“This Nigga…” Say What?!

For years I’ve thrown “nigga” around simply because I can.  I know that because of the color of my skin, I have a piece of ownership to the word that not everyone possesses…namely, anyone who does not identify as Black.  Do I take particular pride in this?  Indirectly, yes.  I appreciate knowing that I have helped change the meaning of an offensive word into a term of endearment and solidarity in the community.  While I understand the controversial history that is closely associated with different pronunciations of the word, I still use it within mixed company assuming that others who aren’t Black would never dare use it in my presence.

Until last week.

My Italian co-worker and I were exchanging stories about men in our lives when she referred to one of hers as “this nigga.”  Immediately my eyes narrowed as I cocked my head to one side.  “Is he Black?” I interrupted her.

It’s not that him being Black would have made a difference, I just felt the need to cautiously approach the topic.  I had never been there before, having to correct anyone of another race who had chosen to use that term in my presence.  It was foreign territory for me.

“No, he’s not.  I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” she gushed in a low, embarrassed tone.  “I don’t know why I said that.  I know it’s wrong,” she continued.  “Ashley I am SO sorry.  I really didn’t mean it.”  I nodded my head and let her know that I was thankful she knew it wasn’t okay and I accepted her apology.  Several minutes later she approached me again to further apologize and assure me that she wasn’t a racist who hated Blacks.  By this point I was beginning to feel bad for her-it was obvious that she was apologetic and meant no ill will.  I didn’t want her to feel like she had to walk on eggshells around me so I assured her that she and I were cool (which we were) and prompted her to drop it.  I assumed that she had learned her lesson and that the situation had resolved itself until…

She did it again today.

This afternoon, while speaking about a Bangledashian co-worker who got on her nerves she mentioned “all I know is this nigga has one more time to…” She said it so fast I didn’t quite catch it.  As I stood there, replaying her words in my head to discern if she had indeed, just said what I thought she had said, she cut through my thoughts.  “Oh my gosh, Ashley I can’t believe I did that again.  I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!”  I just stood there and stared at her, dumbfounded and speechless.  “I only do this around you.  I swear I never say this around anyone else. “Upon hearing those words I stared down at her (I’m about five inches taller than her).  “Huh?” I asked.  “When I get around you, it’s like I pick up on the way you talk.  And it’s not just you, it’s others.  You know the new girl from Ireland?  Around her I notice I speak in a European accent at times.  It’s weird-it’s this thing that I do and I’m so sorry!”

From there an open dialogue ensued, but it got me to thinking about what she had said.  Sure, since moving to NYC there are certain words I use that are now accompanied with a NYC accent (“May I have a cup of cauwffee please” or “Is that auwll you guys are gonna have?”) and as soon as I head back to Ohio I notice my Southern accent coming back strong (“Are y’all gon’ git it together?” or “Ma!  Where you and Auntie goin?”), but there’s a strong difference in using accents versus switching up your entire vocabulary.  There was only once conclusion for me to draw.

My irresponsible Black vernacular encased in my Black skin color, coupled with my laidback, nonchalant demeanor is what gave my co-worker the assumption that it is okay for her to use that language around me.

All this time I’ve used “nigga,” falsely believing that I wasn’t negatively contributing to the Black experience.  Regardless of how I’d like to view it, the fact remains that I am a representation of not only Ashley Yancey, but Black America as a whole.  I can’t afford to run around talking about “nigga this” and “nigga that” because people are watching, listening and taking notes.

Ignorant naivety is no longer an excuse to be reckless with my personal expressions of my identity and culture.  As much as we’d all love for it to be the case, we’re not living in post-racial America.  My youngest, baby brother JUST spent two months in jail for playing with a lighter at a playground in our White neighborhood.  Trayvon Martin is dead.  The Scott Sisters served 16 years in prison (for stealing $11).  These injustices, and SOOO many more, are spurned from smaller, more isolated incidents that snowball and grow into gargantuan beasts that are not easily defeated.  If doing my own, small part merely means that I no longer use “nigga” in my vocabulary so that the next non-Black is well aware that the racially-offensive term is not okay in ANY context that they may want to use it in, then I will gladly step up to the plate.

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2 thoughts on ““This Nigga…” Say What?!

  1. Pingback: War of the Beauty: You Can’t Be Part Dutch! « From Ashy to Classy

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