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Black In America: “Niggers” and “Crackers”

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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.
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In lieu of the recent controversy about Paula Deen ‘s confession to the use of the word “nigger” in her deposition and Rachel Jeantel’s recounting Trayvon Martin’s use of the word “cracker,” CNN did a special on “the N-word.” In this special anchor, Don Lemon, explored the feelings behind the use of the word “nigger” as well as words like “cracker,” and “honkey.”

The Story

Lemon’s street survey revealed that both Black and White people felt less offended by the use of words like “cracker” and “honkey.” There was unanimous agreement that the use of the word “nigger” was more offensive. There were several very thought provoking statements that were made that I would like to address.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/e50YB76hqlQ]

The Discussion

Human behavior expert, Wendy Walsh stated:

“The most dangerous thing about a racist culture is not individualized acts of discrimination that happen, it’s actually an overall psychologically internalized sense of feeling less than in a culture because of how the media may portray things”

There are several issues with this statement. First, this is a statement is obviously being made by someone who has never experienced discrimination first hand. Because of that ignorance, Walsh’s perspective is distant and views discrimination through an objective lens that lacks pertinent knowledge that would allow her to see that discrimination as a facet of racism is nothing if not personal, subjective, and individual.

Also, the most dangerous thing about a racist culture is that the racial prejudice therein saturates society to the extent that it spills down into thousands of individual acts and that is what creates an atmosphere of oppression for those who have experienced discrimination, will experience discrimination, and fear experiencing discrimination. That is how institutions such as the media become infected and portray polluted images and messages. That is how the feelings of inferiority become internalized. So actually Walsh has it twisted.

Her misunderstanding of racism renders her efforts to dismantle it impotent because she will always be going after the wrong thing at the wrong time. Such is often the issue with White people who seek to support and help fight the battle against racial prejudice and racial discrimination.

The highlight of the segment is when Columbia professor, Marc Lamont Hill said:

“I always find it remarkable that White people find the n-word usage such a complicated puzzle. It’s not that complicated. Just-don’t-use-it.”

He went on to say:

“You just have to accept that there are some things –at least one thing– in the world that you can’t do that Black people can and that just might be okay.”

Hill brings up a great point about the continuous discussion about the n-word. That point is that the only reason this topic has become a national debate is because White people now find the word offensive and they want everyone to stop using it publicly (everyone meaning Black people). Their grounds for doing so seem to be altruistic, but truthfully it’s self-centered. It isn’t because they know what it feels to have the word used do degrade and dehumanize their identity, its because they can’t use it and they (as usually is the case) want the world to operate under the same rules that they operate. I think there is a subconscious fear of loss of privilege and disliking the lack of freedom granted to others simply because if race. Only one phrase comes to mind in response to those feelings…welcome to the colored section.

It never ceases to amaze me when White people react to discrimination because it is wholly different than their feelings about how others react to discrimination. When a minority cries out against discrimination there is often an apathetic I don’t see what the problem is attitude while when it’s them who are the victims they get vehement and coin phrases such as “reverse racism” or they threaten to revert their own ways with statements about how would you feel if I…. It’s like when children argue and one says “I’m not going to be your friend anymore if you don’t do what I want.”

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The Point

I have an opinion about the use of the word “nigger” as I’m sure all Black people do. I, personally do use the word and do not believe it should be “buried” as the NAACP foolishly suggested. I can understand why some Black people are opposed to using the word and/or do not want to be referred to by the term and I respect that. However, I believe the subject should not be a national debate. Nor am I particularly interested in White America’s opinion on the subject. I feel that words are contextual and language should never be bridled. James Baldwin once said,

“The world has more than one way of keeping you a nigger.”

This I have found to be true. In this day and age the world is not keeping a nigger by calling me one, they don’t have to. When the police stop me because I’m Black, they have nonverbally called me a nigger. When I am denied an opportunity because I’m Black, that person has nonverbally called me a nigger. When I have to rely on affirmative action to gain opportunity, America has nonverbally called me a nigger. When I am expected to be inarticulate, stupid, poor, and/or incarcerated, America has nonverbally called me a nigger. The degradation is the same. So whether or not I use the word or whether or not I am called the word, racism will persist. Banning the use of the word nigga will not change racial prejudice and racial discrimination in this country. So, I would rather fight a battle that matters.

At any rate, the panel discussion was insightful and honest. One of the best I have seen so far in terms of the debate about the word “nigger.” What we must always remember is that words are contextual. The meaning and connotations attached to a word change depending on the context in which they are used. That being said there just isn’t a context in which a White person can used the word “nigger” and it not hold some racial tension. The acceptance of such a fact would be a step forward in terms of race relations in America. When we stop equating being the same as being equal, we will be able to address the disparities.

