The Shocking Reason I don’t use the N word! Warning: Bitches and Motherfuckers Ahead

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Let’s get this one thing clear. From here, through the end of this post I will be breaking a covenant. I’m going to use the N word…nigger. I’m going to use it more than once. Probably more times than I used it in the entire year. Get ready. If you have pearls, prepare to clutch them. Teeth? Get to gnashing.

But let’s start at the beginning. In the suburbs of Philadelphia, in the early 70’s. You see, my parents met in West Philadelphia, but my father was a truck driver and business man. They needed land for his trucks. A lot of land. So they moved to Lima Pennsylvania when I was around four.

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I attended a string of schools where I was the only Black kid in the class. This is what that experience looked like in the 70’s and 80’s.

  • On the bus to kindergarten there were a few kids who liked to shout that I was the same color as shit. This was a daily thing. So much so that after a while it lost its sting. I began to sleep through it. I guess they stopped.
  • In elementary school, when the kids wanted to zing me, they said, “At least I’m not Black!” This was an established argument ender. No matter what I said afterwards it fell on deaf ears. Mic dropped. Stage owned. On to the next one…
  • Middle school camping trip. A boy shouts, “Nigger!” as he pulls an Army knife from his red backpack. We had just left the bus. I was about to spend four days in the woods with this kid. Here he was, beet red, holding a 12 inch knife in my face. I don’t remember what the fight was about. I only have the vaguest memory of what he looked like, and I couldn’t tell you his name. But I remember that knife. I can tell you everything about it.

This was in the early 80’s. If political correctness was a thing, it hadn’t circulated down to us yet. The kids were like a stream of consciousness for the id of white America.

  • In ninth grade I remember the Black jokes. One guy loved to tell them. He must have had a book. He would pull me to the side. Lay one on me. Look at the reaction. Did I ever laugh?

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High school… I remember the Black kids. They weren’t in my classes but I remember them. My school district had a habit of putting children with my complexion into special ed; especially the boys. It happened quick; one day your in one class, the next your in a wing of the school that you didn’t know existed, talking about your feelings and reviewing basic algebra.

It happened to me twice; once in Middle school and once in High school. It happened to my brother, too. Each time our mother fought. But not everyone has a mother like ours. She was an educator herself, and she was fierce, like a lioness with an uzi.

But as a result, I was almost always the only Black boy in my classes. Segregation lite.

These schools weren’t in red states. They were in suburbs that are now considered to be affluent. Where the white folk are educated and liberal, and racism isn’t supposed to exist. But the bathroom walls were marked with the words “nigger” and KKK.

Then I went to an HBCU. Cheyney University, home of Ed Bradley and some of the fiercest thinkers in the world.

A strange thing happened on that campus. I began to hear the words, “nigger,” and “motherfucker”. A lot. And not as insults, either. They were, like, regular pronouns, to be used in place of he, she, they…

This was kind of a city thing – a hip hop thing. But my exposure to rap at that point was limited. I had cousins in West Philly who were all up in it. Once I met Kid Capri and KRS1 in my grandfather’s house. My cousin had brought them by. They were just standing there…being, themselves. Late 70’s I think. Early 80’s?

But they weren’t really playing rap on the radio. Yo MTV Raps was just becoming a thing. There was Rap City, but you had to stay up real late. And we didn’t have cable.

I was ill prepared. I had been called nigger a lot up til then. At school, hurled from truck windows, at the public pool… It was the fighting word. Same with motherfucker. I was cool with them as insults. Me and nigger and motherfucker had a fulfilling, though distant, relationship.

Now, nigger and motherfucker were all up in my space. With niggas shouting motherfucker like it wasn’t actually an insult to you and your mother. Bitch, on the other hand, hadn’t been corrupted yet. Call a woman bitch and the world would look on and understand why you just got slapped.

“What he do?!”

“Nigga called her a bitch!”

“Why’d that motherfucker do that!?”

I wonder if some of the Cheyney students had never been called “nigger” in anger. Although they could tell you, chapter and verse, about the affects of racism on American soil, police brutality and institutionalized racism, how much did they know about what it’s like to have a white kid shout nigger at you, just because you were Black and he was too frustrated to come up with anything better?

