As an African American woman I have an aversion to the N word. Many of my peers share that aversion and many feel that my aversion is outdated. Some feel that the N word should not evoke such negative emotions the way it did 50 years ago. As I write this post I realize that there are two versions of the N word. Like many people, I have heard the word “nigga” used as a term of endearment (ie. “That’s my nigga”). In the past I have found it hard to argue how I can tolerate the use of “nigga” when traded between African American friends and feel so strongly against the use of the word “nigger”. The best defense I have been able to come up with is that it is just different. And it is.
I certainly will not say that I find the use of either word prevalent in my vocabulary, and I will not say that I have never said either one. What I will admit is that although there seems to be a double standard when it comes to the N word, the intent behind the word is vastly different. I have been called “nigga” by another African American and I have also been called a “nigger” by a non African American. Believe me, there is a difference. It may be hard to explain to someone who is determined to think that the two words should be treated equally, and if one has no effect on you then neither should the other, but this is simply not the case.
Recently, I was in the parking lot of a grocery store and two non-African American men got into a dispute over a parking space. Each man got out of their cars and began trading insults. What surprised me was that they were calling each other niggers. That is when I began to question the meaning of the word in the present day. Don’t get me wrong, I do realize that saying nigger is still used in the old derogatory, racist way to refer to a person of color, but has the word somehow taken on several other meanings?
Another exchange I witnessed was between a group of young adult men. Within the group were African American/people of color (people of color can consist of more than African Americans) and Caucasians. They were all talking and when they parted ways each one of them something along the lines of “Bye nigga” or “Alright nigga. I’ll catch you later”. I was again amazed at how this group of brown and white people exchanged this word without coming to blows. Then I realized that the intent behind the word and also the word itself was different. These young men were not insulting each other. They were peacefully parting ways in the hopes of seeing each other again in a similar pleasant and friendly situation.
I will admit I have not been able to find it in myself to be to comfortable with the word “nigger”, and never will, but “nigga ” does not have the same sting. They are, in my eyes, two different words. For those who question how certain people get a free pass to use the N-word and some cannot, ask “Which N-word are you referring to?” and “How would you use it in a sentence?” and “Why would you choose that particular word?” And if they plan on using it in vitriolic, hurtful, and racist manner, they have answered their own question.
There is no definitive answer to the question “What Does the N-Word mean Now?” because the N-word has morphed into different versions of itself along with different meanings and intentions. My only advice to those who are unsure of how and when to use it is to find another word.