Sunday, May 28, 2006

Nigga Please


After watching a fairly clueless CNN report on the new Abolish the N-Word Movement, which is quixotically trying to get folks to erase "nigger" from their thoughts Eternal Sunshine-style... I felt the need to do something besides kick over the TV. So I did what Martin and Malcolm would do, typed an e-mail.


Dear Abolish the N-Word Crew:

I'm sure I'm far from the first black person to respond to your campaign with shrugged shoulders and a deep sigh. You put some impressive resources to work on an issue CNN and the networks love to take up, which should tell you something right off the bat.

I guarantee you, outside of Black History Month, CNN's segment on Abolish the N-Word will be the only time we'll see uncensored images of Jim Crow-era lynchings on that network (not to mention Nina Simone singing her damning rendition of "Strange Fruit"). And why? Why did they take up your cause when we all know that the conglomerate that owns CNN couldn't give a damn about whether we call each other niggers or goldfish? Well, because, as the brilliant comedian Paul Mooney more or less said on that segment, the word was killed long ago, and the time for a public outcry against its use is long gone. When white people felt comfortable enough to use "Nigger" as a casual, public, almost clinical term for Black, it was a cancer. But I have not heard one black person utter the word "nigger" since I was born 33 years ago.

The word you are trying to erase is "nigga," one of the most beautiful and complex examples of black folks taking something meant to eradicate us and fashioning it into... a tool, a weapon, a way of instantly communicating our bloody common history, our interdependence and survival through it all. When a brother approaches me in the street, gives me a pound or a handshake and says, "What's up, my nigga?" I feel about ten feet tall. America may not be our home, but "My nigga" says we both know this fact intimately; that we are brothers because of it; that we have each other's back when the next wave of American ethnic cleansing comes to claim either of us. A simple "My nigga"--period-- is how many young people respond to the kindess of a stranger. It means "Thank you." It also means, "If we ever happen to cross paths in the future and you need something, I'll do my best to help you, friend."

We need "nigga." It is our Iwo Jima memorial and Vietnam Wall all in one. It is an elastic, useful, musical word that can stretch to fit all sizes of imagination, all kinds of complicated social situations. Richard Pryor, who also once made the well-intentioned mistake of trying to retire "nigga," crafted some life-changing comic poetry with it. Without "nigga," his wino-meets-Dracula skit wouldn't be such a dizzying world-historical tap dance. Or hilarious.

Don't worry about white people and others nudging into the "nigga" act. They want to be down. What else is new? Those are not the whites we should be concerned about, as they are merely trying on "nigga" to see if it helps express their own sense of alienation, trauma and defiant individuality in the face of dehumanizing American trends. How could I call myself thoughtful or serious and be mad at the skinny Korean hip hop kids I spot calling each other "nigga" on the corners of Flushing, Queens? I can presume that many of them don't know every twist and turn of the word's evolution, but I'd be foolish to presume that they don't know the general arc--from slur to all-purpose underclass Swiss Army Knife.

There is enough to say about "nigger" and "nigga" to fill 12 encylopedia voumes, so I better cut it short. But let me leave you with a suggestion: With all your web presence and media access, why not spark a movement to come to terms with three words that really are hard at work destroying our progress right now, "thug," "pimp" and "bitch"? These words, with the full endorsement of the media conglomerates (whassup, Jay-Z!), have helped cheapen our young people's understanding of themselves and their peer relationships. They have sexualized and criminalized the kids in their own eyes while making every social interaction a deeply cynical transaction between those who have enough muscle and possessions to live the good life and those who, as 50 Cent so idiotically put it, are merely "Window Shoppas." Our kids, rich and poor, are becoming violent, impulsive, selfish brats while the world crumbles around them, and the N-word has little to do with it.

Thanks for your time.

--Steven Boone

10 comments:

Steven Boone said...