I fought it. I listened to conscious rap. Hung out with the kids from the pan african group. And when it became clear that nigger and motherfucker weren’t linguistic fads, but necessary components of the Black lexicon, I quietly tried to make peace with them.

But guess what. I couldn’t do it. And not just because the word makes me angry all up in my spine.

I could have lived with that. I would have used it sparingly, like sriracha hot sauce. I stood out as much at Cheyney, for being a “white talking” yellow, Black boy from the suburbs, as I had in primary school, for being the only Black kid on the playground. Making peace with nigger was a compromise that I was willing to make.

But I couldn’t say it. It wouldn’t come together right in my mouth. What came out didn’t sound at all like what the kids were saying at college, as a catchall pronoun for everyone. It sounded like “NIGGER.”

The only way I could say it was like a white dude, leaning out of a pickup truck. Same with motherfucker. When I say it, it isn’t Snoop Lion smooth. It’s Motherfuckerr. Like a nerdy white kid with braces. Or, like the Black dude that grew up next door to him.

That failed linguistic experiment ended decades ago. I watched the proliferation of “nigger” from the sidelines, both unable and unwilling to participate in its meteoric rise in popularity. There are people, both white and Black, who feel as if this is a handicap. My Blackness, already weakened by my light skin, is disfigured beyond recognition by my unwillingness to cozy up to the word nigger.

Now, I admit, my hood-pass is probationary at best. But when it comes to Blackness, your dead wrong. But somewhere along the way, Hood and Black became inverted. Instead of the inner city being one small aspect of what it is to be Black in America, it became accepted as the definition of all things Black. Which is bullshit. Blackness is bigger than all of the hoods in all of the cities in the country. We’re everywhere. Pop culture doesn’t reflect this, but it is truth.

I miss the days when nigger was a fighting word. Things were more simple then. There were boundaries that your white friends knew not to cross, not even when they were high and you were both listening to Mos Def and talking about the world.

It’s hard to demand respect when there aren’t clear boundaries. Instead, we wave nigger in their face, daring them to use it… Say it… And then we get them for it. I don’t care how funny it is when Dave Chapelle says, “Fuck yo couch, nigga!!!”, white person, it isn’t okay if you say it.

I miss the days when this was common knowledge. An irrevocable truth. Before Gwyneth Paltrow took to the stage singing Niggers in Paris, as if that’s fucking okay. As painful as High School was, at least I knew that when a white dude shouted nigger, he meant it. I didn’t have to sit there, trying to figure out their motives while they insulted me and my ancestors.

I try not to write too much about race. It makes me mad all up in my spine. But after the Trayvon Martin verdict, I wrote this. And this is what I had to say about The Butler. I will not be seeing it.

8 thoughts on “The Shocking Reason I don’t use the N word! Warning: Bitches and Motherfuckers Ahead

  1. This IS an outstanding commentary! I believe it is the first ever write, or expression, of feelings over the N word that I could relate to..In almost every aspect you’ve named ..Other than I was only called the N word to my face as a child. Once. I was very very young..Not even 6 yrs old yet..And on my front porch, playing dolls with my White friend, she casually called me the N word. As my Daddy overheard it though…She didn’t realize what she was saying was wrong..BUT for some reason i did..She said ever so sweetly..” My Daddy says you’re a N_____” I said no I’m not…And then my Daddy said it was time for her to go home; immediately! I asked my Daddy I said ‘ Daddy I’m not a N am I?’ I know without a doubt that just broke my Dad’s heart..I was raised with a safety net? of safety on military bases and suburbs..I don’t use the N word. I don’t care to hear it around me..Unless its my elders I always ask for it NOT to be said..It was a word we co-raised our sons to realize is considered a curse word..I think just as bad money can’t be made into good money..EVER…I don’t think a word with the history of the N word; can ever be a word of affection…It drips with ugliness..Whoever says IT. 2 thumbs UP on your write..

