To this day I am unaware what a “nigga” is. Yes, as a Black boy growing up in despair and destruction that word was utilized by all Black folks for the most part. I remember my cousins (we were all ranging from 11-13 at this time in age), used to always say nigga, and their parents let them. When I asked my mom could I say it she told me no and I was confused because it was a word that represented me. I thought at the time, not saying nigga was like not being able to say my name. But my mom had years of experience with that word that I didn’t.
In the moment nigga is synonymous with words like cool, hip, and relevant. But for a lifetime nigga is synonymous with marginalization, pain, and emptiness. I wonder why White people created “Niggas” and bestowed it on my people? They took all the most vile descriptions and placed it in Black bodies mirroring Pandora’s box, and they wonder why Black people can be so destructive.. stereotype threat is real.
As I sit in a society with so called liberal White people equally distraught over the election of Trump. As I sit in classrooms with White students so passionate to denounce police brutality and using their voices to speak on their White privilege. I also sit in a party, more so stand, where these same White people repeat every Black rapper when they say “Nigga.” With the same enthusiasm as their distaste for inequality. Should I be honored that everybody wants to be culturally Black? Be cool, be down, be relevant? Should I hate my people for perceiving me as conceptually White because I read books and had aspirations of going to college, causing me to doubt myself because I felt that gaining knowledge meant losing my culture…my people?
College has made me realize everybody wants to be Black, at least the fun parts. But I have to be Black 24/7, 365 days out of the year. Where my personal growth can mean to forget my people, and my demise could mean my protection. White people can say “nigga” and conceptually be one for festive events. But I have to be one once the party is over.
Torrence Brown-Smith is a UNC student majoring in sociology with an emphasis in inequality and institutions, and a minor in Africana studies. He is the president of Black Student Union and is part of the Assault Survivors Advocacy Program. Brown-Smith is also part of the McNair Scholars Program.