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The N-Word

I find myself blogging about John Mayer yet again, I swear I am not obsessed, he just keeps giving me great material (thanks John) but this is less about John Mayer and instead a particular issue surrounding a recent interview he did with Playboy magazine.

The controversial statement reads as such. “MAYER: Someone asked me the other day, “What does it feel like now to have a hood pass?” And by the way, it’s sort of a contradiction in terms, because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it a nigger pass.

Now, it does not take a genius to know what aspect of that interview is in the midst of this controversy.

Nigger. (gasp)

And with one word John Mayer, he of “Your Body is a Wonderland” is thrust into the mouths of America as being a racist to the point where you would think John created the word himself.

Bloggers and twitters alike are setting the internet alight with comments like:

“John Mayer’s supposed “nigger” pass has been revoked ”

“F- John Mayer that was some racist sh**”

Talk about gross over reaction. Before I get started let me make it clear that I am a black male. Not that it should matter but for the sake of this controversy, it is totally relevant to the use of this word because in a weird way, my blackness allows me to use the word nigga/nigger as often as I swipe my Visa debit card-which is pretty often.

You see, in the “African American” subculture being able to use the word nigga, and say the word nigga IS a hood pass. In fact the word belongs to the hood and it is perfectly acceptable for me, or anyone else black to use it. However is it really? I say no, simply because of the legacy and history of the word and the countless number of black people who have had to endure the use of the word under the whip of institutionalized slavery and the lynching of Jim Crow. 

John’s comments were not racist, or prejudice in any way. He was not in the interview calling people niggers.  Within the context  of the interview his comment was perfectly applicable in that, if he really did have a”hood pass” it really would be a nigga pass because that is what “niggas” call each other with “affection” in the black “community”. His response was a social commentary on what most, if not all, black people know to be true and that is a black fact. No pun intended. 

While we do this superficial dance about whether or not John Mayer is a racist and whether or not we believe that his use of the word was meant negatively we miss (again) a real opportunity to have open dialogue about race relations in America and instead what we get is more scapegoating, accompanied with public “outrage” that reflects a false sense of unity in regard to race and race relations in this country.

You see, the really issue that needs to be addressed is why is that when black people say it , it is ok, that the connotation of the word, and usage of it is somehow less egregious when someone of color says it to another person of color? Is it because black people really think they are nigga’s(ers)? Or is it because some how in the regularity of its use in the black community as a term of “endearment” in general conversation and its continual proliferation of it in hip hop culture, that the word has been plactated to the point where it is acceptable and the history of it is lost in the annals of time?

Julian Curry exposes on this exact topic in this wonderfully creative peace of poetry.

Now, that is a conversation worth having, and one worth getting emotional about but some how, people only want to get emotional about the word when someone white uses it, and to me that is hypocrisy when the word is brought up.

African Americans, more than anyone else should understand the gravity and history of the word and its use but it seems that “we” only want to have a discussion about the use of the word when it is used in an interview by a white pop artist who was speaking on the realities of the word and use within the black “community”. We condemn others for using the word but yet use it so freely ourselves. That is piousness personified.

There are also certain individuals in this country, your Al Sharpton’s for example, who are something akin to an ambulance chaser, who ONLY show up when there is controversy. Whether that be a police shooting  for instance, or in this case, when a pop star like John Mayer who makes a comment in an interview that is totally blown out of proportion (expect to see some civil rights pudits opinion on a news channel near you). These people speak only when there is an opportunity to to be in the limelight. People like this are like carrion, hovering above waiting for their opportunity to swoop down and grasp the situation in their clutches, making it bigger than it needs to be because it profits them and puts THEM in the midst of the controversy. The realities of the word nigger, and its use by a pop star like John Mayer, myself within my own social settings, or a racist are but a symptom of a greater issue.

The word nigger/nigga is the throbbing pulse on the heart beat of a legacy of institutionalized racism that is as American as mom and apple pie and this nation’s failure to address it. The true tragedy is not the word itself, but instead the continuation of the endemic societal ills that continue to allow racism and prejudice to propigate thus giving the word power when it is used in what some are calling a “post-racial” society. It reflects the failure of this country to confront and embrace the legacy of its past so that it truly can be united not just in name but in spirit as well and it looks as if again, we are going to miss another opportunity to do so.


About Joseph

natty dread bastard child of the first world. something like a literary trap beat.


3 thoughts on “The N-Word

  1. I definitely agree with what you are saying. We need to analyze what the word means for us now, what is means when we use it, and the rationalization between who gets to use it and who doesnt. i also wrote a blog on this topic:


    Posted by hearthesiren | February 22, 2010, 3:21 PM
    • Thank you very much for your response. I agree, as a “people” there definitely needs to be dialogue about the word, and its use in the community as a term of endearment. As you highlighted in your post, the word has been adopted as a means of “empowerment”. However, what effect does a word with such negative connotations empower exactly? Could it have the reverse effect of empowerment and instead continue to perpetuate a destructive self image, consciously or unconsciously to a people who by statistics are leading in many areas ranging from unemployment, education, single parenthood, and incarceration rates?
      Additionally, as an English Lit major, why do we take ownership of a word that by actual definition is historically associated with ignorance?
      You have a very impressive resume, BA in Eng LIt and Russian!
      Unfortunately I am just an avid reader, passionate about the English language, and social justice. To have someone like yourself comment on my post means a lot to me. Thank you. I was wondering, do you have any tips as to how to get more views on my blog? I am very new to this, and to be honest, I am conflicted as to whether or not I want to continue this because I am not sure if anyone is interested in what I have to say.
      Any input you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Again, thanks for stopping by and I hope to get a response back from you.
      Be blessed.

      Posted by josephboston | February 22, 2010, 5:03 PM
  2. There are a couple of ways to get more hits on your blogs. For, one it is always good to have images on your pages. Unfortunately, the majority of people online have a short attention span for prose, so pics help to keep their attention. Also, pictures are beneficial because sometimes people are simply looking for images on google images and they may come across it on your blog and decide to read.

    Then, a good idea is to include “tag words” with your blog. This way people who are looking on wordpress, and even on google can find your blog easier.

    Another way is to socially network your blog. If you have a facebook or twitter account this is a really good way to advertise new blog posts, and in any event, your friends will read it and will hopefully repost the link for others to see.

    Also, just as I have commented on your blog, a good way to get your ideas out there is too read other blogs with the similar subject matter, start a dialogue with them, (even if you disagree) and include a link to your blog. This way your link is always posted on someone’s page. Along with making comments, it is good to post a link on magazine or journal articles with the same subject matter, like the nytimes.

    Finally, blog writers like to give shout outs to each other. Networking with other bloggers, and including links to them in your blogs and having a blogroll (blogs you like to read) on your page will help. You can look at my blog for examples.

    It’s a lot of work, but it is great when you get a response from other blogwriters. As for the re-appropriation of the “n-word” or negative stereotypes, this was a huge basis for the Negritude movement in France and can also be seen in the Black Power Movement, like claiming savagery, inclinations to music, and kinky hair is good. The problem with this logic however, is that it is still based on colonial imposed stereotypes and beliefs, and the response itself continues to perpetuate colonial dialogues.

    I’ll be putting you on my blogroll shortly! Have a good week!

    Posted by hearthesiren | February 22, 2010, 10:17 PM

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