State of Black America Part V: Names

"In contemporary usage and in the work of pop entertainers such as rappers, "nigger" (or "nigga") is spoken as a form of "liberation" from convention. To those who use it freely and even fiercely, it means that a black world exists with its own rules in which the word is well understood in its various meanings. In the real world, nigger is a traditional insult; it applies to a position down below, which black swagger, comedy routines, and rapping have no power to change. If racists believed any of that theory about liberation through repetition, they would already have found another word to express their contempt, their paranoia, their hatred."
--Excerpt from The Artificial White Man: Essays on Authenticity by Stanley Crouch.

This book is not as engaging as the previous quote may lead you to conclude. However, that excerpt is the best part, and therefore worth exploring. This is not just about the word nigger. It's about all words used to demean and demoralize our experience and place in America and conversely uplift or simply identify. Nigger, nigga, nigra, coon, darkie, monkey, African booty scratcher, jungle bunny, Uncle Tom, sellout, Black, African-American, Afro-American, Black-American, Negro, Colored.

We fight for and against these labels throughout our lives. It makes me wonder where we will be in terms of our identities when our children grow up. How will we explain to them the evolution? Because I think the current generation and the coming ones have somehow and may continue to miss that lesson. Many of us have some vague sort of understanding of the progression from the slave nigra to the African-American. But apparently not enough to escape from calling each other niggers. Oh excuse me, that's nigga, right? I never got that. What's the difference? Either way you'll be mad if some white person calls you that. I'm not going to act like nigga is not a part of my vocabulary, but it is increasingly annoying to me. Like, do you have no other way to address me? My friends love that word.

The more I work around white people for the majority of my life again, the more sensitive I become to the word. Its like if one of these people were to get so comfortable around me that the word slipped, there would be a huge problem. And while I have some sense of the fact that they know there is a line that should not be crossed, I also feel them getting more and more comfortable. There have been several questionable things that have slipped out that were right on that line of making me want to harm someone.

One of my corporate America friends had this conundrum in the last couple of weeks. Someone at work asked her if there was anything she preferred to be called. Of course the first thing she smartly said was her name. Then they asked if it mattered if she were called Black or African-American. She said it never really mattered to her, and there was only one word that was unacceptable. Then one girl asked, "Well what about colored? Is that okay?" I have no idea how I would have reacted if put in that same situation. But my first thought was not well intentioned. Let's just put it that way. Obviously I wouldn't have been murderous, but like I said, I don't know how I would have reacted.

Another friend was at a party with majority white co-workers present. They were sitting at table playing cards. The friend we'll call Y was the only Black person at the table. One of his co-workers was listening to Biggie's "Juicy" on his ipod and felt comfortable enough to say the word nigga singing along with the song. Y didn't say anything but everyone close enough to hear it was instantly uncomfortable. Y didn't want to make a scene and turn the few Black people against the ignorant white boy who thought that was acceptable, ruining the mood of the party. On the one hand, you don't want to be that problematic Black person and ruin the relationship with your co-workers. But on the other hand, you don't want to give the impression that that kind of language is acceptable. I think in that situation I would have been a lot more willing to make a scene.

Another friend has a problem with being called African-American because she's not African and "has no ties to Africa." She also cites the fact that people who immigrate from Africa and gain citizenship are considered African-American. I never understood either of those lines of reasoning when I heard them before, and they were not any clearer when reiterated recently. I am Black, I am Negro, I'm probably even colored. But I am not a nigger. I am African-American if for no other reason than it reminds someone that my ancestors were brought to this nation in chains in the bowels of ships, stripped from their families for centuries while they built this nation to what it is today. So what is in a name?

Nigger has been used as a means to keep Black people in their place. Yes, many believe that we are stealing the power from the word. But if the power was truly gone, perhaps we would not be so offended by its usage among other races.


Anonymous said...

I have to watch also becasue I am at a majority white school. Some kids get a lil too comfortable. I have gotten into a fist fight over that word. Most people know but there are always those that don't

I try and not to use that word. I do slip but I have definite rules. I will never use that word in front of Whites. I will never allow a White person to use it. Those two rules I always keep as I try and fix my usage of the word.

