‘Nigger’ is my Favourite Word

I can feel the love from here. I can feel the outrage. I’m not saying those aren’t warranted. There are legitimate reasons to hate me for the statement of the title of this article. So let me speak my point. Let me tell you why ‘nigger’ is such a great word.

Nigger is a historical derivative from the word ‘negro’. The word negro itself has a long and complicated history. It has been used as Negroid, a scientific term in physical anthropology for people of certain racial classifications of humans, such as Caucasoid (Caucasian), Mongloids (Mongolians), Australoid (Australians), amongst others. It has been used to describe the colour of dark skin; before people even thought to use colour for races. There are criticisms to these, of course, but that is neither here nor there.

What most people think about when nigger is used is the racial slurring associated with it. It, along with its derivatives, are the most commonly used racial slur in America’s long and tense history of racial segregation between White and African-Americans. It is a symbol of hate and bigotry. It is a symbol of seeing another human being as lesser. A livestock to be owned and used rather than equalised. Some thing that can be traded and sold. Knowing all this, to say it is my favourite word might seem surprising. But I love it. I love the word ‘nigger’. In a linguistic sense, I think it is one of the most fascinatingly human words ever.

I was born and raised in Singapore. And in Singapore, blacks are about as common as snakes, population wise. They exists. And some are here. But seeing one is rare and you don’t know enough about them to make any decisions on what to do when you meet. Growing up, my only experience with the race is from predominantly black televisions and movies, where the word is used predominantly in the same fashion as Larry Wilmore did during his White House Correspondence run. “My nigga!”.

That’s what the word meant to me when growing up. It wasn’t a racial slur. It wasn’t hate speech. For a kid growing up who have never met a black man nor understood the delicate intricacies and history behind American segregation, the word meant “Brotherly love”. It meant, “A brother from another mother”. Instead of teaching me racial purity and hate, it taught me to call my closest friends ‘nigga’. After Bad Boys, we were going to class, greeting each other with, “Yo nigga!”, “S’up my nigga!”.

As we got older, we learnt the meaning behind the word and we stopped using it. We started saying “Bro,” instead. But it never once slipped my mind that our replacement for the word ‘nigga’, was ‘bro’. And now, as a writer who looks closely at the art of the language, my appreciation for that word grows daily.

A culture, so oppressed by racism and inequality that after hundreds of years we’re still seeing its effects, have taken a word specifically used against them as a slur, for hate and segregation, and appropriated it into something that could mean family and loyalty. That is one of the most impressive feats of humanity of this past century.

By “Five hundred thousand strokes for freedom ; a series of anti-slavery tracts, of which half a million are now first issued by the friends of the Negro.” by Armistead, Wilson, 1819?-1868 and “Picture of slavery in the United States of America. “ by Bourne, George, 1780–1845 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

To my knowledge, there are no equivalents of this act with any other racial slurs. Not ‘chinks’. Not ‘redskins’. Not ‘ah neh’. Not ‘guai lo’. Not ‘mutts’. Not nothing. ‘Nigga’ is one of a kind. It speaks of a culture so strong and loving that they decided to change a word of hate into one of love. To this day, my default thoughts when it comes to blacks is not of race differences, gangs, or hate groups. My idea of black American culture is one of friendship, loyalty, and familial relationship with strangers, all because of one word.

One of my core ideology is intellectually driven free speech. Not free speech without rhyme, reasons, or consequences; but one built on knowledge, understanding, and empathy. I don’t approve of censorship of vulgarities on air, nor do I particularly enjoy the overtly sensitive and censorial activism that aims to ban words and thoughts. Just because you stopped using something negative, doesn’t mean it never existed. We, as a society, should learn from our mistakes, not bury them to hide our shame.

Perhaps that’s the greatest strength of this version of the word’s meaning, in how it does not degrade the harm of the old one. It accepts ‘nigger’ as derogatory. It doesn’t hide its own history or try to change it. It doesn’t pretend the previous version of it doesn’t exists. It simply offered a humane alternative, built on a terrible, ugly history. It shows how far we have come. It shows how much work we have left. It shows our mistakes, and tells us to learn from it and offers an alternative that guides.

That is what I think of when people claim to “Not see colours”. Not the condescending self masturbatory Tomi Lahren version. Not the censorial denial mindset of those who would ban books from university libraries either. It is that of a man, part of a culture built on some of the most atrocious acts in human history, who became the leader of the free world, and could stand on a stage in front of an international audience and hear this sentence with grace and pride, “Yo Barry, you did it my nigga.”