Nigga. Bitch. Faggott |Food for Thought

This essay contains words some may consider profane. I make no apologies for their use, just warning for those who will only see the word instead of the bigger picture to kindly pass this essay by. It is an opinionated essay (What else did you expect) on some things I think people should consider before using terms whether within a local group setting or in a global sense, e.g. Twitter, mass media.

Can anyone group own a word? One that has especially had it’s history as pejorative term used to demean a certain group?
Are blacks the only ones allowed to use the term nigga? Unless an outsider is given “a pass”?
What about women? Should they be able to use bitch without recourse?
Gays. Can faggot be a term of endearment only used by those who share the same orientation?

OK I think you get my point.

Nigger
So last week Madonna got some stick for putting up a post of her son, who is white, boxing. With the hash tag #disnigga. For those who missed it.
Madonna-N-Word
Given that she is the mother of two African children, I wondered if she would use that term in their hearing, or if she would be able to contextualise what she meant.

Is nigga really that acceptable a term in the Madonna household?

It reminded of the furore that kicked off when Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted from The Throne concert in Paris
paltrow_tweeted_niggas_in_paris

Both of these celebrities took heat especially when it appeared that neither of them issued apologies to those who may have been offended, but rather seemed quite defensive. The latter suggesting it was the name of the song, even though she referenced others than Jay Z and Kanye, and the former, Madonna, suggesting people ride her dick.
Which was news to me.

It is important to understand why many have issue with this. The noun nigger, nigra or nigga is incredibly weighted. It was a pejorative term which typified slavery and the suppression of blacks in America (and abroad) and had it’s source in the Spanish adjective negro. It came from a word used to describe something to one that was a label to distinguish racial groups. And not in the positive. Malcolm X delivered a treatise as to why it was important for the black/african american community to distance themselves from it. Richard Pryor swore off using the word after a visit to Africa which I guess. Langston Hughes, one of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote in 1940

“”The word nigger to colored people of high and low degree is like a red rag to a bull. Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy[,] it doesn’t matter. The word nigger, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America.”

Many jumped to the defense of Madonna and Gwyneth. Some felt that they had been “given a hall pass” or “hood pass”, whilst others thought it was defamatory. To be fair, how are you gonna repeat a song like “Niggas in Paris” without mentioning the word, and we know how big it became as a song. A recent visit to a Kendrick Lamar reminded me why I don’t like going to hip hop events live, especially when a room of predominantly non blacks are repeating lines with the phrases “nigger this and nigger that”, totally oblivious to the implications and history of such a term. If it isn’t a problem then try singing those same lyrics on the street or the bus on the way home!

No one owns a word, so if as a community blacks will be using the term then they cannot be surprised when someone else outside of the community thinks that they have a pass to use it as part of popular culture. Outside of his early track Bitterphobia, Eminem recognised as one of the greatest rappers has not recorded the word nigga in his songs, but is known to use it live . Eminem is not the only one, as demonstrated by R.A. The Rugged Man in “I Shoulda Never” and the Django-esque spitting of the word in V-Nasty’s mixtape Don’t Bite Just Taste. Add to that mix Latino rapper Fat Joe, who uses the term a lot, and it would appear even thought there are few exceptions, one cannot be surprised when it does rare it’s head in the content of rap songs by non black performers.

Personally I hate the term. I think if you are going to bandy the term nigger about, then don’t be upset when coon, sambo or jiggaboo also become part of that lexicon. As part of my own history the word is embroiled in hatred and none of my own political heroes who fought for political and economic parity for people of African descent used it, or if they need quickly realised that they shouldn’t. It matters not to me that comedians, rappers, adult entertainment stars and other characters in popular culture use the term because if I am going to take to task someone who is non black for using the term, or peppering it across social media, then equally the same measure has to be meted out to blacks who use the term whether as compliment or insult.

I am cognisant that a younger generation have no problem using this term amongst their peers. Indeed I have had discussions with people on them and the inter webs is full of banter between friends who will use “my nigga” as a term of endearment regardless of racial or ethnic background. I wonder though if they have thought through the implications of what would happen if someone checked them on it. Or if it would actually bother them.

Which leads me to the next term. Bitches.

