On becoming African-American
August 14, 2015 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I knew that my sister was smarter than her husband; I also knew that she knew this. But I also knew that her husband thought little of women, and nothing of their intelligence. Yet, here he was losing a shouting match on his home court. He was embarrassed. After seeing how the French language had betrayed him, a bittersweet subtlety slipped from his lips like licorice. In plain-vanilla English he said, “This is exactly why I shouldn’t have married a black girl.”
--Coming to America
posted by almostmanda (58 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow. This was powerful.
posted by MissySedai at 8:26 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Agreed. I was just thinking I'd love to read more of his work, and then *poof* at the bottom: "Previously by Yahdon Israel."

Also, I reeeeally don't understand white people who are desperate for permission to use racist language. What is that urge? Yes, I get that it ties into the theme of ownership and power differential, but it feels like such a foreign impulse.
posted by psoas at 8:43 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, I reeeeally don't understand white people who are desperate for permission to use racist language. What is that urge? Yes, I get that it ties into the theme of ownership and power differential, but it feels like such a foreign impulse.

There isn't one single answer. A lot of times it seems as though its perceived as barrier to be to really being one with the tribe, its the elephant that's always in the room. So some white people would like to be able to use just take away that one barrier.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:59 AM on August 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


There isn't one single answer. A lot of times it seems as though its perceived as barrier to be to really being one with the tribe, its the elephant that's always in the room. So some white people would like to be able to use just take away that one barrier.

This makes literally no sense and it's painful trying to figure out why someone would piece together such a supposition.
posted by deathmaven at 9:12 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Great piece; thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 9:13 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


> This makes literally no sense and it's painful trying to figure out why someone would piece together such a supposition.

It's not hard to fathom that the bond that a lot of black Americans have within their race, part of which means exchanging this word or that word, is something attractive that other people might want to be included in.

Sure, using the term is a tiny fraction, practically a window-dressing, of a thing that must run deeper, but it's also one of the most obvious and exclusive symbols of that camaraderie.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:29 AM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, I reeeeally don't understand white people who are desperate for permission to use racist language. What is that urge?

Maybe it's a desire to be seen as so definitively not-racist that they can use that language without causing offence?
posted by atrazine at 9:31 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This makes literally no sense and it's painful trying to figure out why someone would piece together such a supposition.

Sorry, didn't mean to cause you pain by sharing life observations.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:40 AM on August 14, 2015 [39 favorites]


There isn't one single answer. A lot of times it seems as though its perceived as barrier to be to really being one with the tribe, its the elephant that's always in the room. So some white people would like to be able to use just take away that one barrier.

This makes literally no sense and it's painful trying to figure out why someone would piece together such a supposition.


As an U.S. citizen who was raised as a white person who has struggled to figure out my relationship to African American culture and people of color in general it makes absolute sense to me. There is absolutely a sense of wanting to feel belonging to the tribe, as Brandon Blatcher put it. It has a deeper meaning--it's a step on the path to some sort of redemption, some feeling like you are now "clear" of your white guilt and implication in the racism of the culture which you grow up steeped in. Of course it's too simplistic to be true, but many Americans do this--I'm sure I've done it a good number of times in various forms, not by asking to be given permission to use that word but in other ways, all of them about being let in and forgiven--and once you are aware of it, you see this behavior everywhere. I mean, the piece put it better than I can:

I learned that my white friends saw themselves as living in a world that, apparently, didn’t live within them. My white friends thought this country’s history implicated everyone else, except them.

That's one way that Americans raised as white people try to assuage their collective guilt; of course, the other way is to simply deny it. And you see all sorts of variations on these two behaviors in all of us who were raised as white, manifesting in various forms. It is foundational in the U.S.

Anyways, great piece.
posted by dubitable at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Fine, I'm sorry. It's just that wanting permission to use anti-black racial slurs out of desire to feel at one with black people seemed immediately non-sensical to me, as did describing abstinence from said slurs as not only a barrier to connection but "the elephant that's always in the room".
posted by deathmaven at 9:56 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


And to continue that thread a bit, but also to get back to the article, because who can and can't use the word, and why that is, is what this piece is about:

What my white friends were really asking was permission to own me, but they didn’t want the responsibility that came with ownership. They wanted was ownership without the price.

