The People Formerly Known as Niggers

by Oluwatobi A. Raji

Over the recent years, the divisive word, “nigger,” has undergone a terminological metamorphosis. Switching terminological habitats, “nigger” previously existed as a word that reminded the populace of the inhumane, callous pillars of America: slavery, abduction, genocide, segregation, and racism. Now, it exists as a synonym for friend or acquaintance. In the past there was unambiguous, unanimous abhorrence over the usage of the word not only towards Black Americans but by Black Americans.As a result of its persistent usage and attempted re-appropriation, we, Black Americans, have become exceedingly comfortable in our vulgarity and profane identification.

It is unfortunate that we use this word without repentance, without acknowledgement that ground we’re standing on was the same ground our ancestors laid upon as they were beaten to death.

are we really freeUnder this eternal yellow sun, our great-great-grandmothers cried and looked towards the sky as they were raped for being a “nigger.”

A verbal reason for exclusion and discrimination, “nigger” has historically been used and is currently being used to define and ridicule our Black brothers and sisters. In 1837, “nigger” was firmly established as a derogatory name when Hosea Easton wrote The Condition of Colored People of the United States: and the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them.

Easton wrote that the term would be perfectly harmless in theory, but instead, it is used with the intent to deliberately make Black Americans feel inferior. Most of those Black Americans who use the word are conscious of its derogatory nature

and negative connotation. Yet, although we are conscious, we are still comatose.

A paradoxical condition we place ourselves in, Black Americans brand each other with a poisoned word that should not escape their lips. As a result of this paradoxical condition, the birth of “nigger” has not culminated in its final death. Utterance has given it immortality and immortality is exhausting our essence through oppression of each other.

We continue the oppressor‘s work by using words he created to subjugate our own; Black Americans have become the oppressor’s pets by subjugating their own. Racist America created “nigger,” now, both Racist America and Black America feed and sustain it. With the use of “nigger,” there is latent internal oppression.

To remove these oppressive shackles from our wrists and ankles, we must forge ways to address the issues of this incapacitating word.

Julian Curry, participating poet at Def Poety Slam, professed his resistance to the usage of “nigger” and his condemnation to those who did. His poem, “Niggers, Niggas, and Niggaz,” was written to carve out his dignity within a demoralized Black community. During the spoken word, Curry proclaims that culturally, the slur existed in two spheres: the derogatory sphere, then and the identification sphere, now. Imitating the white owners, Curry cries, “Where’s my niggers? There’s my niggers. Whose niggers are those?” Now, centuries after slavery was abolished, we insult our ancestors’ bravery and struggle by identifying ourselves with the same word, in the same phrasings. We cry, “Where’s my niggas? There’s my niggas? Whose niggas are those?”

We’ve allowed a white man to liberate us from the fields; we’ve picketed the streets forcing the white man to liberate us from our segregated land; now we must symbolically remove our tongues, liberating ourselves from the oppression that masks itself in “nigger.”

Do not to see this world as a prison and become trapped behind its steel bars of malice; destroy that prison, destroy the word.

Let us revert to previous ways and stop expression of this irreverent slur. As the slaves freed themselves, let us liberate ourselves from the oppressive “nigger.”

As the great-great-grandchildren of the enslaved continental Afrircans, as the great-grandchildren of the emancipated Africana people, as the grandchildren and children of activist Africana people, it is time we removed the third and final set of chains.

It is time we become, “The People Formerly Known as ‘Nigger’.”


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