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The N-Word

When I heard about the artists chosen for Brookfest 2018, I was excited. These were artists I was familiar with; artists I actually listened to in my free time. But at the same time, I was worried. These were artists that used the N-word…like a lot. I wondered if they’d censor themselves, if people would censor themselves, or if they would just sing along, normally.

Well, when I heard the lyrics “I call it KKK, ’cause my choppa hate ni**as” all around me, I couldn’t help but wonder how we got here.

A Brief History

The word “niger” (precursor to its variants) began as a descriptive word for black. It had no added value. It wasn’t until the 17th century when enslaved Africans were brought to colonies that the word began to be derogatory. We’ve all had history class. However, the word wasn’t just derogatory it implied something not human, less than human.

During the early 1900s, the usage of the word began to really take root in American society. Products depicted caricaturize African Americans and many of the most popular songs used the word ni**er.

  Photo courtesy of The International Review of African American Art ​

After the tumultuous events of the civil rights movement, and the eventual reform of the nation through desegregation and the civil rights acts, the word took on a new meaning. During the 1970s and onward, African Americans sought to reclaim the name and strip it of its inherently racist roots. It was then that the word ni**a began to be used throughout pop culture. One of the most influential music groups that aided in the proliferation of the word ni**a across races was, N.W.A (Ni**az wit Atitude). In their album, Straight Outta Compton, ni**a was used 46 times. In their next album, Ni**az for life, ni**a was used 185 times. Naturally, these albums had to have content warnings. But that only made them more appealing, influential, and widespread. Everyone was using the word.

Photos courtesy of Genius


When I heard those lyrics. It felt like the world had stopped. I wasn’t angry. I was shocked. I was speechless. I turned to a guy standing right next to me, and we looked at each other and shook our heads in disbelief.

The issue for me was the sheer amount of ignorance. I realized that when people use the word they don’t mean in its derogatory connotation. But my issue with this is that racism still exists. Racism is a product of ignorance. America has never existed without the word, without racism. It is ingrained in our culture, our justice system, and our subconscious.

We can’t deny it. I refuse to deny it.

I’ve been called a ni**a and not in the way that means “friend”. So for me, the word carries no double meaning. It means exactly what it means. For those that choose to use it, respect it. Respect what it means (or meant). Respect what it means to others. And respect how it will affect others. 

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