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Black folks just seem to keep coming up with ways to divide themselves. We keep falling for distractions and side issues, which keep us from focusing on the big picture. The big picture my friends, is us, Black People, not just those you know but those you don't as well. Those on this continent and others. The big picture is global, Pan African. The big picture is Black people, from the lightest Creole, to the darkest Sudanese. It is from this perspective that I approach one of the biggest distractions and therefore major causes of division within the community of Africans living in America. The word Nigger! or in its ghetto vinacular, “Nigga”. Division among Black people over this word is nothing new. But today, this word is used more freely than ever before and by a more diverse population of people than ever before.

Never before have Africans living in America used this word to the extent that they use it today. I have heard much discussion on this subject and have participated in many debates myself. I feel that it's time to break down the word but also it's meaning from a total perspective, not just on how different mindsets view the word, or how different generations view the word. Black people; let's get this out of the way because there are many things that we could be fighting for instead of always fighting each other. We would find few things to fight about if we had sense enough to fight for each other.

Some people, young and old say that Nigga is just a word. It is a term of endearment used to acknowledge or recognize a homeboy, a friend, your crew, or just someone you know, as in "what's up my Nigga?" It's just flavor, besides, white folks say Nigger, Black folks say Nigga, you know, with flava. Others feel that it is a derogatory term, which is beyond disrespectful to Africans all over the world. Some feel that the use of the word is ignorant, proof positive of a lack of intelligence, ghetto if you will. Ghetto! That’s another story. Deeper still, there are those who remember the deep cuts of the word Nigger coming off of razor thin Southern lips. There are those who know what this word meant in its inception and what it means today. They know that a rose by any other name is still a rose. There are those who have knowledge of this word and its foundation, not some 20th century watered down version. There was a time when the word Nigger was exclusively a white verb, adjective, and noun. It was used to humiliate at every opportunity. Black people did not have that kind of hatred for each other and did not use it so freely around others. Today Black folks use the word when many whites that understand what it means will not. That is not progress, that is Willie Lynch in full affect. Whites don't even have to call us niggers any more. We say it so much that others don’t have to. The streets are no different; the Klan doesn't need to kills Blacks anymore because Black brothers and sisters are killing each other in mass numbers. The worse part is that they think that it's their idea. Taught that Black life is nothing, therefore taking Black life as if it were nothing, Nigga Please! We seem to have much justification for using the word Nigga in the Black community. Here are a few reasons Black people use this word:

1. The word Nigger doesn't mean a Black person. It means an ignorant person.
2. It's just a word
3. It's O.K. if Blacks say it to each other
4. It's a way of getting someone's attention
5. It's the name of a river in Africa

There are many other justifications, reasons, or excuses. Pick your own title. Please understand that just because you have a reason doesn't mean that it is a good one. What you justify as good for you is your business, as long as it does not hurt others. There is no unity, therefore no success among crabs in a bucket. If you are Black and all you do is get over on black folks, you are just a dark skinned Klansmen, as you know, every brother ain't a brother.

Let's look at the idea that the word Nigger means an ignorant person. I have heard many refer to Webster's definition which suggest that blacks should not take the word Nigger personally because in reality it really means an ignorant person, anyone can be a Nigger. This was the excuse that I grew up with. This definition is flawed at best. First of all, if you are a black person standing in a diverse crowd of people supporting your football team and someone says, "sit down Nigger"; explain to me why all eyes are suddenly on you. A Nigger is not an ignorant person, a Nigger can't be anyone, it's a special word just for you. A Nigger is a person of African descent, whether you like it, or except it or not. Secondly, even before the raids of Kemet, there has been a plot to diminish the greatness of African people and the African continent. If the Bible can be misinterpreted, so can a book like the dictionary? Why would you think that Webster would be exempt from that plot? If you believe Webster, you probably believe that Columbus discovered America. Let me put it this way. We all know that there was a time in America when it was illegal for Blacks to read. Blacks caught reading or those caught teaching them to read, (Black or White) would be punished or killed. Even when Blacks could not pick up a dictionary and read the definition of the word Nigger, they knew full well what it meant and what it felt like. Thirdly, the definition has changed many times over the years. It has changed in print but not in the hearts and minds of those who long for the good old days of Nigger servants in the fields and in the beds of slave owners.

