Nigga.

Before I begin, I want to note that this is a very important and delicate conversation, as well as something I’m still working through, so please bear with me if things don’t come out as elegantly as they ought.


So... I don’t say the N-word. Except for just now up in the title, but that was for dramatic effect. I’ve tried using it a couple times, singing along in songs or saying it when quoting someone else, and I just never liked the way it felt in or coming out of my mouth. To be clear, my official stance on the N-word is very strictly this: only black people are allowed to use it. If the original hateful version of the word was not used to undermine or subjugate yours or your ancestors’ humanity, you don’t get to say the fun version now that black people have done the miraculous work of reclaiming it.
 

This isn’t to say that if you’re black you have to use it. Or that you’re any less black if you don’t use it. My idea is that black people — and again, only black people — have the choice in whether to use it or not. And I, for much of my life, have exercised my choice not to.
 

But I’ve been reexamining that choice lately, asking myself what it’s based in. I know a lot of black people choose not to use the word because they don’t believe the original version could ever be cleansed of its derogatory nature, despite what adjustments are made to the last few letters. And while I think that’s totally valid, it doesn’t feel like it truly aligns with me. I do actually believe black people have done what is, as I said, miraculous, in turning arguably the the worst and most hateful word in the English language into something that evokes camaraderie and brotherhood.


So what is it?
 

I think in some regard, my stance has been “I don’t say the N-word because it doesn’t feel like it’s mine to say.” People whose ancestors were kidnapped from their homes and brought in chains, people whose ancestors were lynched by the hundreds, people whose ancestors heard that word last before they died, that’s who gets to say it. They been through it, they deserve it.
 

But my family weren’t slaves, we weren't kidnapped. We were chillin’ in Africa all the way up to 1991, and honestly most of us still are. However, it’s also not like my Africanness protects me from that word or the hate behind it. Being African doesn’t shield me from the centuries of racism this country’s steeped itself in. You put me in front of a Klansman and he’s gonna call me a “nigger” just the same, whether my great grandma was a slave or not. So in that sense, is it not also mine? If having this skin in this country brings the same weight of oppression regardless of origin or how far back I can map my family tree, doesn’t the right to that word still belong to me?
 

And now we’ve come back, full circle, to the story of Black Panther. Because this is the same conversation — what is mine as an African vs. yours as an African American? And is it the same? Do we get to share?
 

I mean really, what do y’all think? (Black people, I’m talking to black people.)
 

In any case, I’ve been practicing trying on the N-word again, seeing if anything’s shifted or broken. It still feels uncomfortable on my tongue, too weighty and clumsy in my mouth. Maybe that’s something that goes away, or maybe that’s something I choose not to get used to. I guess we’ll see.