I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

9 Comments on Black In America: “Niggers” and “Crackers”

  1. Why are white people trying to find reasons to keep using the N-word? That’s really the psychological lynch pin that needs to be pulled. There is a history behind the word Nigger. It’s associated with white dominance–evil, exclusion, dehuminization, etc.

    And as an African American woman; I’m really tired of Black people having to educate White people, yet again, about THEIR DAMN BEHAVIOR.

    The next time a white person asks me a race question; I’m going to give them a bill for my time.

  2. Well the idea of banning the n word is stupid and will not sort out a problem. I am white and in a fight with black person never used the n word. Never need it. The poblem is the education
    Your heroes or celebrities culture makes u think that its ok to not go to school or be stupid and do street work. Not everybody can be jazy z or whatever. Life is hard and u have to work to achieve something. Maybe reading a book from time to time would help to see that there is a diffworld there to be discover. And life is so much more then few dollars and fancy cars. But as a ousider I would say all that conversion s are a distractions for u guys. So u will not go and ask hard questions. .

    • I don’t think that the Black community has a “hero or celebrity” culture, that’s all of America (Black and White) included. Even young White kids have adopted an obsession with fame, wealth, celebrity, and an easy way to success. However, the American dream and this notion of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and the idea that all you have to do is “read a book” or work to achieve success is a delusion. For the Black community, or at least the ones that still believe the lies, they reach for the only way they know and the most proven methods of Black people becoming millionaires in America: that is through sports or entertainment.

      Perhaps if more White people acknowledged the privilege that comes with being White and even better a White male in America, they would take seriously the disparities that come along with Black American experience (which includes more than just Black people). Then we could all work to change things rather than giving an indifferent shrug and telling people to go read or work harder.

      I agree with you that the discussion of the N-word is just a distraction from the real issues.

      Thanks for reading and responding.

  3. Good blog; you’re already on my blogroll, and I plan to post a link to this posting in my next post on African-American 101–A Safe Place For White People To Learn About Black People.

    A quote from March 19: http://revmatthews.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/welcome-class-part-2/

    “…One day I’ll explain why it’s marginally okay for Black people to use the so-called “n-word”, and Whites can’t. Actually, the “n-word”, for many of us, is already no longer in use and to tell the truth, it would have been banished into the Crypt of the Unspoken, had it not been for liberal White folks telling us we shouldn’t/couldn’t use it. You called us that for centuries, and some of you hard-core neocons still use it, but all of a sudden you get a bolus injection of social conscience, and you get to decide that it’s now verboten? Screw you, it’s not your call.”

    Keep up the good work, ABM!

  4. (C)rappers should stop using that word, first.

    • Thanks for reading and responding. Why do you think rappers should stop using the word first?

      • Welcome. Because the are continueing to perpetuate a stereotype. I was born and raised in Italy, where all of my friends are white and I don’t see a lot of black people (even if lately the situation is changing). And so growing up I was desperately looking for something with which identify myself, as a black (girl). I had the period in which I used to listen to a lot of hip hop, dress accordingly. But not because I liked it. Just because I saw black people do so on television. But growing up, and learning English, I translated many lyrics, and I found most of them gross and disgusting. And I discover that I not only didn’t like that kind of culture, but that I wasn’t bounded to stick to it just because I am black. Luckily I figured it out. But still some people, just because they see me black, here take for granted I like hip hop and rap. And I always reply not at all. I kinda hate it now, for these reasons, and for showing an immage (maybe faithful to the reality of black americans, I don’t know, I’ve never been to the US, but really denigrating: ghettos, almost naked girls with big bottoms, grills, a lot of swearing in the lyric, lack ov values,achieving money throough criminality and so on)

        • Thanks for reading and responding.

          I don’t think we are perpetuating a stereotype. All stereotypes, like the best lies, are built upon a truth that is twisted and perverted until it becomes something wholly different from the truth that birthed it. That being said, Hip Hop is a culture that was created by Black and Latino inner city youth, therefore, it is not racist or a stereotype when someone assumes Black youth like rap music. Not any more than one might assume a White person living in the south wearing cowboy boots, a big belt buckle, and a cowboy hat would like country music.

          I do understand your struggle with your own identity and feeling the pressure to be what society thinks of you, but I think that’s a part of growing up that everyone experiences. It’s called finding ourselves. I’m glad that you were able to find the confidence to be true to yourself and not feel obligated to be a certain way just because of expectations; however, that says more about public opinion, society’s demands for conforming, and general small mindedness of the majority than it does about Hip Hop culture, rap music, and rappers. The pressure you felt didn’t come from Hip Hop, it came from the general mainstream of society. You’re fighting the wrong enemy.

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