Why do you refer to Webster's when in Webster's the meaning of the word changes to remain within the lines of political correctness of the times? Including removing the word all together or adding words such as Niggardly. Over the years the dictionary has presented this word differently, as stated before new dictionaries omit it. Regardless of the definition you except, to remove it from the dictionary altogether is disingenuous. We know that the word exist. Removing it is almost as comical as saying that it's cool to say nigga as opposed to saying nigger. Perhaps more telling is the experience I had while writing this paper. Each time I typed the word Nigger it was identified by my spell check as in improperly spelled word. I know that I spelled it right (you have to do some real thinking here) didn't I? What will the dictionary say in twenty years? Nigger, “your black ass?” The word of God is rooted in a foundation, you can interpret the word of God to mean something that is comfortable for you, but your interpretation does not change the true word of God, you can't change the truth or its foundation. Though there is nothing Godly about the word Nigger, still, you can find its truth in its foundation, in the root of its meaning. When the incredible Alex Haley wanted to tell a story of truth, he called his story ROOTS!

Nigger is obviously more than just a word because you can get into too much trouble if you use it. The word reeks of hatred. While Blacks say that it is a term of endearment, they also know that if they really want to degrade their brother or sister, one sure way to do it is to call them a Nigger, the other is to talk about their mother. If the voice at the drive through says "hi Nigger, may I take your order?" you should have a problem. If your child's teacher sends home a note that says " Your child was a good Nigger today" you should have an issue, if your boss tells you that you are doing a great job and he/she says " I wish I had more Nigger's like you" there should be a problem. I respectfully submit to everyone, especially to those who use the word (including myself) that it is much, more than just a word. If you do use the word, that is your choice, but please have a total overstanding when doing so. Don't fool yourself into thinking your definition is global.


This concept has been a virtual mind field. Many non-Blacks cite this concept when discussing the word Nigger (yes, other races discuss Nigger and Nigga) in an open forum. They say, "What is the big deal when you call each other Nigger's all the time?" If the word is so bad why then do you use it as a term of endearment amongst each other? There are many responses to such questions. Perhaps the responses, excuses, or reactions are not that important. What is important is our global interpretation as it relates to us as a people, not just a neighborhood, or city. What is important is that there is no need for other races, other countries, or other Blacks for that matter to respect us when we have not the same for ourselves. If a Black person calls another a Nigger there may in fact be no harm. But if another hears this comment and does not overderstand, we have a problem.
If your comments offend just one of your brothers or sisters, we have a problem.


To use a white slang, DUH! saying excuse me is another way of getting someone's attention. You can use any word in an aggressive way and get attention.


While there is a great river in Africa called the Niger, I have yet to hear of the river Nigger. That does not mean that it does not exist, it just means that in my limited knowledge I have yet to hear of it. Additionally, it is customary to name great wonders after great men and great women not the reverse. Rivers are usually named in relation to geographical location or origin such as the Nile, the Potomac, the Colorado, the Mississippi, not by the people inhabiting the region of the river. Finally, one of the greatest rivers in Germany is the Rhine River. Why is it that Germans are not called Rhinos?

Where do we go from here?