    • Thanks!
      You make an interesting point when you say that you can’t make bad money into good money. When you look at mainstream hip hop, what you see is a whole bunch of people making money from what used to be taboo. Drug dealing, murder, prostitution… (for those who think that you can constantly use the words pimps and hoes while not evoking prostitution, you’re dead wrong.)
      I remember when people would go through great pains to tell you that the ghetto was more than just crime and pain. They would denounce those stereotypes. Not, people remain silent while entertainment tells us that being Black is synonymous with being from the hood, which is synonymous with criminality.
      A whole industry exists, devoted to destroying all of our taboos. You can’t do that without repercussions.
      We definitely need to reshape our communities. Part of that journey is looking at how we consume and use words like nigger.

      • Ahhh how ironic you bring up the whole situation with what USED to be taboo@drug dealing, pimping, hoes, and murder..My brother you’re right it is STILL taboo..I give a care LESS that its been glorified in rap songs..I’m not down with hardcore rap because of the negatives like that…BUT I was around, though I don’t hardly look that old, when rap first came about..I recall SugarHill Gang etc…Rap was NOT about the taboo issues..nor calling women out of their name..Just the other day a Sista commented on something right here on W.P..Said something about backintheday drug dealers were looked UP to in Black communities..I said NO they weren’t then nor now…No one I know ever did..She said because they could take care of their families in the hood , etc…yada yada…I said Pfft! but look at the number of families they tore DOWN selling them stuff to get them hooked on drugs..It is all in how one looks at things..Perspective..More importantly WE have to recall to teach these things to our children …NOT the nonsense they can /will hear/see on the boob tube or hear in songs…

        It can/does start with folks just like us..Spreading the word and living it..Truly glad I ran into you on W.P..Virtual high 5^

        • Maybe her “back in the day” is different from ours. If she’s talking about the 90’s, she may be right. But if you go back much further you run into the good ole days when criminals didn’t advertise their criminality. There were no songs about numbers runners, particularly not ones that were sung by numbers runners while they ran numbers.
          Drug dealers didn’t typically go out of their way to let you know what they were doing.
          Old school criminals were cagey. They held down jobs, or owned small businesses so that they could cover their tracks. If you weren’t doing business with them, then you wouldn’t know what their business was. And they didn’t need theme songs.
          By the way, can you name one ex drug dealing rapper who expressed remorse over the affects that their past lives had on the community? A lot of these guys have undergone a metamorphosis. They are model citizens. (I’m thinking specifically of Jay Z…) Have any of them ever looked back over the burnt out blocks and said sorry?

          • You know what? I hadn’t looked at it from that perspective @..”Maybe her “back in the day” is different from ours. If she’s talking about the 90′s, she may be right. But if you go back much further you run into the good ole days when criminals didn’t advertise their criminality. There were no songs about numbers runners, particularly not ones that were sung by numbers runners while they ran numbers.”

            >> Never looked at it in that way at all..Guess because I can’t relate..But what I have seen is the fall-out due from the phase when drug dealing was SO prevalent..In my opinion there is an ENTIRE generation that was impacted. In a negative manner. My generation…The first generation to have to either a. go back home to their parents due to addiction or the effects…b. or their children raised by their own parents due to the same..I’ll never forget a comment my own Daddy made upon a visit to California back in the late 90s..He said “Thank God neither of my children were influenced to use drugs!” At the time? It was SO prevalent that I’m sure it was every parents worst nightmare! That is so , so sad..Whether from the hands of a White (pharmaceutical companies) or Black drug dealer(crack, meth, ect) it is just sad…

            I don’t know what exists in the hearts of drug dealers who have since changed their ways..All of us have crosses to bear ; or things we’ve had to beg God for forgiveness for..Or least I know I have..I’m so highly thankful though that my crosses never impacted thousands and thousands of people!

            By the way I never knew Jay Z used to be a drug dealer…Nor have I been one to get caught up though in the Jay Z & Beyonce idolization..Thanks for the insight..Interesting indeed

  2. I look at it like like this…A man calling a woman a bitch is just like a white man calling a black person a n*gger…out of respect it shouldn’t happen. I feel like a woman calling another woman a b*tch makes sense because that’s what they are treated like in American Society same for black people saying n*gga….it kind of takes the pain away to say it in endearment and at the same time reminds you what time it is. The words only reflect the social constructs.