Bitches
Again as a keen user of social media it is common to see memes of young (and older) users tossing around phrases such as “Bitches be this, hoes be that and Real women be this” [insert appropriate accent]

Again like nigger such a phrase would be bandied about both as an endearment and quite heavily as a way of putting down other women. What strikes me most about this is the frequency with which other women would refer to themselves as this. I kinda get the irony of groups like Bitch Media or Lucky Bitch who would refer to the term as form of female empowerment, but you cannot take back power if you never had power in the first place.

Again one realises it is contextual and a man calling a woman a bitch, has a very different connotation from a woman calling another a woman a bitch. For me both are steeped in patriarchy but I do get how some would be ok with it. My issue is that there are loads who miss the nuance and I have witnessed it so much more as an insult than ever a term of endearment. I am not one of censoring, and if I am honest I have used the term myself in the past.

If such a word were used by my own daughters I would question them as to the why. What was it about another woman that would make them use that term whether favourable or unfavourable? We tackled this subject when talking about the befuddlement I had in a previous article where I questioned Beyonce’s stance on being a feminist by tackling her detractors with the line “to bow down bitches”.

Again it is relative and to be fair I still struggle with the reasoning behind reclamation of a word no one person or group of persons own, as the editors of Bitch in a Washington Post article posited below.

“Bitch is a word we use culturally to describe any woman who is strong, angry, uncompromising and, often, uninterested in pleasing men. We use the term for a woman on the street who doesn’t respond to men’s catcalls or smile when they say, “Cheer up, baby, it can’t be that bad.” We use it for the woman who has a better job than a man and doesn’t apologize for it. We use it for the woman who doesn’t back down from a confrontation.
So let’s not be disingenuous. Is it a bad word? Of course it is. As a culture, we’ve done everything possible to make sure of that, starting with a constantly perpetuated mindset that deems powerful women to be scary, angry and, of course, unfeminine — and sees uncompromising speech by women as anathema to a tidy, well-run world.
…[Bitch magazine is] not about hating men but about elevating women. But too many people don’t see the difference. And, at least in part, that’s why the B-word is still such a problematic term.”

Still processing. I will check with Hilary Clinton and get back to you.

Faggott
Alec Baldwin called a reporter a cock sucking faggott. He then went on to explain why he was not homophobic.
Hip hop stars such as J Cole, Eminem and Tyler the Creator bandy the term about in their songs, declaring they are not homophobic and that the term is used to describe someone who is weak or submissive.
Add to that list Ann Coulter, Dire Straits, Isaiah Washington and Kobe Bryant and one realises that a term that is largely recognised as a slur is far from being reclaimed by any gay rights group. Probably would have to fight the Westborough Baptist Church on naming rights anyway!

The thing is this. Like the other words mentioned before I am at a loss as to how anyone can think they can reclaim a word, that they didn’t own in the first place.

I do get it. Language is local. If a group of friends/comrades regardless of orientation decide that they are going to refer to each other by a word the rest of the world may deem horrendous there is nothing you can do about it. We give words meanings obviously but by the same token can we take the sting out of a word if when it is said that individuals and groups would respond in uproar by the use of it.

I would never dare to call my gay friends faggotts even if they gave me a pass.
It is not a word I would use either as an endearment or insult especially in the public arena. Working in schools where students have expressed the abuse they receive from others who cannot accept their orientation. Working with adults in faith groups and communities who have had nothing but hatred shown to them because are LGBT, I struggle to understand how such cohorts would be accepting of reclaiming such a word, ironically or not, which are never supportive of their individuality and freedom.

Final Thoughts
I must confess I think I am hung up on words. We can add cunt, queer, paki and a host of other epithets that lend themselves to racial, gender or orientation focused abuse that people want to reclaim. I do get it. Language is a shared thing. It is something that, throw my limited understanding of linguistics, ties communities together. Words only have the meaning we apply to them.

I guess my issue is the nuances that kept such words as identifiers in communities are more widespread than thought. My concern is that not knowing the difference is what gets us into trouble. Context is everything

Of course for all intents and purposes censorship stifles communication, but when we truly use a word, whether we are repeating a line from a song, comedy, Mark Twain classic or have it as part of a meme on social media, do we truly think about how others receive such a word or is it not a problem that we actually care to think about?

(p.s. Special prize if you can figure out why I chose the picture that accompanies this essay)

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