Friday 29 January 2016

How I Feel About White Rappers Dropping the N-word...

A couple years ago, I stumbled across this freestyle by Oakland rapper V-Nasty. I was shocked. 'Always on my toes 'cos I've got to stay focused' what kind of shoddy lyricism is that? But that wasn't the real source of my dismay. Listen below and hear for yourself.


That was my reaction anyhow.

This freestyle got a lot of attention back in 2011 when it was first uploaded, a lot of people freaking out in a similar tone to me, some getting fairly angry with the former White Girl Mob member. Fellow emcee, David Banner, dedicated a diss track to her. Soulja Boy responded by calling her a 'fake ass industry rapper' (good one, Soulja Boy). Meanwhile, V-Nasty responded defensively for her use of the word, claiming it was a reflection of her background, a reflection of her 'struggle' (the usual 'I'm actually the victim here' crap).

After this case, I didn't think many white rappers would be daring enough to use the word again. However, I was proved wrong...

Time for a quick etymology lesson. Get your pens and notebooks out. No talking at the back of the class! Quentin, did I just catch you picking chewing gum from the bottom of that desk and putting it in your mouth? Five points deducted from Gryffindor!

Derived from the Latin adjective 'niger' (black) and the Spanish/Portugese noun 'negro', the nigglingly controversial word 'nigger' can be traced back to the 1600s when it was used to describe African slaves (spelt 'negar', or so Wikipedia tells me). Beginning its life as a non-offensive descriptive term for a black person, the word gradually evolved into the ethnic slur we know today, used solely to stir up feelings of hostility. To be black soon meant you lost your identity. Even if you weren't a slave, the white tobacco-chewing plantation owners didn't address you by your name, you were simply referred to as 'nigger'.

During the 70s, Black Americans decided to take the word back for themselves. They reappropriated it as a term of endearment. A word that had once caused so much pain and resentment, became something beautiful and positive.

Wouldn't the world be a better place is we all started using the word in this context? Sometimes I think it would be. Sharing is caring after all. If black people can use it in this context, surely all races should be able to too. Aren't we simply further dividing ourselves by encouraging racial privileges?

Here's the issue - sadly we live in a world where being black is still a disadvantage. It's not as bad as it was a hundred years ago - going outside doesn't put you at an immediate risk of lynching any more. In fact, dressing up in a KKK gown is much more likely to get you lynched in this day and age, which is a good thing. However, being black still isn't as cosy as being white. You're statistically more likely to get searched and less likely to get a job. You're probably more likely to accidentally get shot by a US police officer too. In exchange for the racism and discrimination that black people still endure, they deserve a privilege and that privilege is being able to use the n-word. Its a pretty meagre privilege but it's at least something, and yet some ignorant white rappers want to take this meagre privilege away.

Sure, there are examples where a white person using the word is perfectly acceptable (i.e. the 'hood pass'). If you've got black friends who are okay with you using the word, there's no point making them feeling even more uncomfortable by refusing to use it.

But that's as far as any hood pass should extend. There is no universal hood pass. There is no Global Black Community Head Office giving out printed licenses to white people who want to use the word freely. If there was, every closet racist would be queueing up to get one just so that they had a valid excuse to use it as an ethnic slur.

Music is a globally distributed medium and around the world there are still black communities who know the word only as a derogatory term. Just because your friends might be comfortable with you spitting the word in a freestyle doesn't mean the rest of Earth's population will be.

It's for this reason why the most sensible white rappers refuse to use the word - even those who've grown up hearing the word as solely a term of endearment. Just look at Eminem, El-P, Lady Sovereign and The Beastie Boys. Hell, even Yelawolf gets it.

 In short, racism is still an issue, and until we've eradicated it we should respect minorities and the few harmless privileges they have.