“Nigga what? Nigga who? Nigga what, nigga who? Switcha flow, getcha dough; can’t fuck with this Roc-a-Fella shit doe. Switcha flow, getcha dough; can’t fuck with this Roc-a-Fella shit doe. Can’t fuck with me. Motherfuckers wanna act loco, hit em wit, numerous shots with the fo’-fo’. All night get you wide up inside the telly. (Nigga what?). Make you think you can fuck with me. (Nigga who?). Recognize girl, Jay to the Z” (AZ Lyrics).
These are examples of the lyrics that many people, who listen to rap music, will hear on a daily basis. The word nigga, as it is used in this song, with an “a” at the end, means friend or homie. It was originally derived from the word nigger, which back during the days of slavery and hate, referred to all African. The problem is that many people want the word banned because is its past connotation “as an expression of affection, as a joshing taunt, as a subversive appropriation of a word that still retains its power to wound” (Taylor). The word nigga is used in the every day vocabulary of many blacks. Most choose to say it, and others do not. The problem occurs when it blacks say it to each other nonchalantly, without knowing or without caring about the historical meaning of the word. There are many blacks who believe that people who use it are ignorant regardless of how it is used, and forming what we know today as the “uppity negro,” or a black person who thinks they are better than other blacks. There is already enough competition and tension within society as it is without having to increase it within a certain race.
The city of New York has put an “official moratorium, a symbolic motion which carries no fine and is partly meant to stop the term from being used casually by youth and in music, on the n-word” (Shepherd). This got many legislatures thinking about banning the word all together because “it remains a principal symbol of white racism regardless of who is using it” (Middleton). There are many people who support the idea of banning the word nigger, but there are many who believe that banning the word would be taking away our first amendment right to freedom of speech, one of the many rights blacks fought for doing the civil rights movement. Beside the fact that people are using the word toward one another, it is the fact that people are using the word without knowing its true origins. “Historically, nigger defined, limited, made fun of, and ridiculed all Blacks,” and it is this historic humiliation which irks so many and constitutes it reasoning to be banned (Middleton).
But, would actually banning the word solve the problem? Then comes problem of “…blacks [making themselves into] prisoners of the past or the ugly words that originated in the past” (Middleton). Most blacks do not use the word nigger but instead the word nigga, but there is also the argument that “nigger is the ultimate expression of white racism and white superiority no matter how it is pronounced” (Middleton). It has gotten so bad that many people who support the ban of the word have gone to the “RIAA with a request that the Academy refrain from nominating musicians for Grammy Awards if they use the term in their lyrics”, and with this request society has no choice but to prepare for the uprising that is yet to come (Shepherd).
Instead of banning a word, which constitutionally is not possible, allow the word to be recreated. Society and blacks should be allowed to recreate the word nigger into the word nigga, and show that we can take something negative and turn it into something positive; also we are not allowing the past to haunt us by banning a word, but surpassing the future by allowing it to be recreated. The word nigger has a horrible and demeaning origin, but banning the word will not get rid of the hurt that it caused many blacks so long ago, and besides “when it comes to this sort of cleaning up of history, the result is of course, to erase history itself, and thus our ability to learn anything from it,” and that is only making the problem worse because we are being limited to a history which has helped to form such a diverse and intelligent race.
Blacks have come a long way from being illiterate slaves to intelligent men and women. And with this intelligence have decided to take a word that once burdened them and turned it into just an ordinary word. The word nigga “has to be understood in its situation; repeated use of the word by Blacks will make it less offensive,” and although it may have come from a hateful word, they mean two different things. I sent a questionnaire to students in my English and Criminal Justice class asking them what they felt about the issue, and about twenty-five percent said that if nigga could be recreated and added into the dictionary then anyone should be allowed to say it. Which is true, as long as those other races have a clear understanding of the root word from which the word nigga came from, and as long as it is not being used to disrespect another race. Most races which use the word are not using it to be rude or insensitive, they are using it to sound hip or cool, but blacks seem to have this double standard of living. We still believe that we are owed our forty acres and a mule, when in reality that is the ignorance which is holding us back, not the use of the word nigga.
Many people want to blame rap music for the insecurities which they feel within themselves. But “hip-hop artists rap about what they see, hear, and feel around them, their experiences of the world. “…their messages are a mirror of what is right and wrong with society. Sometimes their observations or the way in which they choose to express their art may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but our job is not to silence or censor that expression,” which is exactly the reason why the Academy did not listen to all of the supporters who went to the RIAA (Stokes). Yes, children grow up listening to rap music most of their lives, but it is up to the parents and teachers to teach the young children about the word nigger and what it means.
Banning a word because of its origins is limiting us to our freedom of speech. The word nigger and nigga should both be allowed to be in the dictionary, with a clear understanding and distinction between the two. The word nigger has had its turn to overshadow the hard work that blacks have put into making a better name for themselves. Nigga may not be that much of a better word, but it is a word which shows uprising and empowerment. It is a word that regardless of who doesn’t like it, will not and cannot be banned.