Call Me Brotha

It can be difficult to negotiate the tongue through using words that evoke inimical catharsis.  As a writer, I’ve had to tame my verbal promiscuity to ensure what I am saying is not circumcised by how I am saying it.  When it comes to the craft of prose, writers determine their salt by how they use language to unveil a truth.  There are traps to avoid in this, however. Many writers or those who make a living using language can embrace “word porn,” or the obscene just to be obscene, and arouse controversial titillation. The other trap is molesting one’s convictions as a means to sidestep confrontation. Any scribbler worth a pen broods over being offensive and being contrarian with equanimity.  To expel oneself from the trappings of “prosaic pornography” or political concordance, one must craft language with gifted irony.   The ironic is precisely what makes literature beautiful and its manifestation in prose must be immaculate.  One cannot read good writing without developing an appreciation of the ironic because irony is what challenges cliché, and one mark of bad writing and thinking is writing and thought laced with cliché.

As this matter pertains to words and their offensive potential, one must be careful not mince them.  To deny anyone the use of a word is to deny him or her use of irony and, in America, his or her first amendment rights.  As a black person, it is difficult to challenge the idea of words being racially appropriated because of the potential offense I am opening myself up to, but if I am looking for offense, I will find it.  So, as I venture into this area of social dissent, I am hoping not to fall victim to social ostracism, nevertheless, like words, it’s not what you think but how you think.

So, how does one think about who can use the word nigga? “Can white people use it?”  The answer is simple: of course white people can.  A common response a black person gives to this inquiry is, “Why do you want to use the word?” The question in response is a non sequitur.  The appropriate, and more meaningful corollary question would be, “How are you wanting to use it?” There seems to be a colloquial consensus that the word nigga has endearing roots.  This cliché political correct concordance has deodorized the funk in a very powerful word.  Nigga is a derogatory word and to use it as an endearing term is to use the word in a way in which it does not belong.  If nigga were truly an endearing term synonymous with solidarity, struggle, oppression, and brotherly love, then it would not be offensive for white people to use the word.  No one can deny that women or people in the LGBT community have been systematically oppressed, victims of random acts of violence and denied rights, so would they, then, be allowed to use the word nigga?

Some circles believe that truncating the word nigger with nigga makes the word less offensive. Despite reassembling a word in phonetic form, the word does not lose meaning.  There is a litmus test for the correlation of the circumcision of a word and it’s depth of offense: Ask any woman if she is less offended by the castration of the “er” in the word heifer and would prefer to be called “heifa”. Giving the suffix of a word a bit of a snip to clean it up a little does not change its original intent.  The word nigga rolling off a black person’s tongue should not elevate the word to decadence amongst blacks or whites. Its usage should pique our interest in ironic language.  Word pornography should be bared from usage, not a word from an entire population of people.    To say white people cannot say nigga is intellectually and emotionally lazy.  I admit it can be uncomfortable, but I refuse to be coddled by stifling the lexicon of others; and, I defy anyone who claims the authority to determine what speech is harmful or who is a harmful speaker.

The problem with violating the free speech of others is that it opens the violator to the offense he or she is trying to prevent.  Saying someone cannot use a word because of the color of their skin is discrimination.  How does one calculate whether or not a person is white? If someone is ½ black and ½ white with green eyes and blonde hair, can they say nigga? What about a ½ black and ½ white person such as Barack Obama? He is on the browner side of things, but he is half white.  Would we condemn the President for using the word if his skin were “white” but he identified as black?  The shade of offense within a word is not married to the skin color of the person speaking the word.

It seems to be more apropos to annex solidarity and love from their feign depiction in the word nigga and to use appropriate synonyms like brother and sister. I am not condoning white people frivolously using nigga because I do not condone its frivolous use amongst black people. There are other words that can be used to express love and united struggle.  If you’ve gone to a church, then you are familiar with referring to your fellow congregationalist as “brother” or “sister” and by all means feel free to drop the “er” and add an “a”.

3 Comments

  1. Brotha, good to read your thoughts on contemporary use of language. Were you being “titillating” when you (first graph) used the word “circumcised” instead of “circumscribed?” –UncleGreg

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    1. Anthony Conwright

      Haha. Nope Uncle Greg. I thought about that sentence for a long time. I picked circumcise because the origin of the word means “to cut” and I knew I wanted to visit that imagery later on in the piece when I talked about snipping the “er” at the end of a word to make the word more sanitary or less offensive. I thought about changing it but then I figured might as well leave it on as long as I use the imagery later…..good catch! Thanks for reading Uncle Greg.

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  2. Saw this item on the “Raw Story” site. Donald Trump and Fox News complain: Blacks say “cracker” but we can’t use the N-word. Reader comments: Tell you what, Trump. Let someone call you a cracker, then whip you across the back, steal your stuff, f*ck your wife and daughter and sell your son into slavery. THEN you can bitch about them calling you “cracker.”

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