Treifalicious said...

Tell me something, Jameil - how many actual Africans live near you?

Here in New York, in Harlem there is a sizable community of peopel born and raised in Africa who seem to snicker at Black Americans calling themselves "African-Americans". It seems perfectly clear why a Black American would be against the term "African-American" as your friend is.

It will be perfectly clear to anyone who sees you (unless you look like Mariah Carey) that you are descended from former slaves kidnapped from Africa. But it has been 300-400 years and compared to actual Africans you and I are all red, white and blue culturally.

I have to admit that seeing Black Americans in kente cloth and other attempts at "Africentricity" look increasingly silly the more you enounter REAL Africans who are the beneficiaries of thousands of years of uninterrupted African history.

We Black Americans have no idea what gringos we really are.

divine oasis said...

ah, yes. the "n" word. very sensitive topic indeed, yet used so freely in hip hop culture. irritating to some yet acceptable among most common folk. makes me wonder if anyone remembers the source of this name which black people call out and respond to so quickly nowadays.

hell, maybe it's possible, though. maybe you can just take a word, any word, and flip it. give it your own meaning. i mean, when you think about it, it is just some alphabet letters and syllables and such. who in the hell is webster anyway?

Jameil said...

trei, probably none. i'm from the south and have always lived in the burbs. i could really care less if africans are snickering. if i'm not mistaken, my ancestors were brought over here and raped, hence my grandmother's blue eyes and fair skin. real africans? come on.

i'm really not responsible for where my ancestors ended up. they did not ask to be enslaved any more than the "real africans" ancestors asked not to be enslaved. as an american, i have the right to call myself whatever i want (obviously a very american opinion). if it makes someone uncomfortable to hear me say african-american, i really don't care. i don't know how clear i made it, but pretty much as long as you're not calling me nigger, i don't care if its black, black american or african-american. there is not nearly enough consensus or intelligent discussion on the issue for there to be an actual decision in my mind. but i do also oppose to being called a gringo. while i probably can't identify w/africans, it is also quite rare for me to identify w/white americans when it comes to issues of race. so who knows what that makes me.

divine... if it was just some letters, then i doubt so many things would be considered offensive. racism would have to be completely eradicated (impossible) for nigger to lose all its power.

interesting convo pieces on both sides. come back.

So...Wise...Sista said...

Great post.
I'm 1st generation born here...parents from Jamaica. And as much as "real Jamaicans" want to call me "Yankee" or anything else to lessen my heritage, fact is, I'm still Jamaican, I'm still proud. I live among lots of Africans (in Harlem) and don't feel demeaned in the least by their "Africaner than thou" attitude. I actually understand a lot of it...but that doesn't change the fact that no matter how diluted Black Americans are, we still come from Africa. No matter how far removed from Italy, no one expects Italian Americans to find a new identity. Our identity crisis blows me away. What's so wrong with being African American??

As for "nigga", call me a hypocrite. I use it for comedic purposes, with the hope that my tongue in cheek use is understood. I do not say it around young people or less like-minded folk who don't understand the "progressive" sarcasm. Which is why I detest its use for popular culture consumption. HATE it on Boondocks. HATE it in Top 40 rap music (how you gonna say 'nigga' in your HOOK?!). Cuz it's put out there with no *asterisk, no round table discussion, no explanation. And you can't blame white people for being azzholes, singing Biggie lyrics, pretending not to "get" that it's still offensive. Why shouldn't they think it's ok to say if they hear it 4 xs an hour on the radio.

And I never got the whole "term of endearment" thing. It didnt sound too endearing when 2 young black boys were calling eachother nigga about to fight on the 2 train last night! OK that was long... but this is a really deep topic. Sue me!

Treifalicious said...

Hey, I never said that we were not decsnedants of Africans. All I am saying is that there are African Americans and then there are Black Americans. In a couple of generations the descendants of African immigrants will be more or less like us who were born here.

Much like Italians...

"No matter how far removed from Italy, no one expects Italian Americans to find a new identity."

