Jitney and “the N-word”.

Warning: This blog entry contains language that some may find offensive.  It’s not censored because that would kind of defeat the purpose.  Also, America, free speech, and rabble rabble.

My first experience with August Wilson came in my senior year of high school.  In my English class we read Wilson’s play “Fences”.  I remember this play, mostly, because when my teacher asked us to volunteer to read parts, she wouldn’t let me read the part that I wanted to.  She took me out into the hall, I assume to avoid making this a public event (sorry, it’s going to be out there now), and told me that she didn’t feel comfortable with me reading this part because of the amount of times that the character said “the n-word” (by the way, I share Louis C.K.’s sentiments on “the n-word”, WARNING: FOUL LANGUAGE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF1NUposXVQ).

Now, this is a school that’s pretty diverse.  50 percent of the school is white, with the other 50 percent comprised of other races, mostly black and hispanic. When my teacher told that she didn’t want me reading this part for this reason, I was kind of taken aback.  She didn’t want me to read this part because the character said a word that she deemed inappropriate for someone of my skin color to say.  This struck a chord with me, because I had been saying the word “nigga” for a long time before reading Fences.  It probably has something to do with growing up where I did (Gary, Indiana) and hearing it often.  Me and one of my closest friends growing up (a hispanic kid; hey Felix!) called each other nigga all of the time.  It was never racially charged, it was never used as an epithet, it was a greeting between two really close friends.

As I got older, I noticed that there was this stigma surrounding the word.  It seemed to be a word that black folks had embraced as “their own”.  One that white people weren’t allowed to use (for obvious reasons).  On the flip side of the coin, I’ve known black people that have shunned the word entirely.  This is a word that has such a dark history, and is so shrouded in racially charged emotion, that it becomes very complicated.  In my eyes, the word “nigga” has never been an insult to black people in my generation.  The word nigga has been an insult to ignorant people.  When my friends and I used to call each other that endearingly, we were embracing a word that fit how we acted: we were young, ignorant kids that didn’t know anything and just wanted to get into trouble.  As Greydon Square puts it in his song “N-word” (more foul language here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpxkGhMYVVo): 

“So this goes out to all my blacks and non-niggas
If they acting like a nigga then you call they ass a nigga
This goes out to all my whites and non-niggas
If they acting like a nigga then you call they ass a nigga
This goes out to my Latinos and non-niggas
If they acting like a nigga, you call they ass a nigga
This goes out to my Asians and non-niggas
If they acting like a nigga, you call they ass a nigga”

Greydon Square sees the word nigga how I see the word nigga: a word that is not powered by the color of the skin of the person it is flying towards, but rather as a descriptor for the way that they act.

To get back to my original story, and the idea for this blog, I recently had a friend (white) tell me that another student at Wabash (black) told him that he wasn’t “allowed” to say the word “nigga”.  I got to thinking about how I used the word for a very long time before coming to grips with what it really means in our society, today.  So whether one race is “entitled” over another to use the word is a moot point, because I believe that this is a word that has evolved past race.

Also, Jitney was fantastic.

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