“And a voice said ‘Do you see any n-gg-rs?’
And I said ‘no…cause there aren’t any.'”
— Richard Pryor, Live on the Sunset Strip
Now that Wakanda has officially been recognized as a sovereign state by the Academy Awards, I wonder how Black people would feel if the N-word was used in the sequel? It’s actually surprising that Erik Killmonger, a fatherless kid from Oakland, didn’t address the people of Wakanda as “my n-ggas” after he became king.
Black History Month is always a good time to reflect on this particular term of endearment. It would be nice if it was treated with the discretion of a curse word yet properly acknowledged as a cursed word. Perhaps muting it in social media every February for a 28-day detox would be a respectful gesture of atonement, but that would probably take an act of God.
Instead, the epithet continues to pollute time and invade personal space as its suffixes are policed with double standards and permission slips. This leads me to my next question, do they listen to American hip-hop music in Wakanda?
Black Americans tend to have a landlocked perspective, not realizing the difficulty in regulating the word’s historical and cultural context when exported globally. Since the N-word can be a noun, verb and adjective, there’s a problematic difference between translation and interpretation; especially in countries that don’t speak English and just want to sing along or mimic movie dialogue.
Most major record labels mute the word “Jew” from their product. However, if you remove the N-word from Black music, most artists (and fans) would probably cry censorship. Blacks have no Sabbath for universal restrictions, so the N-word – a ‘buy-product’ of entertainment – just roams freely, usually with an attitude and blurred lines of racism.
I recently read a good article discussing whether restaurants should play music that contains the N-word. One person interviewed stated, “This is not a club…it’s a restaurant where I’d like to take my 10 year old daughter and not be subjected to this nonsense.” It doesn’t, and shouldn’t matter if the person is white, Black or other – it’s a valid point.
I personally use the word but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be insulted by its power of airborne arrest. Does its righteous indignation give us collective strength or strengthen something unhealthy and destructive? If the theory is positive redefinition, why don’t blacks in South Africa call each other Kafir?
Use of the N-word represents a subconscious self-hate. Debating that fact is an act of stubbornness. Black people did not invent the word, therefore, it is the master’s tool. A weapon made specifically to be used against the melanated. An intellectual property we foolishly think we own. A potassium chloride we’ve diluted with artificial flavoring and re-branded as friend, enemy and swag. Yet, its real power internalizes victimization and inferiority. This is the reason we often over-compensate with conspicuous consumption while treating luxury brands like deities. Which leads me to my next article – Do Wakandans Wear Gucci?
Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.