I've found that not not be exactly true. Their new identity is "American", especially once you get outside of teh huge Italian immigrant enclaves like NYC. I went to high school with girls who were born in Italy so they were hard core. But I also met Italian AMericans who had no real identity wioth Italy and didn't speak Italian. All they had was a name that ended in a vowel. Aside from that they identofied entirely with the United States.

But in any event, my perspective is informed by years of living abroad where you learn exactly who you really are not onloy because peole tell you but you see who it is you really identify with. The fact is that no matter how hard I tried I could not really identify culturally with the West AFricans around me. Sure, we shared the same fate vis a vis the white mainstream around us, but even they related to us differently beased on national origins.

But in the US, there is a parallel immigrant narrative emerging amongst Black Americans where peopel come here from elsewhere (including Jamaica) and after a couple generations assimilate into the Black American mainstream while influencing that mainstream at the same time.

Jameil said...

"no matter how diluted Black Americans are, we still come from Africa. No matter how far removed from Italy, no one expects Italian Americans to find a new identity. Our identity crisis blows me away. What's so wrong with being African American??"

There it is. While, yes, like Trei said, the further you get from the actual immigrants, of course you are also getting further from an actual connection. And obviously I will probably identify with "Black Americans" the most. But then again maybe not. I can't really identify with the segment of our population who refuses to stay informed about current events, refuses to vote and has a crippling sense of defeat. That's not to say I don't want to help, but it gives me a sense of helplessness to know these ideals still have such a stronghold in our community. And that is partially from the complete obliteration of our connection to Africa through slavery.

Adei von K said...

This has got be one of my favorite posts. When I read "names" I was thinking you're going to make comments on how the next generations of lawyers, doctors, politicians, etc will have names like LaDontalicious and JaNaQuaviante.
Labels. We all have labels, some of us like them, some of us hate them. I consider myself and I like being Afircan-American. Like so...wise, I am a first generation (Ghanian) and when I went home, Stan and I were called Yankee as well. Water off my back.
Not to say I have a "africaner than thou" attitude...I do look sideways when I see fake Kente cloth (print), Adinkra print in bowties and vests or cowrie shells in a random article of clothing and then I get over it in a heartbeat. We all aren't fortunate (?) enough to have direct lineage (if you want it; some people don't want to identify with Africa...they are okay being from Jersey or wherever) I respect that person who is making a conscious effort to identify with something s/he's been disenfranchised from.

I am the friend who loves using the word 'nigga'. Its funny to me. There is a song by ATCQ called "Sucka Nigga" Check it out.

CNEL said...

A very interesting and thought provoking quote. Mr. Crouch is an interesting person, as are many of the more well-known African-American intellectuals and commentators.

I don't like the N-word. As my friend Epsi said, he sometimes slips, I have slipped a time or two myself. Just from interacting with other people our age. It takes discipline not to use the word. I try my hardest not to use the word. And after seeing Black.White, I try even harder now. I don't think there is a difference between "er" and "a". My rule is, if there's that much ambivalence, steer clear of using the word. Also because there is so much pain, hatred, and oppression embodied in that one word. Also it should inspire people to consider the very loaded history of the word and the implications usage of the term(s) have for all of us.

The complacency of today's generation comes from an inordinate amount of privilege. Even those of us who have little things is more privileged than a lot of others. We don't engage in a day to day fight for civil rights as did those who came before, so we have the luxury to in too many instances feel like we have the right not give a damn.

I tell people to call me Christopher because it's my given name, you can call me Chris if I know you, I may let you use a nickname if I like you. I don't respond to any derogatory names, and will take offense to them. Respect me and you have the opportunity to earn my respect.

I consider myself Black or African-American. I generally say African-American because it encompasses the heritage of my family which includes Native American and European roots. At our race as Americans is a sense that we are mixed people, nothing about America has been purely bred.

We can't give people passes to use any words that degrade us. We shouldn't even allow each other the pass.

And being someone who knows a lot of African immigrants, let me say that more often than not they do not embrace the term African-American. They consider themselves African and American, but not generally African-American. Yes, they do find irony in our claiming such a title, but the holier than thou attitude is disrespectful.When I encounter that sort of attitude, I remember there is more that unites us than divides us. Those same immigrants will sometimes recognize the term black only because it is how others group them, and it's often too hard to put up a fight. Their identity is so ingrained in who they are, they often choose not to get caught up in titles.

