Nigga (/ˈnɪɡə/) is a colloquial and vulgar term used in African-American Vernacular English that began as a dialect form of the word nigger, an ethnic slur against black people. As a result of reappropriation, today the word is used mostly by African-Americans in a largely non-pejorative sense as a slang term referring to another black person or to themselves, often in a neutral or friendly way.[1][2] The word is commonly associated with hip hop music and culture.

In dialects of English (including standard British English) that have non-rhotic speech, nigger and nigga are usually[a] pronounced the same.

Usage

The use of nigger non-pejoratively within the black community was documented in the 1912 novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson, in which he recounted a scene in New York City around the turn of the century:[3]

I noticed that among this class of colored men the word "nigger" was freely used in about the same sense as the word "fellow," and sometimes as a term of almost endearment; but I soon learned that its use was positively and absolutely prohibited to white men.

There is conflicting popular opinion on whether there is any meaningful difference between nigga and nigger as a spoken term.[4] Many people consider the terms to be equally pejorative, and the use of nigga both in and outside black communities remains controversial.[5] H. Lewis Smith, author of Bury That Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-word, believes that "replacing the 'er' with an 'a' changes nothing other than the pronunciation"[6] and the African American Registry notes, "Brother (Brotha) and Sister (Sistah or Sista) are terms of endearment. Nigger was and still is a word of disrespect."[7] The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights group, condemns use of both nigga and nigger.[4]

Most African-Americans only consider nigga offensive when used by people of other races,[4][8] with some seeing its use outside a defined social group as an unwelcome cultural appropriation. Used by black people, the term may indicate "solidarity or affection",[9] similar to the usage of the words dude, homeboy, and bro. Some consider nigga non-offensive except when directed from a non-African-American towards an African-American. Yet others have derided this as hypocritical and harmful, enabling white racists to use the word and confusing the issue over nigger.[10] Conversely, nigga has been used an example of cultural assimilation, whereby some members of other ethnicities (particularly younger people) will use the word in a positive way, similar to the previously mentioned dude, homeboy, and bro, although this usage remains very controversial.[8] Members of other ethnicities will not use the word while around African-Americans, especially those they do not know. [11]

In practice, its use and meaning are heavily dependent on context, with non-offensive examples ranging from a greeting,[12] to reprimand, to general reference, to a use synonymous with male person.[citation needed] As of 2007, the word nigga was used more liberally by some younger members of all races and ethnicities in the United States.[13] In addition to African-Americans, other ethnic groups have adopted the term as part of their vernacular, although this usage is very controversial.[10][14]

Cultural influence

The phrase nigga, please, used in the 1970s by comics such as Paul Mooney as "a funny punctuation in jokes about Blacks",[15] is now heard routinely in comedy routines by African-Americans. The growing use of the term is often attributed to its ubiquity in modern American hip hop music.[16][17]

One of the earliest uses of the term in a popular song was in the lyrics of the 1983 song "New York New York" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, although it had featured in some very early hip hop recordings such as "Scoopy Rap" and "Family Rap", both from 1979. Ol' Dirty Bastard uses the term 76 times in his Nigga Please album (not including repetitions in choruses).[17]

Comedian Chris Rock's 1996 routine "Niggas vs. Black People" distinguishes a "nigga", which he defined as a "low-expectation-havin' motherfucker", from a "black person". In contrast, Tupac Shakur distinguished between nigger and nigga: "Niggers was the ones on the rope, hanging off the thing; niggas is the ones with gold ropes, hanging out at clubs."[18] Tupac, who has been credited with legitimizing the term, said his song "N.I.G.G.A." stood for "Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished".[19]

In 2001, a public disagreement between Conrad Tillard (activist and minister then, Conrad Muhammad) and Russell Simmons (Def Jam co-founder) erupted about the portrayal in media of hip hop culture, especially that of rap music. Tillard argued that the use of bitch and nigga by rappers is "degrad[ing] the African-American community" through its "bombardment of ... negative images". He directly accused Simmons of "condoning violence by refusing to condemn the frequent use of [these words] in rap lyrics" in the lead up to both parties organizing gatherings to discuss hip hop culture.[20][21] Rapper KRS-One publicly supported Tillard, but stated that "if an artist feels he has to use the 'n' or 'b' words, that's a poetic debate. What we're saying is you cannot package the word muthaf---er to our children."[censoring quoted][22] Tillard's own Campaign for Dignity Meeting in April was boycotted by Simmons, who also encouraged others to not attend,[20][22] while Simmons organized the Hip Hop Summit in June, which Tillard attended.[23] The disagreement has been referred to as a "feud",[20][21] and the two were successfully encouraged by Louis Farrakhan (head of the Nation of Islam) at Simmons' summit to bury the hatchet and show public unity.[23][24]

