The ‘N’ Word

A summary by Onyeka

The word ‘nigger’ is really a slang word of negro, which has its own negative and pejorative connotations. ‘Nigger’ is one of the most pernicious and destructive words that we have ever been influenced to call ourselves.

This is because of its association with the trans-Atlantic enslavement of Africans by Europeans. In England, slave traders like Drake and Raleigh, used the word to describe their cargo, and it is therefore linked with the dehumanisation process of Africans, especially those from west Africa. (It replaced the term moor and blackamoor.) It retained its stigma, throughout the Jim Crow years and was spat at victims of lynchings, as they burned alive.

Through the spread of American idioms during both world wars: in film, music and fashion, ‘nigger’ spread to some of the remotest places in the world. But it was always an insult. At school, it was the one word uttered by a white person, to a black, that would be guaranteed to start a fight.

The ‘acceptability’ of the word came through gangsta rap, and the ushering in of the urban, ghetto culture. Along with pimp, hoe, dawg, gangsta, and bitch, “nigger” (or “nigga”) became an ‘acceptable’ word on street corners. But words have power, since they conjure up images, meaning and thoughts.

The stain and pain of this word is indelibly etched, whenever and wherever anyone utters: even as some of us, through our own hatred of ourselves, happily label ourselves with the crippling chains of enslavement.

Published by BTWSC August 2006