My personally philosophy as has been said is "Always know who you are and whose you are." I don't think I can say that often enough!

Anonymous said...

on my second day of work at the shrimp plantation I invested a significant amount of righteous indignation at a white kid who said "nigga" like he was saying "dude". I politely informed him that while I understood his intent and while I didn't take offense specifically to him, because contextually it was part of his everyday usage, I would not hesitate to fuck him up if he ever uttered that word in my presence again, because I was from a day and time where that word is not welcome in my presence.

then I saw a mexican teenager call a white teenager Nigga and threw up my hands and ignored everything everyone says cause id rather pay the bills than be righteously indignant.

Rell said...

i'm with jameil, as long as you don't call me nigger, i'm down with black or african-american. it don't matter too much to me...

So...Wise...Sista said...

My aim was not to challenge anyone else's argument...and I might even defer to the more international perspectives, but in my mind the problem is less about how far removed we are from the continent, and more about the fact that blacks have not been given an opportunity to have a connection with Africa. We've been taught the "dark continent" propaganda sitting alongside white folks in the same classrooms. We've been made to be ashamed of being African. What alternative has there ever been for us than to identify entirely with America? Black History (Month) is typically more about slavery than it ever is about Liberia, for example.

lol@ "LaDontalicious." I thought the same thing at first.

PS - 'Sucka Nigga' is on one of my fav albums of all time. I respect Tribe, but respectfully disagree with the moral of that song.

PPS - 'Shame on a Nigga' is my ALL TIME fav Wu Tang song. Neither of these songs were ever on the radio...like a certain hit from Jigga.

Chris said...

I've tried to cut down on my N-word usage, but it's kinda like quitting smoking, it takes a good six or seven attempts to get it done.

That being said, I'm inclined to agree with you that if we do somehow manage to extract the word from our way of life, white folks and others would see that using it would result in some serious trouble.

PhillyLive said...

Interesting post.. It really made me think. I try not to get caught up in the word nigger or nigga except when it comes from a white person because nine out of ten times its usually demeaning. And that's a problem.

As far as the use of the word African American, I think this is totally incorrect. Ask the average white person what their nationality is I guarantee you it does not include the word American. There too busy telling people what they are not which is Irish, Italian or whatever. Just because you twirl your spaghetti on a spoon does make you Italian. At the end of day, if you were born in America then you are an American. Live with it..

Treifalicious said...

"I can't really identify with the segment of our population who refuses to stay informed about current events, refuses to vote and has a crippling sense of defeat. That's not to say I don't want to help, but it gives me a sense of helplessness to know these ideals still have such a stronghold in our community. And that is partially from the complete obliteration of our connection to Africa through slavery." - jameil

Now you know, I didn't think of it that way. I thought of it from a strictly ethnic/cultural perspective.

Some of us may have money, some of us may not.

Some of us may be educated, some of us may be not.

Some of us may vote regularly and some of us may not.

But starting from 400 years ago we all came off the same slave ships.

We all felt the master's whip.

We all persevered through Jim Crow and lynchings.

We all fought the fight and marched the marches for equal rights.

And through it all - and this is most important - we have created a culture that is unique throughout the world.

We are who we are because of our experience in America, bitter as it largely has been.

We must respect the achievements we have made here - as Black Americans. It is these achievements that make us a special people.

I feel like so many Black Americans don't really realize this. There are no other people, especially Black people, quite like us anywhere in the world.

Some of our people may live up to our ancestors' achievements and make us proud. Others do not. This happens to all people. Most Jews are not proud of Meir Lansky (big Jewish mobster) or David Berkowitz (Son of Sam serial killer). Or Jack Abramoff, for that matter. Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, practically died of embarassment when the Abramoff scandal hit and he was identified as an Orthodox Jew.

But this does not change who we are. We are all still Black Americans. We can't pretend to be Africans just because some of our people embarass us.