...

In my mind, asking was cowardice. No one I’d ever seen using nigga had ever asked for permission. They didn’t need it. They were niggas—and for better or worse, they understood that. These white kids didn’t, which is why I would never give them permission to say it. They wanted to call someone a nigga and instead of paying the price, they wanted me to cover the bill.

...

In using that word I was admitting that theirs was my world too. I was admitting I wasn’t any different from those bad niggers. These white kids didn’t want to hear that. When I refused them permission I became uncontrollable; arrogant; uncivilized; ungrateful; just short of eloquent; a heathen; a savage; disappointing; untrustworthy; threatening; dangerous; I became all of the things they’d never considered themselves and everything I already knew I was: a bad nigger—just like my sister, Sarah.


Just to say it again, this is an amazing piece, thank you.
posted by dubitable at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


So some white people would like to be able to use just take away that one barrier.

Yes, I've known a number of white people whose social circle is mostly black people, and who tend to use the n-word without any pushback. It's strange to me but I guess in those groups of friends/family it is collectively seen as them being "a part of". It is done so un-self consciously that I don't think it is a deliberate attempt to project anything. It's how they all (black and white) grew up.

I've known other whites with similar backgrounds and cultural coding but with the only exception being they never use the n-word - presumably an acknowledgement of difference.

This is not to say that all black people use such words either.
posted by callistus at 10:03 AM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Great, great piece.

Thanks for posting it, almostmanda.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:22 AM on August 14, 2015


Great post.
posted by Nevin at 10:23 AM on August 14, 2015


So when Israel writes "Being a bad nigger was the very thing which allowed Sarah to marry him in first place. Alas, he refused to accept this. It probably never crossed his mind.

I'm not sure what he means. Is he talking about the mother's influence or Sarah's (his sister's) reasons for marrying the guy? Perhaps that, with her upbringing and marrying so young she didn't have the confidence to know he wasn't good for her?
posted by callistus at 10:33 AM on August 14, 2015


It's probably a reference to marrying young instead of going to college.
posted by domo at 10:38 AM on August 14, 2015


> It's just that wanting permission to use anti-black racial slurs out of desire to feel at one with black people seemed immediately non-sensical to me, as did describing abstinence from said slurs as not only a barrier to connection but "the elephant that's always in the room".

Then why not ask for an explanation instead of saying something obnoxious like "This makes literally no sense and it's painful trying to figure out why someone would piece together such a supposition" and then having to apologize? Why is the default response to something one doesn't understand on the internet always "that person is an idiot"?
posted by languagehat at 10:38 AM on August 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


Why is the default response to something one doesn't understand on the internet always "that person is an idiot"?

The Internet means not having to see their faces scrunch up.
posted by flabdablet at 10:41 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


So when Israel writes "Being a bad nigger was the very thing which allowed Sarah to marry him in first place. Alas, he refused to accept this. It probably never crossed his mind.

I'm not sure what he means. Is he talking about the mother's influence or Sarah's (his sister's) reasons for marrying the guy? Perhaps that, with her upbringing and marrying so young she didn't have the confidence to know he wasn't good for her?


It's probably a reference to marrying young instead of going to college.

Not just marrying young, but appearing to be the ignorant, compliant wife/servant that he wanted. Which is a clever way of pointing out the ways in which people often get blamed for filling the very roles they have been coerced into.
posted by emjaybee at 10:43 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whoa, folks. Brandon Blatcher was giving his personal perspective on why people might do that, don't think he was trying to justify it. Deathmaven was, I think, saying that the putative desire itself is dumb, not that Brandon is dumb or wrong, but perhaps misunderstood where the latter was coming from. Let's not fight over misunderstandings.
posted by clockzero at 10:44 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I worked for a while in a hip-hop studio where I was the only white person. On two separate occasions I was called the n-word in a friendly way and it felt special, like I was being accepted. I never, at any point, tried to actually use the term in kind, however, as it was blindingly obvious that it was a line not to be crossed, ever.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:45 AM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love this article for how clearly it underlines how ridiculous the permission asking is. There are consequences to your actions and words in the world, and it isn't right to ask someone else to provide a carte blanche. This author laughs at how silly this is. "They wanted to call someone a nigga and instead of paying the price, they wanted me to cover the bill."
posted by Gor-ella at 10:47 AM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


"That's one way that Americans raised as white people..."

