Claiming the Millennium ... and the Word
The New Millennium Nigga
Miscellaneous | August 30, 2006 | Comments ()
The New Millennium Nigga has been posting his musings since early February, and we’ve pointed you to him via Pajiba Love. If you’ve followed our linkage, you know that the NMN is wickedly smart, bitingly funny, touchingly heartfelt and unabashedly controversial. So, of course, we wanted him to muse about pop culture for us. The following is a slightly revised version of one of the NMN’s early posts, which we think serves as a good introduction to what he’s all about.
Morris O’Kelley, a friend of a loyal reader, responded to a forward entitled “New Millennium Nigga” with the response “New Millennium/Old Millennium … I’m not one of them.” He included an article he had written a couple of years back, outlining why he does not use the words “nigga” or “nigger” (you can read O’Kelley’s original article here). I felt compelled to respond, particularly because the author added the tag “(Regardless of what millennium you claim) .” That seemed like a personal barb, and here’s my response.
As one of the few black students in a predominantly white high school, I found that I had a lot of roles to play. One of those roles was protector of the younger black kids. At our school, as a fundraiser the student government would sell Valentine’s Beamers, little messages to be sent to sweethearts and friends on Valentine’s Day. Well, one year, some white students decided that they would use that forum to insult and intimidate some of the younger black students. There were drawings. There were epithets. I don’t remember the specifics, but you can fill in the blanks.
Anyway, my buddy Kenyatta and I were shown the messages and we took it upon ourselves to get to the bottom of it. We felt the need to regulate, to put it simply. We found out who had sent the beamers and confronted one of the perpetrators in the hallway between classes. Again, I don’t recall the specifics, but it probably went something like, “If you see a nigger, you slap a nigger.” A teacher then approached and shielded the white perpetrator from Kenny and me (two people mind you, though he would later describe us as a mob) and declared, “We’re not going to turn this into some inner-city high school.”
I think back on that incident and something strikes me. Someone can say “inner-city” and mean everything that Mo’Kelly claims is the only definition of “nigger/nigga.”
Over the course of American history, name changes have occurred; euphemisms have abounded. But whether I am described as an urban youth or a nigger, the NYPD will still shoot me dead for reaching for my wallet. And all my Yale degree will be good for is cleaning up the blood.
I understand that many may use “nigga” without thinking, but I do not. I was an Afro-American Studies major. And my study of and thinking about my people has gone far beyond those four years. I once kept the word out of my mouth. But the truth is that I honestly believe that the meaning of a word can be changed. If not, “We’re here/We’re queer/And we’re not going anywhere” wouldn’t be such a powerful refrain.
Further, as a matter of logic, my “brother” (and so far as I know we do not have the same parents), I think it is “cold” (not in temperature, but in sentiment) to “shit on” my musings (need I explain?) with your “bad-ass” article (bad meaning good) and demand that I “pump my brakes” (though I am not presently driving). If the word once meant black and it now means all that you say, then the meaning of a word can change. And if it can, then the entire underlying premise of your article is shattered. A new generation can use an old word in a new way and, to use a phrase from my youth, that’s “fresh” (though in no way related to produce). But at least you ain’t “fuckin’ with my cheddar” (though I have no idea about your sexual proclivities or feelings about dairy products), so I “ain’t gon’ raise up” (na’i’m sayin?).
I agree that the social problems that Mo’Kelly cites are indeed plaguing this nation. I simply disagree with the premise that the use of or prohibition of the use of the word will change anything at all.
Further, I do not demand that anyone else embrace the word. In fact, I have friends who do not agree with the use of the word, and I don’t use it when referring to them. As a matter of fact, I generally don’t use it much in their presence, just to show what respect I have for their personal decision (my musing about Al Sharpton is an obvious exception where I used the word in its two forms to clearly express my disappointment and anger to Rev. Al). But here’s what I will not do. I will not allow anyone to dictate to me from on high what I must think, do or say. That would make me their nigger. And as a New Millennium Nigga, I ain’t nobody’s nigger.
I enjoy debate. I think that the exchange of ideas is amongst the greatest gifts life has to offer. But anyone who would dismiss any and all thoughts I express based on my personal and political choice to use the word “nigga” is making a mistake. I believe I have something to offer … actually a great deal to offer our community. And to rebut your assertion that there is only one way for a given word to be received, I will say this: You say that your message is offered in love and I accept that. I accept that, though your words could be taken as an insult to my intellect and as an insult to my love of my people. As a matter of fact, I hope you and I can debate further on the matter, sit down and talk or even just e-mail one another, exchange ideas and “build,” as our brothers like to say. And, “my brother,” I will not refer to you as “my nigga.”
But I truly hope that you don’t think you can make me yours. I am a New Millennium Nigga and I don’t “get down” (not a reference to a depressed emotional state) like that. Tell a friend!
Orlando Bishop, a.k.a., A New Millennium Nigga, is a writer living in L.A. You can find more of his work at The Musings of a New Millennium Nigga.