First and foremost we need education. Not just education on the word Nigger, but education as to who we are as Africans living in America. Knowledge of self is more than a righteous sounding proclamation; it is much needed nourishment. We as Black people need to stop trying to decide what is Black and what is not. If a Black person does the deed it becomes Black. Just as one drop of black blood makes you black. Let us embrace all that is us and then determine as a race what is acceptable and what is not. Then, let us try to bring all to our overderstanding as a Black Race. Not as a Democrat, or a Republican, as ghetto, or as educated, these things are secondary to the race. Because a person uses a lot of slang doesn't make them ignorant. I know some brilliant people with several degrees on the wall who use the word Nigger. While they may temper its use, they use it just the same. I'm positive that I am not the only person that has been in a business meeting and the word has come up, or been at a party with good friends, good food, good music, and a good card game. In the proper setting most Black folks can become comfortable either using or hearing the word Nigger, can I get whiteness! The difference between that party and those brothers conversing on the street is that there is an overderstanding. I'm not condoning it, or even judging it, I'm simply saying that there is an overderstanding. There is a context, or a foundation from which the word is used and those present understand that. When most non-blacks here this word they don't understand this. That in it's self is dangerous my friends. Many non-blacks do not comprehend that while you can say Nigger in the presents of some blacks, others will not tolerate it. It is not wise for Blacks to use the word Nigga in mixed company and it is not wise for non-blacks to use the word at all. Even if you are white and have a Black best friend who doesn't mind you using the word nigger, you could be putting yourself and your black friend in jeopardy if you use the word around other blacks.

Like many of my fellow Africans living in America, I would like to see the word or at least the pain that it causes go away. That is not going to happen so what can we do? I propose the following suggestion:

Let us start by not using the word around non-blacks. I know that some of you will say let us not use the word at all, that's cool, but not realistic. I'm trying to communicate with my brothers and sisters, by saying that those who use the word are somehow deficient I fail to communicate, it's time to communicate and to heal. Just think, if we only used the word amongst ourselves my Mother and my young brothers and sisters would not have to stop at a red light and hear the word Nigger blaring from the speakers of some white boys car! Non-blacks would not be able to cite our use of the word as a justification for them using it. Will all of our problems as Africans Living in America be solved if we as a people stopped using this word? NO! but perhaps we could begin to regain some of the unity we once had and that would be a start; it is as least worth a try. It has been said that if you want to keep getting what you are getting, keep doing what you are doing. Let's start the No Nigger in mixed company movement. It will be the first time that we as a people had a movement in a long time! Even Mr. Richard Pryor, one of the most brilliant minds in comedy, and probably one of the most influential voices in making it cool to use the word Nigger as a single word or in a sentence, later declined to use it. This brilliant man who made millions partially inspite of and partially because of his ability to impart complete understanding by using the word Nigger, through wisdom, later abstained from using it. While in the Mother-Land (do not miss the fact that The Mother-Land gave birth to all land and all people) he discovered that there is no need to call people niggers when there are none.

I alluded earlier to the word nigger emanating from the stereos of Non-Blacks. This phenomenon is not limited to whites. Asians, Latinos, and various other ethnic groups love to listen to music made by Blacks. They don't limit themselves to rap. They listen to jazz, R & B, and Raggie. Go to any jazz or blues event and it wouldn't be unusual for the Black folks to be in the minority. Non-Blacks purchase more the major percentage Rap records. If you say you are keeping your music real for your real niggas, why aren’t your niggas buying your records instead of dubbing them? That includes your movies too. Now before someone decides to become defensive, let me say that I'm not trying to make rap music the culprit, I'm just stating fact. I have two sons who are seriously into Rap music, as well as other types of music. Because they are interested, so am I. I own several Rap or Hi Hop records myself. I was nineteen years old when the Sugar Hill Gang hit the scene. It's been on and crackin ever since. I can look past profanity and see the brilliance of some of these young artist. Just as I could when I heard the genius of Richard Pryor, Rudy Ray More, Millie Jackson, Redd Foxx, and many others. I was young but I knew these were talented individuals. They had something to say, sometimes for no other reason than to shock us, or say things we were thinking but were too afraid to say. I would like to see Rap artist continue to grow, to continue to be innovative, and continue to shock us, however, I would like to caution them to not get keeping it real confused with keeping it real fucked up. Do not hide behind the times or behind gimmicks. Stand up for your beliefs, but please have a complete understanding of that which you believe in and its effect on your people. Music is used to express many things. It is sometimes social, sometimes political, sometimes romantic, and sometimes just plain fun. We need music, if it exposes sadness or injustice that is fine, but if it causes it, we may need to reevaluate. Not only do I love music, I am intrigued by the music industry, but alas, it is a wicked industry. Anyone involving themselves in it should understand this. They should understand that all money is not good money. Make your choices, but live with the choices you make. I'm not picking on the music industry, one could make a case that business in it's self is wicked. Being an Attorney could be considered an admirable profession. It is! but it is a wicked business. There is something wicked when the level of justice one receives is related to their ability to pay for it.