Somebody from Abolish the N-Word responed to my rant the following week. They were cool about it.:

Peace Steve
I READ WHAT YOU HAD TO SAY AND I MUST SAY I RESPECT YOUR OPINION.HOWEVER WE AT ATNW FEEL THAT THE N-WORD IS THE ROOT TO THOSE PROBLEMS YOU MENTIONED
FAR AS THUG PIMP AND THE B-WORD.NO DOUBT THERE ARE DEEPER PROBLEMS NO DOUBT CNN IS THE CONGLOMERATE BUT WE HAVE TO START SOME WHERE. I MEAN NO ONE RESPECTS OUR SO-CALLED LEADERS BARELY,SO WHO BETTER BRING A ISSUE IN OUR COMMUNITY TO THE FOREFRONT.BUT REGULAR WORKING CITIZENS LET ME MENTION CNN CAME TO US WE DIDNT GO AND GET A P.R PERSON OR NOTHING LIKE THAT THIS SITE HAS BEEN ALL WORD OF MOUTH AND ITS BECOME A BIG DEAL BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE US AND OTHERS ARE TIRED OF KIDS YOUNG AS 5YRS OLD USING IT AND NOT KNOWING THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD SO THAT'S WHY WE AT ATNW FEEL THE WAY WE DO. NO ONE IS TAKING A STAND TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT ANY WORD LET ALONE THE N-WORD I MEAN OUR GOAL IS TO GET BROTHERS AN SISTERS TO STOP USING ALL THE WORDS YOU MENTION AS WELL AS THE N-WORD SO AS I SAY I RESPECT YOUR OPINION AN I THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS
KOVON ATNW

William said...

Brilliant. Haven't been on your site in a while but saw the link from mine so I thought I would stop by. Always impressed by the writing. Keep up the good work.

The shot of Roddy Piper and Keith David doesn't hurt either. That was a long fight in that alley way. Seven minutes to be exact! That film is crazy!

Steven Boone said...

Thanks for the kind words, Will. That's not Roddy and Keith, that's you and me, buddy.

William said...

Ahhhhhh, Nice!

Explorations in Life said...

Steve,
I'd like to ask you to read my blog at exploringrace.blogger.com and send me some feedback. I understand your opinion and respect it and would like to hear your take on how to respond when a white person takes the liberty of using the word "nigga" (see my blog). Thanks for your time! I really appreciate your comments.
Dana

Explorations in Life said...

Ooops... I mean exploringrace.blogspot.com Sorry :)

Dirk Schlaf said...

Herr Boone, my objection is not to Nigga, but the reductionist and self negation of present day hip-hop, pimp my ride, LCD culture negating Whigga, Nigga, Kigga (shouldn't these Koreans be more into Hwa Rang than Jay Z and other hack hop cornmeal spew?)

Rea cultural richness and "diversity" is subsumed under the garbage "thug" culture which hip hop has become. The only "thugs" who would impress me are the ones who actually demonstrably participate in physical combat of some sort athletic, intellectual or martial sphere instead of hiding behind a posse of gun carrying bodyguards, or one who actually beat the shit out of gentrifying I bankers in Harlem

Any African American kid who listens to Jay-Z and doesnt' know Nina Simone or Kigga who can't even do a green belt level Tae Gae or wanna be Irish whigga who doesn't know Joyce is a denizen of the pomo septic swamp needing a forced re-education. Fuck it. They made me learn algebra. I can force them to listen to Nina, Mayfield or make them read Yeats.

The real oppression is the forced self loathing any ethnically, racially, national autonomy desiring, strong African, German, Venezuelan, African, Korean what have you by international financewhich wants us all sliding down their mass overproduction "growth"centric cattle shoot.

Thug and pimp culture is forced self loathing and a facile profit machine for a bunch of hacks and parasites.

Young Americans are forced to hate themselves and a culture that produced Hank Williams and Faulkner; young blacks negate Nina and Coltrane, young Germans are told to hate themselves because of what happened 60 years ago and piss on a culture which produced Nietzche and Wagner and are assisted my a bund of pomo academic hacks.

Could it be the same forces and mechanisms making of hate ourselves to be good consumers and global plantation workers.

Roots and Culture meinen Kinder. Roots and Kultur!

Dirk Schlaf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well...it's a dumb idea banning the N-word. I mean when something bad happens to me I say: "That nigga stole my bike!" or "Nigga stole my watch",etc.
How would it be if I would said: "That african-american stole my bike"??! Kind of dumb...

Anonymous said...

i think everyone should have a nigger.

won't U B my

Nigga?

lmmfao.......

Nigger is the greatest word ever invented. White people should be thanked and then....... we brutha's should band together and fuck all the white bitches possible!

yeah.......

Nigga's!!!!