As a white dude who is a rap fan, I’ve always had a strange relationship with the word “nigga”. Not to be confused with it’s cousin word with a harder “r” sound ,with whom I’ve had a much more defined relationship with. Obviously, we’ve never been close.
But with “nigga” ,I’ve never been one to use it. It just never felt right coming out of my mouth. Aside from the more obvious social reasons, I don’t speak with a particularly affected twang so to say something like “Yo, nigga, could you please pass me the soy sauce” wouldn’t really make sense or benefit anything. Besides, even if i were to harmlessly indulge in saying it, you never know who you’re going to accidentally offend by doing so. It just never seemed worth it.
That said, over the course of my life it has been a word that I’ve heard with great frequency. Both in music and in life. So i figured it would be fun to look back at some funny moments with that word and how it relates to a fairly normal , yet self aware white dude from a city.
1)The first time I got called a nigga
Blame my bohemian upbringing or being from a melting pot type city but I literally didn’t hear a white person refer to a black person in a derogatory fashion (in person) until I left New York. It wasn’t till I went to school in Boston that i heard someone refer to a black guy as a “nigger” and mean it. It was done in such a matter of fact way I was just kinda speechless. It was also done in that bitch ass , wink wink, nudge nudge kinda way as if to say “Hey, we’re both white here, right?”.
As clearly as i remember that moment with great disdain, I’ll never forget the first time a black guy called me “nigga” with great fondness.
As a young rap white rap fan in the early 90′s, there wasn’t much happening to make us feel good about ourselves (and rightfully so…after all, we were white). The beastie boys and 3rd bass were the beginning and end of it. Not to mention, it was a time period when a good deal of my favorite rap was highly afrocentric/pro-black. Groups like X-Clan, Poor righteous Teachers, King Sun and even the friendly Native tongue crew all wore africa medallions and spoke of things that I , as a white guy, could only examine from outside the bubble. So suffice to say, I looked at these guys with great admiration but also with an understanding that I’d never truly be like them no matter how hard i tried. I’d like to think most white kids my age during that time had that revelation but judging from how most of the kids I went to high school acted, they didn’t figure it out until they were in their twenties.
So, realizing that I could never really be down, i simply didn’t try too hard. I just listened to the music fiendishly and that was that. Still, that want to be accepted never really died.
One day, I was walking down the street with a basketball , on my way to the park to go shoot around. I was passing by west 4th street (which is a highly populated area in greenwich village). Out of the sea of bodies I heard someone saying “ay yo nigga! Yo…Nigga!”. It sounded like it was aimed at me but, obviously, that wouldn’t make much sense so I kept moving.
“Yo, nigga! Yo, white boy with that basketball!” I turned around.
“Lemme see that ball for a second”.
I was kind of in shock. I hope I didn’t but I may have been making a face like someone being picked as a pageant winner. On some “You mean MEEEEE?!?!?!” shit. He was a slightly bummy looking black dude in his early 30′s who was sitting in a fold out beach chair he had placed on the side of the street. Seemed harmless enough so I tossed him the ball. He stood up, dribbled it for 5 seconds and threw it back to me.
“Good looking out, nigga”
and that was that.
I remember walking towards the courts feeling like I was slightly different. Like i had passed a authenticity test or something. In hindsight, I was far from special as I imagine that guy is the type to call inanimate objects nigga but still, at that time, I was on cloud 9.
I don’t know if this will translate when written out but I’mma give it a shot.
I was about 19 and high as a person could be. My 4 friends and I had smoked a few blunts and were now floating around the city like the walking dead in search for any food we could stuff in our high mouths. We landed at a McDonalds…which was fine as I was 19 and ate that kinda shit like 4 times a week. High as hell, we all lined up and ordered food the only way high people do. Slowly and like complete fucking idiots. The girl behind the counter was a portly Puerto rican lady in her early 20′s who was obviously amused with the looming group of stoned white guys. We were actually chatting her up a bit and , seemingly, made a new friend. As the order came to a close , all our food was bagged up and ready to go when she said “Oh, Yall niggas want sauce?”
Again, we were SO high. As soon as that sentence came out of her mouth we all just kinda looked at each other like “did she really just refer to us as “niggas”?” That same excitement I felt when that dude in the lawn chair had said it to me was palpable in the room. This was followed by 5 stoned people trying to contain laughter while also trying to procure some of that delicious sauce she was offering. We politely accepted and got out of there as soon as possible so we could guffaw hysterically. To this day, any time I go into a McDonalds or am with any of those friends from that night, that sentence still runs through my head.