Sometime around 1991, something very significant happened in the music industry that is revelant to our discussion. Michael Jackson released a record (Black or White) which contained language considered by some to be offensive to different ethnic and religious groups. One of the groups offended was the Jewish population. After much to do, Michael Jackson changed his lyrics. Michael Jackson! Who is bigger than Michael Jackson in the Music industry? Who has been around as long as Michael Jackson, serfice it to say that it is a short list, and those on that list take back stage to record sales. Mike is the man, not because I said so, but because the numbers say so, the industry says so. Still, Mike relented. The industry is not so wicked that it will degrade it's loved ones. Not even for Michael Jackson, not even for money. Where do you stand Black people? Michael Jackson was in no way trying to be racist. I think that was understood. The point is that anything considered to be detrimental to Jews, regardless of its context was and is unexceptable. Stop and think about that for a moment. The music industry loves money, but it will not allow disrespect of the power base for any reason. Others have figured out that 20-inch rims, expensive champagne, exotic cars, and beautiful women are fine, but they mean nothing if they are obtained at the expense of their race. The Jews said “never again” and they meant that, they fight to make it so. I for one admire the unity that they and other races have. It is their unity that makes them successful. If using the word nigga will sell a few more records, we will use it. I can't be the only one who recognizes this as a weakness for all African Americans. There is a price to be paid for the " I'm just trying to get paid attitude”. A lot of black folks make records about lifestyles that they don't live. Many of these so-called gangsters don't live gangster lives. Those that have lived it want something better for themselves and their families. Many artists have diverse stories to tell but it is the negative stories that are most detrimental to the black community, that get all of the attention. Positive records about black experiences get little airtime. Let's stop portraying ourselves on the world stage as gangsters and pimps. We know that there is more to the Black community than that. The problem is that for many, images are all they have to go by. There should be a better balance of the image others see. Is it all right to be a house nigger if you are paid well? There is a price for just getting paid. The brothers who worked for the government to spy on and eliminate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were just getting paid; the brother who gave Malcolm X mouth to mouth after his chest wounds (that may be too deep for you) was just getting paid. Those blacks that participated (knowingly) in the Tuskegee experiment were just getting paid and those brothers who helped put Africans on ships were just getting paid. I can't tell anyone how to get paid, but don't act like there are no consequences. Let's keep it real. A prostitute does what he/she does because he/she wants to get paid, but at least he/she knows that they are a prostitute. Instead of being mad at Asians for owning stores in your neighborhood or Latinos for moving into your neighborhood, be mad at us for not owning our neighborhood. Be jealous of their unity, that's how they win. Other ethnic groups will call themselves niggas; it's considered cool to do so. The thing is, they can give the title back to you at any time, and you are stuck with it. Other ethnic groups don't use, glorify, or dignify racial slurs that pertain to their ethnic group. Mexicans may call each other wet backs, but they don't do it in mixed company. Why not Niggas? Because as Richard Pryor stated after his trip to the Mother Land, there aren't any! There are no blacks, coloreds, Negros, or niggas, just Africans.

William B. Cox

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