Who's to say that Africans are not embarassed by aspects of things that go on in Africa or things Africans do? How do we know that some Africans are not embarassed by the legions of West African foreign workers dispersed throughout Europe and the world? Do YOU want to identify and be identified with African foreign workers? Do you think Africans see these workers and then say they are not Africans? I think not.

With that said, I won't even entertain the "dreaded n-word." I have never used it and always thought it was wrong. When I hear Black people say it I see it as a sign of ignorance. I see it as part of the mental slavery that still persists and while gradually fading away does not fade away as quickly as we'd like.

But with patience and education we can free ourselves of any kind of slavery and its remnants. We have already proven this to be true and we will prove it again.

JOB said...

Your ideas intrigue me and I want to subscribe to your newsletter.

I teach at a predominantly Black and Spanish school in the Bronx. I can't say African American, because the Jamaican kids would have a heart attack "Mistah, I ain't no African." As would the other Carribean kids and the "Yankees" as well. They are unbelievably racist agains Africans.

I hear "nigga" about 3,900 times a day. Both Black and Spanish alike. What do I do in that situation? They even call me "nigga" sometimes. According to them I'm NOT white. Well, I'm white... but not WHITE.

Nigga is used so freely among these kids, I worry about them when they are out in the "real" world, and let me tell you, kids from the Bronx can be QUITE sheltered. When I ask them if they would be insulted if a white person called them "nigga" they claim "NO" but it's never been tested... for A LOT of these kids, their teachers are the only white people they know.

I thought I had a point, but I think it disappeared...

Keep Writing.

Charreah said...

Im always glad that we as black people have this conversation. However we have to see through the strategy to divide and conquer people of color. We all have a shared identity - African, Caribbean, South American or the American Negro who remains searching for a true home and peace.
Thanks for checking out the blog jameil.

4EverJennayNay said...

Just happened to stumble upon your blog and I have to comment because I recently posted something along the same lines. My ideas may not have been as eloquently stated, and there are some points where we differ in opinion, but we are in the same boat. After years of usage, the word has grown old and its bothering me.

And on the note of Black v. African American, Personally I prefer Black. I have never been to Africa. I think that the word Black in and of itself honors my African roots. My family is actually descended from Barbados, but they just didn't hatch there, they came from Africa. They came from Africa just like any other Black people.

Other than that, I've met blonde haired, blue eyed, fair complected African Americans. Of course their family roots were in some European country, but you see where I'm going.

I can't really see identifying myself as African. My fam has been here too long, and we (the decendents of slaves) are nothing like 'real' Africans. I honor the history, but I'm an American with dark skin.

So Wise...
Interesting way to put it - "identity crisis". wow. never thought about it like that.

At any rate, I'm glad I stumbled on your blog. Always good to find a glimmer of Golden RHOyalty floating in cyber space.

Karamale said...

jameil, how dare you post something like this and not give me a heads up so i could join the convo in a timely fashion. you got me responding all on hbcu-time.

as an english teacher and semi-linguist, i have always thought about the uses and misuses of names in human language. and folks have been slinging around names since god invented 'em.

english words like slave, vandal, barbarian, and cannibal are all derivations of the names ascribed to various ethnic groups througout history, often by a reigning power (e.g. the greeks, the romans, the spaniards, etc.). specifically, they refer to a given group of people as the "other", as in, not "us."

in the americas, people of color have always been named in opposition to the "norm" - white - which is why a term such as "people of color" is even applicable in the first place, the "norm" being those who were the conquerors and, thus, did the naming. (hell..."indian" has to be one of the greatest nomenclature faux pas of all time)

but even more important than who did the naming is what names represent, what they tell us about a person or group of people. logically, this is an impossible task...how can one simple word define an entire person, with all the complexities and inconsistencies accorded the human condition? yet, being human, we often use reduction as a form of understanding, no matter how much actual understanding we lose in the process.

