Do you still say nigga? I do.
At some point, we all got the don’t-say-nigga anymore memo. I shredded mine and threw it away.
I can’t say that I say the n-word unapologetically. I think it’s wrong. Now, I’m not one of those people who believe that if we don’t want white people to say it, we have to stop saying it as well. We all need to stop saying it because the word is just done. It goes in the category of spanking your kid or not wearing a seatbelt. Sure, it made sense at the time. When you know better you do better.
But when it comes to the forbidden word, I’m not doing better. I’m Richard Pryor before he took his life-changing trip to Africa. I swirl it around in my mouth like a fine wine at a tasting. I use it the way I use the word fuck—sparingly but with aggression. It punctuates my conversations with certain people. It comes out under my breath—dis nigga—when I’m watching certain shows. It signals to myself and others that I’m code-switching—I’m letting my hair down and being the n-word-using version of myself.
(I’ve often wondered if President Obama ever used the n-word in the White House. Did he every whisper dis nigga under his breath when some craziness went down? I’m going to say no. He’s from Hawaii and I’m sure he didn’t hear people use it in a code-switching way. Now Michelle? I need y’all to understand, she tossed off an n-word in her mind at least once in eight years.)
My brand as a writer is carefully curated. Read my posts and you’ll find that I’m polite, friendly and helpful. I don’t curse in my work—unless its fiction. The me you see on social media is genuine, for sure. But it’s not the me who throws out a nigga please when necessary like I’m an ODB album.
But I think I’m done now.
I had a day party this weekend. (More on that later. Hmph.) I invited a bunch of my Day Ones that I don’t get to see often even though we all live super close. One of my Day Ones, let’s call him Daryl, came with his wife Kelly. When I say Daryl is my Day One? Let me explain. I met him when I was four years old. He introduced himself by damn near running me over with his Big Wheel tricycle. We lived on the same street and went to elementary school together and college as well. I doubt very seriously that I have any friends that are not also Daryl’s friend as well. He’s super smart, loyal and his hip-hop playlists are just sick. I love this guy.
So. We’re chopping it up—hip-hop, politics, kids, etc.—and at one point he said something that made me roll my eyes. I sucked my teeth and said: Nigga is you crazy?
Daryl looked at me: “What did you just say?”
Before I could even explain that I was saying it playfully, Daryl shook his head. “Nah, not over here. That word? No.”
I was stunned. In my head I’m like, wait Daryl! It’s me, Aliya! From East Orange. You my nigga!
Daryl must have read my mind cause he continued: “I’m not the –gga version or the –er version.”
I felt horrible.
I know I have friends who don’t use the word. But I didn’t know I had friends who didn’t want me to use the word around them. Was I going to have to start code-switching within my friends and family?
I started to think about who I said the word around. My mom? Occasionally. My siblings? Yup. My dude? At least 12 times a day.
But I realized that none of them used the word with me. I’m sure they have here and there. But I couldn’t think of a single instance.
Society as a whole had given me the first never-say-nigga memo, the one I shredded and tossed with a maniacal laugh.
But Daryl, someone who has supported me since I was five years old, was now handing me the memo. And I took it with hot shameful tears in the corners of my eyes. Yes, I know, I sound super dramatic. But it really did hit me. There are some people who could have said that to me and I would have just rolled my eyes and thought dis nigga under my breath.
Daryl is not one of those people.
He has an incredible wife I’ve known for over two decades. (I would never call her a nigga). He has two brilliant children, just like I do. (None of whom I would ever call a nigga.) We both lost our dads literally days apart earlier this year. (Two men I would never call a nigga.) Our mothers have had a warm friendship for forty years. (Two women I would never call a nigga.)
And if anyone said nigga is you crazy to any of those people—joking or not—it would be a serious problem. It took Daryl’s reaction for me to see the insanity of my use of the word.
A few years back, a group of my online friends had an email chain going. Someone came up with the idea of saying president instead of nigga and first lady instead of bitch. It worked pretty well. And sometimes it was humorous the way president worked as a substitute for the n-word.
So that’s where I am as of today. No more n-word. When I’m watching the news and I’m freaking out about my healthcare as a freelancer, I’m going to use dis president.
Considering who I’m usually talking about when I whisper that word-clearly it works just fine.