Monday, August 10, 2009

The Power of Nigger

image There are those that would like to reclaim the word nigger, however I would love to see this word erased and buried forever in the sands of time.   It is a  constant reminder that no matter how far we have come as a people, that we are still second class citizens.  Racial epithets cut to the quick and are meant to dehumanize in a stunning display of power. 

Every nation has some version of it and the fact that it has failed to disappear from our conversations, stands as evidence that we are very much convinced that discriminating according to race is more than acceptable. 

There are those that would love to say that Whiteness as oppression is a specifically western phenomenon but they have never been on the receiving end of the word nigger or kaffir.  It does not matter if you are a doctor, judge, or captain of industry; when the word nigger is aimed at you, instantly your accomplishments disappear and the vestiges of your humanity  will crumble at your feet, as you impotently search for a response that parallels the insult hurled your way.

It matters not if the person hurling the insult is as important as a nat on a dog, all that is important is that by using the word nigger, they have reminded you of the universal value of  Whiteness.  Blacks across the diaspora and throughout Africa, have wildly different experiences culturally but what we face universally is racism at the hands of Whiteness and that has led to our historical devaluation.

I have even heard the defence that if one believes that they are not a nigger, then the word should have no possibility of causing harm.  This is an impossibility because of the centuries of pain that nigger instantly brings to mind.  Buried in that word is the harrowing life and death struggle that occurred during the journey to the New World, the cruel sting of the master lash, being cheated out of land, being denied loans and jobs despite qualifications, being systemically undereducated, vilified in the media, denied justice in the court system, rape, lynching and all manner of brutality. Nigger carries the pain of our race and the ways in which Whiteness is determined to ensure that it is forever an open wound.

When a White person uses the word nigger, they do so in full awareness of the systemic power that they invoke.  It can fall easily off of their lips because power is what Whiteness has taught them to express. I can be quietly going about my day and some White person will either say Nigger or say some N when speaking about a Black person and instantly my temper flares.  This will never be just a casual word to me.

image No matter how far we have come, Blacks do not exist with the power to reduce a White person with a single world. Cracker or Whitey do not hold the same ability to offend because unlike the word nigger they do not have history of violence, dehumanization, slavery, rape and violence.  It is enough that we spend endless amounts of time deconstructing Whiteness and its ability to act systemically but when we add to this the fact that we must deal with hate words, the weight is absolutely crushing. 

Nigger changes power dynamics. It is the linguistic equalizer and this why so many choose to traffic in such hateful language.  They know that if they say it or use some new age code for it, the message that it delivers is that a Black person is always and already understood to be lesser than  a white person.  This is specifically why in a moment of defeat, a White person can always fall back up0on the word Nigger to reclaim the upper hand.  The fact that Whiteness even has the choice whether or not to abstain from using this word is proof of the power that it exists with.

Relationships between Whites and Blacks will always have to be carefully negotiated because at the end of the day, no matter how well meaning, or friendly the White person in question is, the ability to wield power coercively is always present in the relationship. Nigger is like a shadow that follows us all the days of our lives and like a scarlet letter, it seeks to symbolize the entirety of our being.