for example: commenter job wrote about working in a "predominately black and spanish high school in the bronx." well, in this instance, all students with an ethnic background from (i assume) spanish-speaking countries in the western hemisphere are dubbed "spanish". certainly, this is highly inconsistent with the fact that native english speakers from the united states, canada, belize, or jamaica are not called "english," as well as with the official definition of "spanish" as describing a citizen of spain. yet "spanish" is used frequently by both spanish and non-spanish speakers in the americas to describe people who are clearly not spanish. and then, there's the issue of "black and spanish" as being altogether different entities. i would argue that the majority of "spanish" kids at that particular high school are of caribbean descent, particularly from puerto rico and the dominican republic, and are significantly african-descended, enough that had their last names been williams and johnson as opposed to garcía and rodríguez, they would no doubt be considered "black".

the other issue with names is their perceived meaning. the meaning of nigger changes with the speaker. whether positive or negative, it is almost always accepted without severe reproach when spoken by a black person. the issue is certainly the history behind the word and the ethnosocial characteristics that accompany it. i use the word, personally, and am fully aware of the inconsistency with allowing other racial groups use the term. however, i feel like it's a matter of group dymanics and identity. me and my brothers can say our mother's cooking sucks, but you'll get your ass whipped if you try and co-sign on that one.

meanwhile, the matter of black vs. african-american seems to deal in technicalities (but don't most things, generally?). i use the term black american, simply because i feel it encompasses the african heritage that is evident, plus any other racial mixture that is inherent in the black american existence. i do see african-american more as someone who is or whose family recently immigrated from an african country and is now living in the united states (had a friend in college with the last name oguntade...though she grew up in st. pete, fla, both her parents were from nigeria...to me, that's african-american - though that is still a nod to the common misuse and concept of africa as a country and not a whole continent).

still, i see anyone who is african-descended, whatever language they speak and whatever continent they hail from, as black, which is a whole other topic that i'd gladly discuss on my blog, in addition to the word "gringo", which i see as completely offensive, regardless of what some south americans say to the contrary. to me, it carries the negative connotation of a typical white american tourist who gets drunk, tries to fuck all the black and brown poon he can get, and can't get his hips swinging rhythmically for shit.

so, i'm done with the long-ass, convoluted, pseudo-intellectual comment.

Jameil said...

actually stace i was thinking about another friend, too. but you're not the only one. i never really used it, growing up around white people, until i was around the crew at HU, or bitch. then it was like those two words lost all their pain. but re-associating myself with whites has made me far more sensitive again. i can't say that around them and i don't want to get comfortable and let it slip.

cnel... black.white is sooooo what i also meant to mention. the black child was so far away from black culture it was depressing. but what was more annoying, was his parental guidance, i should say lack of parental guidance. how do you think a child could grow up completely oblivious to being black without your assistance? they're appalled that the word nigga means nothing to him and that he knows nothing about civil rights. did you teach him? because they don't teach that in school in case you missed it. my mother worked her ASS off to make sure my sister and I were well aware of our roots. and i will be forever grateful to her for that. without it, who knows who I would be.

dp isn't it funny as in not at all how we give hispanics the leeway when it comes to the word nigga. i don't like it with them either, but i feel you on the policing. if you were to go around policing every single person you met or saw, what would you end up with? i'm thinking a boring ass life as a nigger cop. hmm.. i didn't even intend the pun. but there it is. what can you do when its that pervasive? probably what you did and just let it go. but i would certainly have to say something to a white person. that would NOT fly. doesn't pittsburgh strike you as a racist city? it seems no less racist than hampton or charlotte to me, despite the fact that its 8 hours north. i'm not really bothered by it, but i just see it that way. what do you think as a pittsburgher?

wise... tho i knew you were not aiming to dispute anyone, it still served well to put my thoughts into perspective and flesh them out a little more. and you furthered it w/the whole black history month/slavery thing. i am so sick of that shit. that's exactly why my mother insisted on sending us to summer cultural events that emphasized the pride of our culture and of Africa. Because we're made to feel ashamed of our African roots. We are African somewhere deep, deep and in some cases deeeeeeeeeeep down. But we were all on the boat.

chris i don't know how you will ever be able to eliminate nigga from your vocabulary in a predominately Black atmosphere. i didn't pick it up until i was in one. and it didn't start offending me again until i left one. but good luck.

