By SOFYA OGUNSEITAN
Historically, the word “n*gger” has been a weapon of the oppressor. White men said “my n*gger” to chain us down mentally after physically imprisoning us in slavery for centuries. After emancipation, the word “n*gger” was a painful reminder that despite freedom, we were still slaves to the white community’s hatred, prejudice and violence against us, all of which remained at the forefront of American society. Fast forward another century, after the Civil Rights Movement, the word still hasn’t lost its power – some people still use it to demean our entire race, but some of us have reclaimed it as a symbol of our empowerment. Recognizing this change – this gradual end to the abuse of this word – is becoming a vital part of our history. Black history month is a time to realize how our tragic history connects to our present reality, like how a single six-letter word once used to strip us of power now gives the ability to take our power back.
I’ve recently noticed a misconception that changing the word “n*gger” to “n*gga” takes away the word’s malicious power. Some believe it is a harmless word with no historical weight, forged into a modern colloquialism that should be used freely. Why? Because rap-artists use it as a symbol of empowerment? Rap-artists reclaimed the word as a cultural revolution. They use it so liberally to demonstrate that we, as African Americans, have taken back the power stolen from us by that word. So when I hear my white peers say it, I ask myself, “Are we supposed to share the empowerment of this reclaimed word with the very people who abused it once, and still abuse it in some places?”
I question why my white peers are willing to say it so casually, even to address me, when I won’t even say it myself. And I question why calling me “your n*gga” is funny in a nation that is still so implicitly racist against us, where some of my closest friends have said honestly that black people make them uncomfortable. In a country where my peers consciously crane their necks at me during conversations about race, and where our justice system frees guilty white cops and leaves unarmed victims dishonored, their families left with nothing but an empty chair at the dining table – no justice served.
The power of the word “n*gger” belongs to us. To those of you who continue to abuse it without even considering the cultural significance – I humbly ask you to stop. It is simply not your word to use.