salaciously like a female dog in heat. As a pro feminist I still have real problems with this word, yet I know of feminists who have appropriated the word as a badge of female resilience and strength. Of course it is all context but I wonder how many who laugh at the word bitch slap would do the same when considering it’s etymology. An open palmed slap to the face of a woman to show dominion. (Not to be confused with a pimp slap which uses the back of the hand!) Bitch was then subsequently adopted to males to show dominion over lesser or weaker males. If bitch is a demeaning term to woman then even more so to some males if called by the same term. So how does a term which at its roots become one of endearment? How does someone feel good when they hear “I love my bitch?”

Does it really matter? Do we need rappers like Jay Z on Bitches and Sisters to explain a ‘difference”?
Personally I struggle to see how such a word can be appropriated to be something positive.

Faggotts
Noun:
1. A bundle of twigs, sticks, or branches bound together.
2. A bundle of pieces of iron or steel to be welded or hammered into bars.

I was listening to an interview with one of my favourite rappers Immortal Technique. He was being questioned by a panel on his use of the term faggott in his earlier music. He had exclaimed that he realised that in his past the term was part of a community used to refer to a weaker man, having matured he refused to use it any more. Still it struck me that he still peppers quite a bit of his work with the word nigga!

Now for those who don’t know faggott is a pejorative term for gay men. Within the gay community I know of many who refer to each other using this term, but outside use is frowned upon. It could lose you your job or if you are Ann Coulter an opportunity to twist the meaning of your words to your own meaning. How do these terms inflame such responses from activist groups such as GLADD and yet be used affectionately by others. One of the biggest challenges in UK schools at the moment is the reoccurrence of the term “that’s so gay”. Again pejoratively used will we be looking back in a few years time and saying that it takes the sting out of it being offensive when we know for a fact that many schools are hotbeds for homophobia?

Reappropriation
I am all for semantic change. That process where the original words and their meanings can change over time. Context is everything.
However I am uncomfortable with reappropriation, whereby a group reclaims a word. No one claim a word.
To the words I analysed in this article, we could add to this list of words ‘retard’, ‘punk’, ‘paki’ ‘redneck’ and ‘jesus freak’ and the various communities who have reappropriated these terms yet, outside of this group it can cause distress. I mean how can millions of people be at home nodding their head to The Thrones ‘Niggas in Paris’ and then take issue with Gwyneth Paltrow tweeting that Kanye and Jay Z were her Niggas in Paris? That is circular logic and makes no sense.

I will hasten to add like many of comedic heroes such as Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce that the moment you try to supress a word you give it more power. However at the same time as communicators I think we have responsibility to chose which ones we will lend ourselves to using. Like Pryor who realised the racially charged nature of using nigger in his repertoire and subsequently removed them after visiting Africa. Yet that one act pales into insignificance to the likes of Quentin and the majority of commercial rap who use the term so often. Given that the vast consumers of such media are not the so called culture who claim reappropriation on this term this is why I have problem.

Hey if someone wants to use niggas, bitches and faggotts as part of their vernacular like any thing it is a choice. I just wonder how many thought goes into it and if they can use it at will, why kick up a stink when others outside of their social group does too?

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