Nov 7th, 2019, 10:01 AM

The N Word, In Case You've Heard

By Waldell Goode
Image Caption: Flickr/Keith Tyler
The purpose and the power

When Gina Rodriguez infamously sang The N-Word on October 15, 2019, the flood gates opened. No one in the world realized that non-descendents-of-slavery could form their lips to spout the term. The outrage from The Internet is bizarre and lame. How could lambasting one performer’s public display of ignorance extricate or resolve tensions concerning post-modern ownership of that specific moniker?

But this ain’t about Gina. It’s about the complexities of the human condition and how the singular embodies verbiage versus how the whole seeks to attach meaning to a controversial and notorious colloquialism. Although, The Puerto Rican actress’ recent faux pas provides a fairly apropos framework for argumentative debate. 

Image Caption: Burts & Gerts /Le Roy Lasses White 

Amidst a litany of opining commentators, Emmy Award nominated comedian and Master of African American Studies, Amanda Seales, stated last week, “When this word was being used [as] a derogatory term, it was being used by the oppressor.” She went on calling for nuance. Acknowledging that Gina herself may have retained a layered connection or history with the word, doesn’t revoke social responsibility publicly or privately. Seales noted, “If we can learn to use pronouns, we can learn not to say The N-Word.” 

Image Caption: Flickr/The Garner Circle PR LLC

As an African American, I love that word. Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself in the piece earlier. You might like to know this was written by a sentient being who is also Black, unlike Gina Rodriguez. 

I was actually glad when she blurted it out on Instagram. It’s not like we don’t know they say it. And “they” in this context refers to the aforementioned: non-descendents-of-slavery. Since elementary school, I’ve heard every race of human use The N-Word either pointedly or in-passing. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve been in the prolonged presence of white people and I heard the word “slip” out because they are accustomed to singing it aloud when no one else is around.

One could say The N-Word began shaping my life long before my grandparents were born. Even into my formative years that word’s multi-faceted connotations were powerful, often juxtaposing self-affirmation, examination, and self-deprecation. After all, it could invoke ya boy on the block, or even Black President, Barack Obama.

Image Caption: Truthout/Lauren Walker

This becomes more complicated with the success of musical genres. Currently, Hip Hop is the most popular genre in The United States

People who don’t look like me are buying more music from African American artists than I do. The white cultural consumption of Black cultural exports is actually a good thing. The more diversity consummerized, the wealthier the artist. However, a latent function of this capitalism is more and more white people speaking without the appropriate or proper education or ancestral privilege to participate in the conversation. 

White people, do not engage. 

You cannot partake in the pleasure if you have not been persecuted by its exploitation.

Image Caption: Pxhere/Chipinkos

 

Despite being happy to finally have a global Exhibit A - so individual people can stop ensuring me, it’s just them or not as big a deal as I think - there should be consequences for Gina’s actions. She complied with being an example the moment she began contractual work in the entertainment industry. 

The Daily Show host, Trevor Noah, sat down with The Breakfast Club radio show discussing Gina. He offered the perspective that while she grew up with Hip Hop and Black culture, she still has not fully lived a Black experience. Black people maintain exclusive rights to the word, “may be the one perk of the oppression,” as Noah put it.  

Image Caption: Pixabay/GDJ

 

In concurrence with Amanda Seales’ case for nuance, Trevor asserts, “I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer. I just know that Black people should be deciding the thing.” That its prevalence in the Black community is valuable because it is often youth declaring, “I’m gonna own that word before somebody tries to own me with that word.” 

And finally, he said: 

 

“If you aren’t Black, I can save you a lot of stress in your life by telling you just DON’T say it.” - Trevor Noah

 

It won’t be the last time a celebrity makes a racially charged blunder on Instagram, or the end of The N-Word as an idea. Personally, it has shaded areas of my life both lighter and darker tints just by the Spiritual intention of its pronunciation. I have never felt more like an N-Word than when I attended undergrad. It was a predominantly white institution. I banded together with another dark skin English major and we vowed to battle our financial aid woes in tandem. We shared the sensation of a similar complexion setting ourselves free. It is she who granted me the wisdom in redefining the limits of my linguistics. I never (or rarely) used The N-Word, but she did all the time. I was forced to hear the resilience, the survival, the bitter irony and the sweet satisfaction suppressing the supremacy - all in the sanctity of her articulation. And I knew we were truly in the fight together, because that nigga saw me. 

Image Caption: Pixabay/OpenClipart-Vectors

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