Trevor Baldwin is the nephew of James Baldwin and founder of the Hogan Campaign 2013. He resides in New York City.
Commencing in 2013, we’re asking for a one-year moment of silence for the N-word in titles, choruses, sketches and skits. Though it’s a petition, it’s not “anti” any artist. It’s a campaign for personal reflection. I confess I use the word, but with limitation. I call it my Rosa Parks rule because I don’t use it in public or around elders (even if they use it). My reverence for the sacrifices made during the Civil Rights era (including by many non-blacks) makes me wonder what they think when they hear us use the word.
The word is cursed. I consider it a curse word. My father used it, scarcely. He was a musician who preferred the term “cat” and my mother was an erudite who never used it. My uncle wrote extensively about the N-word as an American invention. On Aug. 2, 2012, he would have been 88 years old and may even have been a newlywed. He was worldly, black and gay. The latter I learned when a classmate poked fun at my “sexual pre-destiny.” This memory of “the cooties” is coupled with my dad and uncle laughing in the living room while flippantly using the word “fag.” Barely double digits in age, my comprehension of these moments were convoluted in discerning love, hate and power.
I grew up with the Cosby kids and under- and over-privileged deviants of all races, trying to find their identity within the constructs of how society identifies them. That itself is the gamble of romanticizing the N-word. There’s a stigmatic difference between a black and a white man wearing a hoodie. Walkie-talkie descriptions don’t differentiate pedigree or innocence. I’m the spitting image of my older cousin who was “mistakenly” murdered as a teen. It took years before his mother could hug me without crying. The reality is “real Niggas” are target practice for stop and frisks, falsified arrests and permanent records, while a white person can be treated as someone going through a phase.
“Niggas” stay “niggas” because they often don’t know their options or have limited access. While growing up, I knew graffiti artists of mainly three races. Today, those who are white have jobs in their field of passion, in galleries, working as teachers or animators, while most of the black and Hispanic ones are in the wilderness.
You can’t empower a word in which the main attribute is a lack of power. That’s why calling a white person “Cracker” may be insulting, but not damaging, because it’s coming from a disgruntled “slave” who eventually has to go back to work or face harsher consequences. Africans came to America as a bill of sale, free labor on steroids that resulted in America’s hegemony. Due to mule-less reparations, there are ownership issues with the word as intellectual property. It’s licensed without a Surgeon General’s warning and causes various cancers due to mixed interpretation especially in countries that don’t censor it.
Globally, there is no phonetic difference between a Confederate “N---er” and an endearing “Nigga.”
This is why we can’t just throw the word in the melting pot. Potassium chloride can come in colorful flavors, but it is still poison, and we’re drinking our own Kool-Aid.
America may owe black people respect but not as much as we owe ourselves. That’s the real elephant in the ‘hood. We may be originators by instinct with a freed man’s Freudian id but we are imitators by design with the value system of slaves. If “master” coined the phrase “My Niggas” and now anyone who claims they like me, automatically becomes “my honorary Niggas” and I can label it art, but you can’t call it by name; and you can say it when we’re drunk but not sober; and you can laugh when I say it but you can’t laugh at me; and you can call my girl “bitch” but only if you’re gay; and I’m going to say “No-Homo” as a declaration of my manhood while I beg, borrow, steal for the attention of the most coveted fashion deities who just happen to be gay; then how do we, ALL, regulate a contemporary code of conduct?
The argument for the use of the N-word in Huckleberry Finn is easy arithmetic in comparison to the Orwellian challenge programmers face when generating a response for the iPhone’s Siri. Siri will NEVER have an acceptable answer to “Where my Niggas at?” But maybe, before giving an answer – an info-graphic or a map of U.S. penitentiaries -- it can refer the user to this petition.