"The N Word"

Is the N-word a new word?

Kush Azrael | 8/9/2013, 12:27 p.m.
The term is now defined as a Black person who is regarded as inferior and ignorant. However it didn’t start ...

Some celebs just don’t get it. After Dog the Bounty Hunter, Michael Richards and Paula Deen were all outed for using the N-word, Riley Cooper and Matt Millen were recently added to the list of those that just won’t let the infamous word leave the spotlight.

Many people use the N-word. But, who uses it – and in what context – is usually the cause of most of the controversy.

So, what’s the difference? Seemingly the answer’s come down to a suffix. Blacks usually use “nigga” and whites use “nigger.”

Nigger is a noun in the English language. The term is now defined as a Black person who is regarded as inferior and ignorant. However it didn’t start that way. The word originated as a neutral term referring to Black people, as a variation of the Latin term “niger.” However, during the slave trade in the United States it was used against Black people suggesting they were unsophisticated. That is the way it is used today.

We have all heard the argument if not participated in it ourselves, “I said nigga with an ‘a’ instead of ‘er’.” If we consider Black/ African American vernacular, most of the words that end in ‘er’ have been substituted with an ‘a’. While it changes the spelling of the word the meaning stays the same. For example gangster/gangsta, buster/busta/ and chopper/choppa, ever/eva.

With all of these words the meaning stays the same except for with nigger, the meaning changes. The word nigga is said to be a term of endearment Blacks use with each other. And members of all races and ethnicities in America have begun to use the term with each other. So maybe the meaning has changed… or has it?

Most people blame rappers for the common use of the term. Remember the group NWA or “Niggas With Attitudes” who rose to fame in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Their music was riddled with the use of nigga all through the album. And then there was the late, great Tupac Shakur who said nigga meant “never ignorant, getting goals accomplished.” The attempt was to take a word with a negative connotation and make it positive. Whether it worked or not is debatable; but most would say it hasn’t. Are all of these kids dropping out of school and calling people niggas, “never ignorant?” That’s definitely debatable.

What about those who wait on welfare or won’t seek employment, are they “getting goals accomplished?” Again, debatable. But then there are the many who are “never ignorant and getting goals accomplished.” However that’s not the way the term is usually used. It’s usually like, what’s up “my nigga” as in “dude” or “man.” Either way, at the end of the day, like Kanye West says, “even if you’re in a Benz, you’re still a nigga in a coup(e).”

Nigger is not necessarily what nigga is. It also depends on the context and who uses it.

There’s no doubt that the White boy who lives in the ‘hood, grew up in the ‘hood and has been accepted in the ‘hood can call a Black person a nigga and get away with it… in certain ‘hoods.

But, it’s when Whites use the term in the context of slavery and Jim Crow that it hurts so bad. Even when they claim to not use it in that context, there’s just still a level of uncomfortableness. When Riley Cooper used the word after a Kenny Chesney concert, one of his entourage members quickly yelled that he used the word with the ‘a’ not the ‘er’, implying that there was a difference. It causes nothing but controversy. Blacks know instantly that it has racist overtones regardless if spelled with and ‘er’ or an ‘a’. So when one thinks about context it does seem as if Blacks have changed the meaning of the N-word. And it seems that Whites have changed the way they say it, but not the way they mean it.