3) So puerto ricans can say it?
That was the thought i had the first time I heard a Puerto rican dude say “nigga” without flinching. It was in front of black dudes who didn’t flinch as well. I remember thinking “Why do they get a pass”? It’s safe to so that I was pretty young at the time and didn’t understand a lot of things.
That’s how I learned, in many cases, the people who use it aren’t always about race as they are about location. If you’re black and I’m dominican and we grew up in the same hood with the same friends using that word , it’s just gonna become a part of the vernacular. Teenaged me would have tried to rationalize that it’s wrong of them to say it but, really, who gives a shit? I would never want to take that gift away from the likes of Fat Joe and Beatnuts. And I’d say that same privilege extends to white dudes who grew up around minorities who used the word with great frequency. At least, from what I’ve seen it has.
4)The first time I heard a white dude say “Nigga”.
It’s slightly more common now to hear a white guy say that word. At least in certain circles. But 15 years ago, it wasn’t a thing white guys did. And if they did do it, they did it selectively and with an air of discomfort. Like they so desperately want to be down enough to say it but , deep down, in their hearts they know they probably shouldn’t be saying it.
Around 97/98, I met this dude. I don’t wanna say his real name, as we are still buddies, so let’s call him Bob. Upon first glance, Bob was a wigger of Danny Hoch proportions. Like he was a cartoon version of a wigger. Just being in a room with him, I heard him dropping “Nigga” a dozen times over the course of an hour. But he was doing it amongst a very racially mixed crowd with a comfort level I had never seen before. I had just seen him out a few times , as he was friends with some friends of mine but my initial reaction was that he was a clown.
Flash to a few weeks later and we’re actually hanging out. Turns out, he’s not only an intelligent guy but he’s also hilarious and genuinely good person. This blew my mind. He was a little younger than me but hearing a white guy shamelessly say “nigga” without pulling back was some next level shit. I didn’t really agree with it but I couldn’t help but admire his balls (pause).
Now whether you think it’s right or wrong for any white guy to throw that word around is on you. I certainly understand how that could rub all sorts of people the wrong way. But , much like the girl at McDonalds and the guy in the lawn chair, a lot of how we should accept words is in the intention of how they’re used. Basically, what I’m saying is that it’s okay to be offended by this kinda thing but don’t ever become one of those assholes who overlooks context and intent of how words are used. Bob meant no harm. It was just a word that got engrained in his vocabulary. For better or worse.
5)Overhearing people use the word “nigga” is the best Not to be confused with overhearing people use the word” Nigger” which is the worst…
These are a few things I’ve tweeted in the past after just overhearing people say thing literally like 5 feet from the door of my home:
“I love that I can walk 2 steps out of my building & overhear a guy call his friend an “easy bake oven ass nigga”. New York is the best.”
“Just overheard the sentence “yo, but this nigga DR. Phil got next though”. Trying to imagine a context where that statement makes sense.”
6)”Nigga” is anything
There are different levels of the way people use that word. Obviously WHO is using it is very important so let’s just assume, for these examples, I’m referring to non-whites using this word.
To some, it’s only used to get a point across like “You better give me back my game of thrones box set or there’s gonna be trouble, nigga!”
To others, it’s completely off limits.
But to others, it’s as engrained in their vocabulary as the word “Like” is for valley girls. It can be referring to a table “I banged my knee on that nigga the other day and it still hurts”. It can be referring to a female. Anyone who’s seen porn where the dude is calling the girl he’s fucking “nigga” can attest to that. However, my favorite of all is when it’s referring to animals. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a flock of sheep in europe and heard a dude say “look at all those niggas go…”. As offensive as this word can be to some people, to others it simply means anything. But, more directly, it means a person. I’ve been called a “white nigga” more times than I can count and , in all those situations, it wasn’t used negatively or positively. It was simply a description. As in, we’re playing basketball , I’m the only white guy and a guy on the other team tells his teammate to guard “that white nigga”. 16 year old me would be in heaven over the entire exchange but , in reality, it mean nothing. It’s just a word some people use. The only confusion about it, really, is who can and cannot use it. But I suppose that’s just on a person to person basis. But, whatever you do, always remember to never drop it with the hard “R”. I’m looking at you Mitt Romney.