Editor’s Note: A project assigned about the “N-word” in an African-American Studies class at Oxon Hill High School sparked discussion within the student body. The point/counterpoint discussion first appeared in the high school’s online newspaper – Searchlight, which is student-run and advised by Baltimore Post-Examiner education blogger and English teacher Jason Flanagan. We are republishing their essays here so the discussion can move from the classroom to a broader audience. We welcome your comments.
Word of Affection
By Janae Davage
Ms. Jade Keith, African-American studies teacher at Oxon Hill High School, devoted the ending of the first quarter to the study of one of the most controversial words today. It stirred up many questions and emotions of the African-American students as they started to ask themselves a dozen of very complex questions.
Am I a nigger? Am I a nigga? Is there really a difference between the two?
“I’m an African-American, not a nigger because I’m not ignorant,” said junior Matthew Underwood.
Ignorant? I thought. Ignorant meaning uneducated or lacking knowledge, which sent me back to the history and upbringing of the word nigger in general.
Nigger coming from the Portuguese/Spanish word negar, was used to classify African-Americans who were shipped to theVirginiacolony. Over the years, the word negar converted to the word nigger, and finally in the 1900’s nigger became a derogatory term.
White people started calling African American slaves niggers — nigger indeed meaning uneducated. However, isn’t it also true that these niggers were not able to read, write, and learn because their white masters didn’t allow them to? So they weren’t allowed to be the African-Americans we are today.
Another question that sparked this controversy was whether there really was a difference between being called a nigger and a nigga.
“Niggers was the ones on the rope, hanging off the thing,” said the now deceased rapper Tupac Shakur. “Niggas is the ones with gold ropes, hanging out at clubs.”
The now informal slang term, nigga, is used among African Americans everywhere. You even hear some teachers and parents using it to the point where it’s a normal household word. A word with so much history behind it now has no effect—it’s simply a word.
“I think it’s ignorant to use any form of the word nigger when my grandparents had to go through white supremacy.” said freshman Naytia Bazemore. “We don’t know how it feels to actually deal with being called a nigger.”
After hearing all of the opinions from the students, I asked myself the very same question: Am I a nigger? My answer is one that will shock many people and be frowned upon for sure.
I believe that I am a nigger.
Although I don’t have knowledge by acquaintance on the use of the word nigger, I have knowledge by description as an African-American today. My ancestors were forced to remain uneducated, but I am very blessed to be educated and excel above many others. I can be one to help redefine the word nigger. Barack Obama is the first black president of theUnited Stateswho is helping redefine the word nigger. Refine the word to mean what we truly are — educated and great human beings.
When I think of the word nigger and all that we’ve been through as a race and how far we’ve come, I don’t hear ignorant. I hear faith. I hear strong. I hear powerful.
Janae Davage is a senior at Oxon Hill High School. Known as Davage to most of the world, Janae loves to be the outspoken, life of the party. Often caught singing or joking around, Janae is said to be loud and sometimes overbearing. However, she loves everything about the English language; both spoken and written. She enjoys every aspect of literature and inspires to be a kindergarten teacher.
Word of Oppression
By Vidal Adams
Let’s take a look behind the word “nigga” and the damage it has caused in society to this day.
Oppression is without a doubt behind the word “nigga”.
Its sole purpose is to destroy the color we call black. The use of the word is a discrimination and disgrace to African ancestors. Many years ago when freedom seemed but a dream, the term nigga was used to degrade the descendants of slaves.
When freedom was granted years later, the Jim Crow laws were introduced. These laws were used to get around the freedoms granted to African-Americans. This was the original genocidal master plan to destroy what many blacks proudly shout out today. I guess we are the same niggas that got lynched, raped, and beaten. Now how does that make you feel?
Generations later, after our ancestors gave their lives to put an end to the term nigga, we attempt to redefine it. The generation today is ignorantly redefining the word nigga, as if it is okay to label themselves as witless, savage beasts who don’t deserve the same rights as others do.
The unfortunate truth is that the generation of today is blind and cannot relate to the true pain of the word nigga. They have not felt the full extent of the word because they don’t live in the time where the word made people want to commit suicide or cry to death.
I remember when a man who has lost a lot told me that the word intimidates him and makes his stomach sick when his own people terminally use it amongst each other.
“There were times where I was scared because I would see burning crosses outside in my yard as a young boy and fear for the lives of my parents who were in the civil rights movement.” he said
So does the N-word still define you? Even as your ancestors walked down the street and lynch mobs started beating them down shouting phrases like, “Die nigger!”
Are you still a proud nigga?
“I am human first, then I am the color of my skin,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.
He meant that he is a human being his color should not be first addressed because we are all the same just look different mostly in terms of skin color he is an African-American.
“I have a dream that one day my children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” King said.
Where is the unity that once crowded the streets ofWashingtonD.C.all the way down to the boycotts ofAlabama?
People are slowly understanding that the term is by no means good. One such person was the comedian Richard Pryor. Pryor was famous for using the word in shows until he went toAfrica. His whole life was now changed. He saw the extent of the damage the word has caused. As he returned home he gained a completely new perspective.
Julian Curry from Def Jam Poetry feels just as passionately about the n-word.
“Would he slam a couple of the boys against the wall and say you think you keeping it real nigga? Do you know how I was killed nigga? They murdered me with hot rods of steel nigga. So how do you think that makes me feel nigga.” said Curry, in his poem “Niggers, Niggas, and Niggaz”.
The N-word is nothing but a mere reflection of African-Americans’ dark history. The word should be banned because of the pain, hatred, and setback it has caused for the black society. It carries a double standard as once it’s used in a hateful way or by someone of another race, blacks are quickly to respond violently.
Where is peace in the word nigga?
The Searchlight is Oxon Hill High School’s student-run media outlet and is part of OHHS’ journalism program, which consists of Journalism 1 – Introduction to Journalism, and Journalism 2 – Newspaper. The journalism classes seek to uphold the school’s mission to “provide a quality education that develops the content knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable all students to reach their maximum potential as responsible, life-long learners and productive citizens.”