Why Use The “N Word” When We Mean “Nigger”?

“N word” is one of the most powerful in America’s vocabulary. The word has a history of being degrading and derogatory. The word connotes pain and a lesser social status.

The tone of the word ranges from endearment to damnation. The word can be loving and/or hateful. It projects an attitude and maybe a behavioral description.

But the “N word” is not an actual word, is it? The word is NIGGER. “N” is just an initial and the sting of the full word is removed by just using that letter.

The slave master or the racist saying it means one thing. Hip hoppers saying it means another.

The hipsters mean love and endearment of kindred. They mean brotherhood and ethnic identification. The racist means hate and degradation of a people who have been oppressed and omitted from the mainstream.

If anyone has to use this dreaded word, it is best that White people do not use the word at all.

Different Meanings

The word means different things to different people in different places at different times. It’s a code word.

Richard Pryor, the late great comedian, used the word in his routines and it evoked laughter from everyone. As he used it in his context, it was always funny and not offensive.

Richard used the word until he visited Africa and saw Black people in the full light of dignity and honor and he vowed not to use the word again. He got a new meaning on his choice word. “Nigger” is a slave term and that became crystal clear to Mr. Pryor.

I am not a southerner. Southern ways are foreign to me. I visited the Carolinas with my mother once.  She was in foreign territory, searching for her ancestral roots.

We were on a mission to find the church were her father was buried. We were in the little town of Apex, which is about the size of a small neighborhood in Chicago.

The church we were looking for was a “white” church – meaning literally a white church, as in the color of the building. We got lost in foreign territory and stopped at a post office seeking direction.

The postmaster was a tall, lumberjack White man fitting exactly the stereotype, wearing overalls and a straw hat. I asked him did he know of the “white” church.

He answered, “yes,” but told me I was looking for the wrong church, because the “niggars” didn’t go there. He pointed out the church for “whites” and then on the other side of town was the “nigga” church. It, too, was white in color.

His tone, believe it or not, was not offensive as he used the word “nigga.” This was my first experience in the South listening to a White man say “nigga.”

He did not say the “N word;” he said nigga.  And I understood him. He led us to where we were going. As I got back in the car, my mother said, “Did that man just say ‘Nigga?’”

When Blacks say you are treating me like a “nigger,” it means you are engaging mistreatment, perhaps slave like. It means perhaps a person has stepped out of his rightful obedient, submissive, respective place and is out of compliance with someone White or powerful.

Ald. David Moore Is Correct

Chicago Alderman David Moore recently used the word in a Facebook post to describe the treatment of school principal Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary School.

Mr. LaRaviere was being put back in his “nigger” place, as he was critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s heavy dictatorial hand in the Chicago public schools. The principal was being punished because he spoke against the authority.

Another word to describe his behavior might have been “uppity.” Newspaper articles have been written about Moore’s use of the word nigger. The alderman refuses to apologize.  The white newspapers have labeled his word as a “slur.”  He says, “Neither do I regret nor apologize” for his word usage.

He is right. He used the word appropriately to communicate to his people. Why is it that when Black people are treated like niggers by the White powers that be, we get mad when it is so stated. What’s the problem?

The “N word” makes people uncomfortable, because we don’t know how it is being interpreted. The word is graphic.

Alderman Moore used it correctly. Nigger. “Nigger” borders on cursing. Do you say the “S word” when you mean, “shit?” Do you say “D word” when you mean, “damn?” Probably not.

America’s cursing lexicon is curious because meaning depends on context, situations and relevancy.

Black people use the “N word” in a variety of ways. To the audience that Alderman Moore was communicating to, he used the word clearly.

So why are newspapers calling him out? More to the point, why is White media calling him out? I love that he won’t change. He said, I said it; I own it and I meant it.

Racism is America’s monster. We all know it exists, we are shamed by it, but when we call it out, we run to the hills with denials and fingers pointing.

The White media probably cannot cover this accurately, even with Black reporters working for the White press. Part of the cure for racism is to call it out when you see it. So it is the case with Alderman Moore.

What is more to the point is why is Principal Troy LaReviere being treated like a nigger, for real. Damn the word; get the meaning! Bravo Alderman Moore for calling it out.

Hermene Hartman
Hermene Hartman

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8 Comments

  • Ms. Hartman, I have never written to you, but read your column frequently; and I must say that you are so on point in your “N Word” article today! OMG! This was so enlightening! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • Thank you for the post that makes American regardless of ethnic background think about their use of the N-word. Can I word have has been associated with negative for century become a term of endearment? Yes. Its impact is different based on the context in which it was used. Thank for continuing the dialogue.

  • Hermene:
    You know my feeling on the word and I read your comments and smiled. Every time we explain it, maybe someone new will get it. So I congratulate you on this article because it is “getting got” with every read. Keep it going and know I am proud of you.

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