The song "R & B" from Devin the Dude's second solo album Just Tryin' ta Live (2002) features a comedic conversation between Devin and "a redneck" (voiced by Devin) exploring a cultural divide and how it might be overcome by the liberal application of "reefer and beer". The song culminates with Devin frustrated by the redneck failing to correctly pronounce nigga.[25][26][27]

In the 2004 Coen brothers film The Ladykillers, the antagonist is Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), an elderly church-going landlady with moral certainty living in the Baptist bible belt, who is introduced making a complaint to her local sheriff about her neighbour playing "hippity hop music too loud". She qualifies her disdain by asking the sheriff rhetorically if he knows "what they call colored folks in them songs?" moving to quickly exclaim, "Niggaz" [or "Niggers"; sources have printed both spellings].[28][29][30][31][32][33]

Some television shows[which?] use the word, either to create a realistic atmosphere or as a way of presenting social discussion, specifically ones relating to the wealth gap between the rich and the poor.[34][pages needed][35][pages needed][36][pages needed]

Use in trademarks or brand names

Until a 2017 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Matal v. Tam,[37] the Lanham Act did not permit registration of trademarks containing terms that may disparage persons or bring them into disrepute.[38] Registration by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) of terms that are historically considered disparaging to groups of people has been allowed in some circumstances. Self-disparaging trademarks have been allowed in some cases where the applicant has shown that the mark as-used is not considered by the relevant group to be disparaging.[39]

In 1995, two men from Houston filed a trademark application with the PTO for the words "Naturally Intelligent God Gifted Africans", and its acronym. The application was rejected, as were numerous subsequent applications for variations of the word nigga. In 2005, comedian Damon Wayans twice attempted to trademark a brand name called Nigga, "featuring clothing, books, music and general merchandise".[16] The PTO refused Wayans' application, stating "the very fact that debate is ongoing regarding in-[ethnic]-group usage, shows that a substantial composite of African-Americans find the term 'nigga' to be offensive".[17]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Pronunciation between nigger and nigga may be different – for some non-rhotic speakers – when linking r appears. For others, the phrases nigger is and nigga is are homophonous as [nɪɡə (ʔ)ɪz] or, in dialects with intrusive r, [nɪɡər ɪz] (heard as nigger is by speakers of rhotic accents).

