Response to Keli Goff’s Statements About “Nigga”

Recently Keli Goff of theloop21.com wrote an article and made statements on the Dylan Ratigan Show that I disagreed with and thought an alternate view point should be articulated. Ms. Goff attempts to make an argument for why “nigga” should be deaded and I point out that her rationale is flawed and based upon her disconnection from the community that employs the word most frequently. Check out what I have to say in the clip below. A written transcript is also available below. Click here to check out Ms. Goff’s article and the Dylan Ratigan Show feature.

Ms. Goff,

I understand your rationale behind your article and statements; however, I believe that such an understanding of the situation is birthed out of a disconnect between you’re seemingly middle-class Black experience and the portion of the Black community that one tends to find the use of the word nigga more prevalent (low SES Black folk).

First let me say, The use of the word “nigga” by Black rappers and comedian does not justify Dr. Laura’s use of the word. Period. It is not logical in any way shape or form for this white woman who seems to be very disconnected from the Black community to use a “communal” colloquialism (nigga) or a derogatory term (nigger). The fact that she and other non-Blacks are “chastised” when they say “nigga” does not mean that “Arbitrary rules about who can say the N-word and who cannot simply do not work”; on the contrary, the rules about who can and cannot use the word “nigga” will work if others respected the reality of our social situation and did not feel as if they are entitled to say or do anything just because others do so.; in other words, if whites began to check their white privilege at the door and recognize that there’s things that they just can’t do or say, things would work perfectly. No one wants to admit, however, there are some things that Black people do that whites can’t, and vice verse. But it is what it is…

I agree that the other issues plaguing our communities–AIDS and violence–does not incite as much anger and frustration as it should. But I think the main cause of frustration is the fact that we tend to see AIDS and violence as something that we do to ourselves, while white people using “nigga” seems to be taken as degradation by an outsider. And we for the most part abide by hood rule number 1: what happens in this house, stays in this house, and hood rule #2: it don’t matter how much you and your brother fuss and fight, if somebody from the outside come at one of yall, you better have his back. Period. Now, take those rules and apply them to the larger Black community.  (Please note, we can definitely make a case about AIDS and violence being inflicted upon us by the “man” because of health care and poverty issues but that does require for us to look deeper than the obvious, which I will admit is an issue in itself in our society at large).

And white people using “nigger”/”nigga” is lethal; perhaps not lethal in a physical manner, but it does crush a lil something in you or at the very least cause a lil uneasiness that you rather not feel. I won’t ever forget being called a nigger by a lil white boy named James in the 2nd grade and my white teacher did nothing; that day my innocence was slaughtered; that day my feelings and interactions with white people were forever altered; that day made me conscious of hate; that day probably even shaved off some of the time that I will spend on earth because of allostatic load (stress); that word was and is, depending on the user, lethal.

Furthermore, you ask the question: ‘Are children really savvy enough to grasp the nuances of a word being an alleged term of endearment around certain types of people, but a term of degradation among others?” and I say yes they are. You then go to write: “Is it any wonder then that so many inner-city high schools have nearly fifty percent drop out rates among black boys, when many of them have likely been called the N-word (as a term of “endearment”) much of their lives? ” I say, they are not dropping out at these rates because they call one another nigga; on the contrary, they are dropping out at this rate because the system, society, and the powers that be treat these boys as “contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc.” And this manner of treatment would occur regardless of if they called one another “nigga”, “homey,” “god,” “son,” “blood,” “cuz,” etc. Why because they are Black males in America.

As far as your Carol Channing example goes, you are totally missing your point. Notice how you had to change Ms. Channing’s normal mode of comportment to make your point. Note, you added “boisterous” and had her speaking in African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Note also you had her saying “What up my ni****?” in setting that the typical Black person wouldn’t say it in. How many Black folk have been on the View and said that? This sentence would be okay if a) it was natural for her, and b) it was an in appropriate environment. In other words, if she grew up using the word in an endearing fashion and it was second nature rather than second thought and if she was amongst other people who were accustom to using the word as well it wouldn’t sound as outlandish as your example makes it.

Furthermore, I don’t think that word “nigga” is used to be funny; only an outsider would see it as such. The word “nigga” is coded and has more to do with familiarity, comfort, community, and identity. The use of the word shows that you are familiar or identify with a certain culture/group/social location of sorts. And for that very reason is why non-Blacks generally don’t get a pass, why some Puerto Ricans, some whites who were born and raised and associate almost exclusively with Blacks, some Filipinos, etc get passes. And it’s the same reason why some Blacks get looked at sideways when they use it; yes, there are some decedents of slaves Black folk who look nearly as bad as white folks using the word “nigga.” But those niggas don’t get checked, they usually just get shunned.