trei... i don't pretend to be african. and whether i want to or not, when the word africa comes up, people automatically associate me with it. i have been quizzed on africa or something about the CONTINENT (i wish these people would realize i cannot know everything about that many different countries) at least twice in the 8 months i have been at my job and i'm sure more times. i'm black. to most white people, that means african. so i don't have a choice. and i'm not going to fight it.

and i'm not so sure about the whole free ourselves of any kind of slavery thing with patience and education. this thing is huge. and i mean huge. think about every low income, project and even middle and upper class black person. even if we all became educated conventionally and within our communities about our history (ies), you will still have white people who do not understand and go along with the stereotypes. it might always be popular to refer to women as bitches and hoes, and therefore profitable. for many, profitabilty always trumps any sense of responsibility. particularly to some child they do not know and will never meet. sad as it may be, i'll call it realistic, i do not see how we will ever be able to free ourselves of any kind of slavery or its remnants. and i don't know if i would want to. that's part of what makes us who we are. good and bad.

philly... but italians or irish or everyone else has a choice. my ancestors didn't have a choice. so i think i'll take mine now. even though i have to pick african as opposed to liberian or ghanian or nigerian, or or or. i have no clue where my ancestors may have come from. and if you come to pittsburgh, you'll see, they don't eschew their heritage. there is every kind of festival you could ever want or not want. italian, greek, german, irish. i'm sure i could go on for days. and some of them are multiple times of the year. they all have markets and associations and unions and churches. there are more irish, italians and germans in pittsburgh than black, singularly. they hold on to their cultures. american, yes, but they WILL make sure to tell you what else is there. i couldn't tell you. i know there's some white. some creek indian. some black. you see? that's so vague. but it would take probably years of searching, possibly to no avail for me to even begin to know where my roots begin. i would be hard pressed to tell you beyond 3 or 4 generations ago.

job and that's exactly what i'm talking about. people who don't know any white people and don't want to know any white people and can't imagine ever leaving the bronx. that is frightening. and who doesn't have a negative opinion of africans? we are brainwashed here to think that africans are an inhumane people. as opposed to a multitude of countries with different cultures and languages. i am convinced that the only reason my 10th grade world history teacher even bothered to teach african history is because me and another black girl (this one not quite as enlightened) is because i was in the class. she ignored asian and mostly focused on european. that's how it has been all my life. but usually the african part means little or nothing. its just slavery and civil rights when it comes to american history and that is poorly done.

you hear nigga all the time but you know good and well should that word ever leave your lips in relation to anyone, esp. non-white in that school, there would be so many protests your head would spin. even if the kids thought it was cool, there would be some teachers and parents who would not have your back. GUARANTEED. the children need to be taught the origin and filthy history of the word nigga. that still might not do any good but its a start. do they even know? have they a clue that it was used to demean and belittle grown men. to string them up from trees while people held picnics around. how the white people used to cut off the genitals and ears and toes and fingers of the victim after (or possibly before, too) as souvenirs? i think some of them would be a lot less inclined to such ready acceptance of being called a nigger. at least i hope so. if not, we have a lot further to go than i anticipated.

soror... while truly american, i'm not going to be the person to quibble over a title. black american, african american, black, whatever. like rell said, just don't call me nigger. that's what this should have been titled huh? i do like the whole my skin or black proving my african roots. clearly we are very american. but i still don't mind reminding people we didn't ask to be brought here.

karamale... i get hot when i see the word gringo. esp in reference to me. the shit makes me angry. illllll offensive. b/c i have the same mentality w/that word. and clearly its yo fault you don't come visit no more. you ain't even gotta bring nothin. i ain't askin for no wine, just yo mind. doesn't that sound like a line? anyway. "how can one simple word define an entire person, with all the complexities and inconsistencies accorded the human condition" precisely. that's my whole thing w/just don't call me nigga. you can't sum me up in one word anyway. hence the term individual. that's just what it is and what its gon be and who am i to fight it? jameil. and i probably will. but the point is, that's not something i'm going to fight over or argue against. i'm not going to get mad or correct someone who calls me african-american. i just ain't. and i'll be the first to admit, my lack of interaction with many people not of european descent prior to my matriculation at hampton probably has an inordinate amount to do with my lack of distinction when it comes to the usage of the term "african american."

thanks to everyone who weighed in. i'm very, very happy to see some new names and faces. come back.