References

  1. ^ "Definition of NIGGA". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 30 December 2023.
  2. ^ "nigga". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 30 December 2023.
  3. ^ Johnson, James Weldon (1912). The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. pp. 88–89.
  4. ^ a b c Allen-Taylor, J. Douglas (9–15 April 1998). "New Word Order". Metro Silicon Valley. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  5. ^ Alonso, Alex (30 May 2003). "Won't You Please Be My Nigga: Double Standards with a Taboo Word". Streetgangs Magazine. Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2006.
  6. ^ Smith, H. Lewis (25 January 2007). "Why the N-word Is Not Just Another Word". The Black Commentator. No. 214. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  7. ^ Middleton, Phil; Pilgrim, David (2001). "Nigger (the word), a brief history". African American Registry. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  8. ^ a b Wiggins, Keya (March 2012). "African Americans' perceptions of the "N-Word" in the context of Racial Identity attitudes". Journal of Pan African Studies. 5 (1).
  9. ^ Aldridge, Kevin (5 August 2001). "Slurs often adopted by those they insult". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Archived from the original on 11 January 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2006.
  10. ^ a b Aldridge, Kevin; Thompson, Richelle; Winston, Earnest (5 August 2001). "The evolving N-word". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Archived from the original on 10 January 2013. Retrieved 4 June 2006.
  11. ^ Parks, Gregory (2008). "Nigger: A Critical Race Realist Analysis of the N- Word within Hate Crimes Law". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 98 (4): 1310.
  12. ^ Kennedy, Randall (2002). "Chapter One: The Protean N-Word". Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. New York: Pantheon Books. pp. 3–13. ISBN 0-375-42172-6.
  13. ^ Cooke, Jeremy (1 March 2007). "Racial slur banned in New York". BBC News. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  14. ^ Pierre, Kendra (1 May 2006). "'Nigger,' 'Nigga' or Neither?". Meridia. Lehman College. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009.
  15. ^ Fears, Darryl (27 November 2006). "Jesse Jackson, Paul Mooney Call for End of N-Word". BET. Archived from the original on 30 March 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2018. Mooney's use of the word in the 1970s made it a funny punctuation in jokes about Blacks, as in "Nigga please!" Soon, movie producers were using the word to make on-screen dialogue more graphic and street-wise...
  16. ^ a b Fears, Darryl (15 March 2006). "Patent offense: Wayans's hip-hop line". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  17. ^ a b c Cadenhead, Rogers (23 February 2006). "Actor Tries to Trademark 'N' Word". Wired. CondéNet Inc. Archived from the original on 12 February 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  18. ^ Shakur, Tupac (27 October 1995). "2Pac interview with Tabitha Soren" (Interview). Interviewed by Tabitha Soren. MTV – via 2PacAveli.de.
  19. ^ Hunter, Desiree (24 February 2007). "Racial slur takes center stage at Stillman". The Tuscaloosa News. Tuscaloosa, AL. Archived from the original on 9 February 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2018. Rapper Tupac Shakur was credited with legitimizing the term "nigga" when he came out with the song 'N.I.G.G.A.', which he said stood for 'Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished'.
  20. ^ a b c Noel, Peter (24 April 2001). "Hip Hop War". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 16 September 2018. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  21. ^ a b Feuer, Alan (16 June 2003). "Keeping the Faith, Differently; A Harlem Firebrand Quietly Returns to Christianity". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 27 May 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  22. ^ a b Reid, Shaheem (10 May 2001). "KRS-One Condemns Negative Rap Imagery At Hip-Hop Summit". MTV. Viacom International. Archived from the original on 9 December 2022. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  23. ^ a b MrDaveyD (6 November 2013). "Hip Hop History: Remembering the Historic 2001 Hip Hop Summit & Farrakhan's Incredible Speech". Hip Hop and Politics. Archived from the original on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  24. ^ Ernie Paniccioli (2001). "Ernie Paniccioli archive, #8079. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections: Conrad Muhammad, Russell Simmons". Cornell University Library. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  25. ^ Juon, Steve (1 October 2002). "Devin the Dude: Just Tryin' ta Live". Rap Reviews. Archived from the original on 1 December 2020. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  26. ^ Rabin, Nathan (11 October 2002). "Devin The Dude: Just Tryin' Ta Live". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on 6 January 2023. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  27. ^ Mills, Brad. "Devin the Dude: Just Tryin' ta Live". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 3 December 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  28. ^ Patrizio, Andy (3 September 2004). "The Ladykillers: The Coen Brothers Try A Live Action Cartoon". IGN. Archived from the original on 7 January 2023. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  29. ^ Bell, Josh (25 March 2004). "Southern Discomfort: Coen Brothers' Latest Is an Eccentric Misstep". Las Vegas Weekly. Archived from the original on 7 January 2023. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  30. ^ McCarthy, Todd (18 March 2004). "The Ladykillers". Variety. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  31. ^ Persall, Steve (25 March 2004). "Ladykillers Has its Charms". Tampa Bay Times. Archived from the original on 7 January 2023. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  32. ^ Fuchs, Cynthia (8 September 2004). "The Ladykillers (2004)". Pop Matters. Archived from the original on 14 June 2018. Retrieved 7 January 2023.
  33. ^ Allen Redmon (2015). "Chapter Two: "You Don't Want to be Tried and Found Wantin'": Triggering the Ongoing Adaptation of The Ladykillers". Constructing the Coens: From Blood Simple to Inside Llewyn Davis. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 17. ISBN 9781442244856. Retrieved 7 January 2023 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ Am I Black Enough for You?: Popular Culture from the 'Hood and Beyond. Indiana University Press. 1997. ISBN 9780253211057.
  35. ^ Young, Vershawn Ashanti (March 2007). Your Average Nigga: Performing Race, Literacy, and Masculinity. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0814335765.
  36. ^ Oliver, Melvin L.; Shapiro, Thomas M.; Shapiro, Thomas (2006). Black Wealth, White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415951678.
  37. ^ Mullin, Joe (19 June 2017). "Supreme Court rules: Offensive trademarks must be allowed". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  38. ^ 15 U.S.C. § 1052.
  39. ^ Anten, Todd (1 March 2006). "Self-Disparaging Trademarks and Social Change: Factoring the Reappropriation of Slurs into Section 2(A) of the Lanham Act" (PDF). Columbia Law Review. 106: 338. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 July 2011.