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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Rose By Any Other Name

Objectionable language alert. This post contains objectionable language. Because it has to.

"Nigga."

All but the most ignorant among us, more and more of whom are slithering out from under rocks these days, know that "nigger" is a word that needs to be erased from the English language. Its use has always been to dehumanize people of African descent so that horrendous things can be done to them.

Things like slavery and all the evils that brought: living life as a possession, to be bought and sold; dying by the thousands on voyages across the Atlantic, bound together by chains, never to see their homes or their families again; whippings and beatings and all forms of torture; families torn apart -- mothers ripped from their children, husbands ripped from their wives, siblings ripped from each other; malnourishment and starvation; and hangings -- just to touch on the tip of everything that was wrong with slavery.

And rape. What female slave was never raped by a white man feeling entitled to his way with her? A white man could have his way with a "nigger," to satisfy his desires, without fear of consequence.

Because if you could dehumanize a people, you could justify treating them as cruelly and savagely as you wanted. You could justify literally working them to death and replacing them with other "niggers."

Once slavery ended, "nigger" lived on, because it is a word born of hate, and hate lives on. If you were white, you didn't want a nigger sharing your drinking fountain, or going to the same school as your children, or being allowed a seat on the bus if there weren't enough for everyone, or sitting at a lunch counter, or be allowed to eat in the same restaurant as you, or sleeping in the same hotel as you, or using the same door as you to enter a building, or playing on the same sports teams as the white players. You certainly didn't want a "nigger" moving in next door, or taking a white man's job, or riding a bus across state lines, or worst of all, dating your daughter.

They might have been freed, but "nigger" kept African-Americans dehumanized to live separate and
unequal lives. It was a word that sicced police dogs on civil rights participants and turned on the fire hoses and took out the night clubs and beat people to a bloody pulp. It killed voter registration workers, and bombed churches where little girls were attending Sunday school and it killed them too. It tortured and killed 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was mutilated so badly he was identified only by a ring on his finger, and whose mother put a glass top on his casket for his funeral so the world could see what his racist murderers had done to him.

It is a word that lynched thousands of black men and left them swinging from tree branches for offenses as minor as not stepping off the sidewalk to allow a white woman to pass. It put white hoods on cowardly men and burned crosses in yards to intimidate defenseless families. It dragged James Byrd for three miles behind a truck, alive to feel every inch of pain as the skin ripped from his body, just for sport, until he was decapitated when they drove through a culvert.

And on April 4, 1968, it sent shots ringing out through the Memphis sky, killing Martin Luther King, Jr.

It still kills today, as we see videos of cops telling "niggers" that if they don't cooperate they're going to get what's coming to them. It allows a cop to be the judge, jury, and executioner for offenses like selling CDs outside someone's store or being a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun in a park in an open carry state.

And now we have a generation of children telling us that "nigga" doesn't mean the same as "nigger."

"It means 'bro' or 'dude'," I am assured by a white mother of three biracial children. Whose daughter posted on Facebook about three "niggas" already having cheated on their girlfriends during their first week of college. Who greets her friends with, "Hey, nigga."

It's so cool, a white 18-year-old female with a black younger brother felt free to post a meme on Facebook.

"And I knew you went out to dinner with that bitch and ordered a steak with a Coke."
"I ain't even get a Coke."
"Why do niggas think it's okay to only reply to ONE part of the paragraph they were sent? and (sic) it's usually the most irrelevant part lmao"

"Nigga" is not an okay variation of "nigger." People who speak with deep southern drawls turn ending 'r's into 'ah's. "Would you be a dea-ah and fetch me a glass of wat-ah?" How quickly "nigger" turns into "nigga" especially in high confrontation situations, particularly with cops with guns and itchy trigger fingers.

No, the root of "nigga" is "nigger" and it is never okay. It doesn't mean "bro" or "dude". It means "you are less than human." That "joke" above? It is demeaning to black men. It paints them all with the same brush of not being able to be faithful to one woman. Like "nigger," "nigga" needs to go away.

It needs to vanish from the vocabularies of all people, no matter how much pigment in their skin. It needs to stop showing up in rap songs and in movies. It needs to be left in the past if we are to ever overcome the sad and brutal past and present of racism in this country.

Here's a litmus test for anyone who still thinks "nigga" is just a cool way of referring to one's friends. Are you going to pick up your precious newborn baby boy and say, "Hey, nigga?" Are you going to be okay with a grandmotherly type white woman in the grocery store cooing over his smiling face, saying, "What a cute little nigga"?

Anyone who throws "nigga" around needs to stop. Now. And anyone who has friends who use it, needs to tell them it's offensive and not to use it. Remind them what has been done in the name of "nigger" and its variations.

Remind them of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Terence Crutcher.

Remind them that when they say it, a whole lot of white people think they can use it too, including a police officer with a gun pointed at a man who is just driving down the road with his family and gets pulled over because he has a brake light out. And that day his four-year-old-daughter who is in the car with him when the officer pulls the trigger, because the blackness of her father is a weapon he can never drop, loses her father.

Remind them that people fought, and many died, for the right to be addressed respectfully. Using "nigga" dishonors their legacy.

Because "nigga" is just another way to pronounce "nigger" and "nigger" still bounces around in non-black heads, dehumanizing fathers and mothers and brothers and sons and daughters and sisters.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

And "nigger" by another spelling or pronunciation reeks of 450 years of injustice.






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