The “N-tity” That’s Hip-Hop: Why You Should Think Twice Before Singing the N-Word if You’re Not Black

A REVIEW OF AMINÉ – MANCHESTER ACADEMY 3 // 06.12.17

On the 6th of December, rapper Animé (Adam Aminé Daniel) played a sold-out show at Manchester’s Academy 3. His witty yet sentimental debut Good For You received predominantly positive reviews – and as supports Dublin’s Hare Squead brought hyped the packed venue with banter, masterful spits, a handstand or two, and a song about making love in a toilet cubicle, hopes for the night were undoubtedly at a high.

Aminé makes his entrance, the crowd pushing forward in hopes of getting closer to the stage – and in a less hopeful attempt, him. Accompanied by just a DJ and keyboardist, the minimalism manages to perfectly reproduce Good For You’s high-quality production, and certainly doesn’t detract from the excitement in the room. Aminé himself also delivers, throwing out catchy boppers such as ‘Veggies’, the tongue-and-cheek ‘STFU’, and the particularly heartfelt ‘Sunday’.

His arguably most popular track, ‘Spice Girl’, is performed both as a set piece and an encore, sending the crowd into overdrive and created an unexpected mosh-pit. Despite the limited space, Aminé’s efforts at projecting stage presence were successful; at one point, he tells the audience that they’e beautiful, to which they respond “I know!”, and even chooses two crowd members to jump up on stage to write on his jeans. The end of the night sees Aminé pose specifically for fans to take photos, – a decision that’s especially well received.

However, gigs such as these also come with certain responsibilities. Despite a flawless show, an unsettling feeling emerges when it becomes evident that much of the audience, who were not black, display no issue with singing the N-word. Some even turn to one another and giggle with conspicuous glances, as if having gotten away with something they shouldn’t have done. This is hugely problematic for a number of reasons.

With hip-hop’s legacy hailing from African-American culture, the genre comes with certain historical baggage. The heart of hip-hop lies within the struggles of what it means to be an African-American – and these struggles, that have tainted U.S. history and racial relations between whites and blacks for centuries, are very much still kicking. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ movement has been trending over social media, reaffirming the fact that prejudice towards African-Americans and consequent societal disadvantages upon the basis of race are still prevalent.

Whilst many would hope that society has progressed from such narrow mindedness, racism today usually displays itself in the form of micro-aggression. Therefore, whilst you may not be actively discriminating somebody because of their race, singing along to the N-word very much keeps that social divide present. Elizabeth Day from The Guardian states the facts as to how much this disadvantage is still a part of today’s culture:

“In almost every area of society, black Americans remain disadvantaged. Education? Forty-two percent of black children are educated in high-poverty schools. Employment? The unemployment rate for black high-school dropouts is 47% (for white high-school dropouts it is 26%). Housing? Although black people make up just 13.2% of the US population, they account for 37% of the homeless. Voters’ rights? One in every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised because of a felony conviction – a rate more than four times greater than the rest of the US population. In fact, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million jail population and are incarcerated nearly six times as often as white people.”

Historically, the N-word has been used as a derogatory racial slur to reinforce socio-racial superiority. Originating during the slave trade, it’s a derivative from the Spanish word for black, “negro” – and whilst its origins were initially not as harmfully intended, the term has come to be an insult that embodies the atrocities committed against African-Americans, such as verbal assault, physical attacks, and in the the most disturbing cases, lynching.

Although many today would agree that the term today is extremely taboo, it’s become a term of endearment used amongst African-Americans – often ending with an “a” rather than an “er” – as a way to reclaim the negative power it once possessed.

“But it’s just a word!”

“I have black friends and they’ve given me permission to use it.”

“Surely its about the context? What about if I’m saying it not as an insult, but I’m just singing the lyrics or quoting somebody?”

“But what about freedom of speech?”

These are all valid questions, and questions I have also asked and contemplated. Yes, it is just a word – but if you’ve ever been insulted, you will know that words cut far deeper than imaginable.

You may have black friends that have no issue with you using the word with them, but that does not give you free reign to use the term as you please with other people. Context is important – but even when singing along to a song, as a non-black person, you automatically give the original power back to the word purely based on historical context (see Netflix’s Dear White People: Season 1 Episode 5 for reference). The N-word is still incredibly controversial within the black community itself, and many would rather it not be used at all.

Freedom of speech is a right we have as humans. However, just because you have the right to say something, doesn’t mean you should. Similarly, whilst you may not have the right to say one word, ethnic minority groups who have faced discrimination purely because of the colour of their skin haven’t had the rights to basic human needs. As a person in a position of privilege, you will never have to experience the connotations and prejudice attached to the word.

“Then why isn’t a black person considered racist if they say it?”

In an article for The Root, Michael Harriot explains this to a white friend in an anecdotal toothbrush analogy:

“Chad, has someone ever used your toothbrush without asking? It’s kind of disgusting, isn’t it? It’s not that you think their mouth is nasty or that they have periodontal disease; you just don’t want to let them use it because it’s yours. You have that prerogative.

Now, imagine if someone had actually poisoned you by giving you a contaminated toothbrush before. Imagine that when you digested the toothbrush poison, you passed out and that person kidnapped you and locked you in a tiny room. Imagine them raping and torturing you for years, and every time they did it, they’d use that toothbrush to sodomize you. They poked you in the eye with it. They sharpened it into a stick and stabbed you with it.

Then one day you escaped, and found out there were people like you who had survived years of the same thing. And instead of tossing that toothbrush into the garbage, you cherished it. You used it to remind yourself of how far you had come. Some of the other survivors never wanted to use that toothbrush again, but others turned it into a point of pride. It became inextricably intertwined with your identification. That toothbrush became part of your shared experience with other survivors.

Now, Chad, I want you to think about what you’d say if someone who looked like the man who tortured you asked if he could use your toothbrush. Would you remember how he tortured you with it? Would you remember how he poisoned you and kidnapped you?”.

This article isn’t meant to label anyone a racist, nor to attack anyone for singing along to their favourite artists. However, black artists like Aminé who incorporate the N-word as part of their music do so because of their own personal history and story – a story that as a non-black person we are not entitled to.

Whilst you may be harmlessly singing along to a song, please educate yourself on what the word originally means and why it was used – and although it’s hard to censor yourself, its better to at least make the conscious effort to try and be aware of what you’re reaffirming. Even if you are of a different ethnicity, if you are not black, then it still is not your right to use the N-word. That history is not yours to reclaim.

If none of these reasons have made you reconsider using the term, then at least consider them for those who may be around you whilst you say it. It is highly uncomfortable watching someone use a word that has been used to dehumanise and deny a race’s rights by the very people who used to do so. At the end of the day, music is meant unite rather than divide – and concerts should be the ultimate place for where this safety should thrive.


https://www.theroot.com/what-to-say-when-your-white-friend-wants-to-use-the-n-w-1818664227

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigger

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement

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