Finally, once again, I think your lack of understanding and disconnection has caused you to think that most of the users are fighting to keep “nigga” alive; on the contrary, most of the users never knew that it was a battle going on; we don’t fight to keep the word alive, it’s just part of our everyday vocabulary.

Hope this brings forth greater understanding.

V

(btw, I know for a fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. himself used to use the term “nigga” too)

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9 Comments

  1. I think that it is unfair to discount the concerns of middle-class black people in this argument, however. Many of the people that participated in the struggle for black rights are now a part of the middle class and they are I think the main ones that are calling for black people to stop using such a word. They were around when this word truly had a lot of power in America and was used by their white counterparts in everyday language. It was not only used in times of anger, such as the instance that you point out of when the white boy in your youth called you a nigga, they would not be able to recount every time that they were called the word nigga and they therefore received the greatest amount of hate and discrimination that this word could conjure. Nigga(er), in their day, was not only a hate word, but a word that signified our place in this world. We were the nigga(er)s that were less than white people, could never amount to anything and would never be able to amount to anything. And now that we have proved them wrong and are taking over positions of power, these middle-class black people are sad to see their people still using this word because of its past meaning. Whether it now has some type of new definition when said by the correct people in the correct setting, maybe we should be listening to them and challenging ourselves to remember the history of this word and stop using it, since it does already have such limited access anyways. This probably doesn’t make much sense, but oh well. haha. Hopefully you get the gist of what I’m saying. Great post though! Keep ’em coming!

  2. Victoria, I believe you made a salient point in stating that the we are not “fighting to keep “nigga” alive; on the contrary, most of the users never knew that it was a battle going on”. Our usage of the word is, as you pointed out, steeped in familiarity and custom. I’ll openly admit that I often do not have qualms with non-Blacks using the word in my presence, but that’s because I know that they have an understanding of how to handle the word and therefore do not use it lightly or to demean any one around.

    It is though a shame when some White people such as Dr. Laura get so caught up in making a point that they lose sight of the point they are making. I am confident that had Dr. Laura used the word just once, maybe twice, then people would have understood her and it would not have backfired on her.

  3. If this word is going to cease then Tom Sawyer doesn’t need to be a school classic where the word is used several times and my Stanford professor shouldn’t feel the need to say it 10 times in one class in order to make an academic point. Which point do people want to make? Everybody use it because it’s powerless or Black people don’t use it because it hurts? The media and America needs to make a decision on that.

  4. Victoria, this is a great response and perspective on the use of the “N word.” I do not think the use of the word will ever cease — whether coming from blacks, whites, etc. I grew up using the word and after debating with myself for a couple of years, I’ve decided to do away with the use of it. In the black community the usage of “nigga” seems to come from a rebel against a system that enslaved and oppressed the minds of a large number of blacks. I am fine with the idea of rebelling against that type of system; what else can one expect? But, it appears that much of this “rebel” turned out to be against ourselves. I view the usage of the word “nigga,” as being amongst other backlashes, such as black on black crime, the disrespect of our women, ourselves, and other things. I don’t have much of a connection to the word anymore, so when it is used as a racial epithet, I don’t get offended, because I was never a “nigger” or “nigga” in the first place. But, I ultimately came to the conclusion that it is truly disrespectful to our ancestors who were raped, whipped, lynched, murdered, beat, dismembered, sterilized (used as lab rats), and victimized by villains– to pump life into a word that will never have the liveliness and endearing presence of words such as, brother and sister. But, my thoughts are only a raindrop in a sea of diverse thoughts and I will continue to respect my brothers and sisters, regardless of their ideology and usage or non-usage on the notorious “N word.”

  5. The N word doesnt have the same effect on people as it used to because the power has been taken from it. The N word is not the reason for said problems and getting rid of it is not the solution and it is impossible. People waste their time running around in circles. Unless we can erase all history of the word and its roots, it will continue to be taught to kids thru text books, family, and culture..

  6. I use the word NIGGA every day! it comes naturally. I don’t see a problem with the word. I do know where the word came from (the whole history behind it)…however i still use it. Every cult/party/organization/group/entity/ has their code of conduct, their language, their rules…

    • I use it too! and it got a whole bunch of different meanings lol. Nigga mean like 10 different words for me.

  7. well my vocab is very small so forgive my grammer and speeling. but i love the points and statements you talk. I agree on that fact you stated we do use the word among are peers. And we will not go to some thats no of our environment and say whats up nigga? or my nigga how you been? but i tired of being judge on words we use or movies making young black males out to be nothing, but drug dealers, rappers and altheletes. but thats a different topic… but continue you to speak out for those who are scared to speak up…. you are truly blessed.

    • Thank you Mr. Smith,

      I’m here to give a voice to my people and my community. Thank you for your support! You help give me the strength to keep pushing forward.

      V


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