Darren Sands said...

Some high-level intellectualism in the blog circle..jeash. I'm too late to get down so I'll watch from the sidelines. Carry on, braniacs.

Mrs A. said...

meily, you are a paragon!

Treifalicious said...

Let me tell you a story regarding ethnic festivals...

Once, I came to visit my family in New York (I was living abroad at the time). One of the first things I did was go to Harlem, the "Capital of Black America" (not many Black folks, especially Black American folks, where I was). Wandering around I surveyed the increasing impact of the African immigrant community in Harlem.

I found my way to 116th Street to a "Malcolm Shabazz Market" selling Muslim-accented Afrocentric products. This surrounded by actual African immigrants - 116th Street between about 7th and 8th Avenues is known as "Little Senegal." There were stores run by Africans selling actual cultural artifacts imported from Africa, with the smell of African food wafting through the stores. Years earlier, I had bought some AUTHENTIC kente cloth imported from the Ivory Coast at a store in Harlem and it had been stolen by locals where I was living. I had come back to Harlem in hopes of replacing this fabric.

Anyway, compared to the actual African immigrants simply displaying their culture, this "Malcolm Shabazz Market" looked like such fake, plastic weak-ass bullshit typical of American culture exemplified by the likes of Hollywood. It reeked of people trying desperately to be something they aren't.

Yes, I know we were forcibly taken from Africa and yes every other group has their festivals and what do we have. But pretending to be amorphous "Africans" (when real Africans more often identify themselves by country of origin and can tell you what tribe they are from and what is special about them culturally) just had this pathetic ring to it.

Now, it seems my perspective is different from those of many people here. I was once one of those kids in the Bronx in a mostly Black and Hispanic community where only the teachers and a few kids were white. But one day I went away to college (and in the Boston area!) and was suddenly thrust more or less permanently into a mostly white environment. I had to deal for the first time with being a minority for real on a daily basis (as opposed to my last experience of being a minority, but for only a week during a teen tour of Spain junior year in high school).

It has taken me years to try and understand the white world. I still think I am not entirely comfortable with it. I still am less comfortable about white people who are above middle class and are WASPs. New York City white people often have strong ethnic backgrounds - Italian, Jewish, etc. Not many WASPs except maybe on the Upper East Side. These white people are usually relatively dark in coloring, etc. White people who are different from the "white ethnic" mold are still kind of foreign to me (unless they are European expatriates and hence easier for me to deal with).

In fact, I specifically avoided HBCUs when looking at colleges because I knew I was living in a Black/Hispanic bubble and wanted to get out and experience the world.

Anyway, all of this would inform my perspective on "Blackness", whatever that means.

In fact, the meaning of "Blackness" might make for an excellent blog post.

Sherlon Christie said...

I'm a spectator on this one too...

Supa said...

Great post. As for the situation when whitey was singing along w/Biggie - that's a definite conundrum..How I'ma be mad at him REPEATING what my own kind feel okay in verbalizing?? I could jack him up on the personal tip, but the fact is, the world feels as if we (as a community) embrace the word, so why can't they..

*shaking my head*

La said...

As a frequent user of both the words "nigga" and "coon" (much to
Shani's dislike) I find very little fault in the use of the word commonly. My issue is the intent behind them. As with any word in any language, the word itself has no power until the intent edifies it. If a word in&of
itself is the weapon, then should we not stop saying we "hate" a person when we truly love them&are just joking?

And as far as this whole African American thing, I personally prefer not to be addressed as such. I feel it is limiting and doesn't pay homage to the
many other cultures in my lineage. Am I any less those things b/c a
white person will look at me&catagorize me as black? I feel as though its a broad generalization, a way to "figure us out" and group us together. For all we know, the person we're referring to as African
American could in fact be Panamanian, many of whom are darker than most black people I know.

I dunno. Just a couple of thoughts on the subject coming from a color
sensitive black/African American/Hispanic/Latina/American Indian girl
with a complex color complex.