The time of slavery and during the period of the civil rights era, when the word nigger was used mainly as a degrading insult, seem to be a problem of the past. In the present, nigger and especially its modified version, nigga is used in everyday slang among numerous young adults. The unpleasant implications of this word have virtually disappeared among this generation, but its use still causes much debate and fiery reactions in our society.
Due to events in popular culture and the increased usage by young adults today, this issue has inflamed controversy and people of all races have taken a side on this matter. Some believe that every utterance of nigger, in any form, is a type of hate speech which continues to be a constant reminder of a time when African Americans were treated so cruelly and disgracefully. Others disagree. They think that the manner in which nigger is used in today’s culture is not spoken in a demeaning way and is, therefore acceptable.
There are, however, people in the middle of this controversy that do not or will not approve or disapprove of this term because it is used so widely by African Americans, is found in much of the music industry, and is favored by today’s youths. If African American young adults and other races use this term solely as friendly speech with no racial or hateful intentions, then this slang term should not be taken offensively. Slang is the common language of popular culture and used often among people in their teens and twenties.
Young adults use it for self-expression whereas older people may use slang out of habit. Vernon Davis, Jr. , a journalist for the University of Iowa’s National Association of Black Journalists, states in his article, “The Sense and Sensibilities of Using the N-Word,” that nigga, is a slang term commonly used by young adults, as a noun to refer to their friends, to express a feeling, or simply in addition to “What’s up…? ” (par. 6).
However, when certain people hear this harmless use of nigga in a slang manner, their emotions are stirred due to the fact that the word has such an awful history. This topic has come up recently in the media because of its casual use by Jennifer Lopez, a well-liked singer, in one of her popular songs. In “I’m Real,” Ms. Lopez sings, “Now people screamin’ what the deal with you and so and so, I tell them niggas, mind their biz, but they don’t hear me though. ”
People have argued that she should not be allowed to say nigga while others have said that the context in which she used it in was acceptable. Ms. Lopez has not commented on her song or the controversy surrounding her choice of words, but it is evident that her use of this popular slang term is not obviously friendly but it is definitely not hateful either. It is in my opinion that she is simply referring to a group of people as “niggas” in the same sense she would call them “guys. ” For example, she could have said, “I tell them guys, mind their biz, but they don’t hear me though. ”
The supporters of the use of nigger or nigga in present day language simply do not understand what the problem is because it is so regularly heard and found in everyday street communication. They explain that these words are being expressed with no ill intent whatsoever and are solely spoken for the intention of self-expression through slang. Young adults who hear and use nigga are not offended and do not intend to offend anyone because the terms are not viewed as racial slurs. Supporters would also point out that African Americans use the terms themselves and it is found commonly in their urban music.
It is not a secret that nigga is used frequently and liberally in popular culture and can be found in two popular media outlets for young adults, which are movies and rap music. These two media are so widely advertised and marketed to young people, how is it possible that a casual term, which is found so commonly in the hip hop industry, be considered a racial slur and how can people take offense when the language is picked up and used. People supporting the use of this word as a slang term do not understand why it is viewed as socially destructive when a non-black person uses it.
The relationship between the speaker and to whom he or she is speaking to, should definitely be taken into account when evaluating if this usage is hateful or offensive. Randall Kennedy addresses the idea of race and the intention of the speaker, in his book, Nigger, when he says, “There is nothing necessarily wrong with a white person saying “nigger,” just as there is nothing necessarily wrong with a black person saying it. What should matter is the context in which the word is spoken-the speaker’s aims, effects, alternatives” (51).