I'm not sure how to read that phrase. Does it mean PoC raised to think they're white or is it just a bizarre new way to say "white people"? The jargon around racial identity has gotten so convoluted as of late I'm never sure. As for white people seeking permission to drop the N-Bomb I think most of them just want to fit in, to feel accepted enough by their black friends to get a pass.
posted by MikeMc at 10:59 AM on August 14, 2015


Riveting!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:17 AM on August 14, 2015


I am not entirely sure how dubitable is meaning that phrase, and if it is referring in any way to "PoC raised to think they're white", I would not frame it that way (there are some implications of coding certain things as "white" that I wouldn't want to agree with...e.g., speaking "proper English" as 'acting white')...BUT I know personally, for my family and me, we never used the n-word. I do not use the n-word in any situations, even if/when other black folks are using it. I have had some white folks either try to ask my permission to use the word or, even worse, just use the word and then give me a knowing look in the silence that follows. And I tell people up front -- even I do not think I have the experiential base to be comfortable with using that term. As the author of the post would say, I have not paid that price.

In my thinking (and again, YMMV), I feel that some white people are so used to being able to do anything, say anything, and this is one of those privileges that many are not even aware they have in most instances...that when they come up to a word or action or whatever that is not completely open to them -- a word that actually has social consequences to it -- that calls into question a whole lot of other things. This is not to say that this makes them aware of their privilege. To the contrary, the privilege is so in the background that it seems UNFAIR that they are hindered from doing anything or saying anything they want at any time without consequence. I think it's similar when in discussions about feminism, some men will say things like, "well, women are beneficiaries of chivalry!" or "women wouldn't get drafted!" or whatever...If someone lives with privilege in the background, then this hyper-visible disparity that they do see comes out in stark contrast to the disparity they don't see.
posted by subversiveasset at 11:19 AM on August 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


Also, I reeeeally don't understand white people who are desperate for permission to use racist language.

A lot of people are just spoiled babies at heart and can't handle that someone else has something they don't have and they just really really really think they need to have it whether they have any true use for it or not.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:21 AM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


"That's one way that Americans raised as white people..."

I'm not sure how to read that phrase. Does it mean PoC raised to think they're white or is it just a bizarre new way to say "white people"?


FWIW I read that as just being hyper-specific in noting that this thought process is 1) probably not mostly relevant to people who are from outside the US and 2) that there are probably groups within the US who would be raised to engage in this thought process without being, in a census-taking sense, strictly "white".
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:29 AM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


A lot of people are just spoiled babies at heart and can't handle that someone else has something they don't have and they just really really really think they need to have it whether they have any true use for it or not.

Even if I had "permission" to use that kind of language I wouldn't, it would just ring false. Even though I grew in a minority-majority area I never felt comfortable using AAVE or much of the slang used in the neighborhood. It just wasn't "me". Not everything is for me, or you (whoever "you" may be).
posted by MikeMc at 11:37 AM on August 14, 2015


Really enjoyed it, thank you for sharing.

His sister, Sarah, is amazing. I imagine her climbing one wall to find an even higher wall behind it, then climbing it to find an even bigger wall awaiting her...and climbing up and over it too, in terms of her ability to pick up the languages and fight for equality with her (ex) husband.

I was horrified reading about white kids asking him for permission, and was really struck by his analysis that they were seeking to 'own' him by getting his permission.
posted by Atreides at 11:38 AM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Then why not ask for an explanation instead of saying something obnoxious like "This makes literally no sense and it's painful trying to figure out why someone would piece together such a supposition" and then having to apologize? Why is the default response to something one doesn't understand on the internet always "that person is an idiot"?

I thought I had full understanding of "nigger" as a disparaging racial slur and not something that people apparently long to be called and to call others out of a sense of brotherhood, so I had no idea how to approach a statement from that POV besides being bewildered.
posted by deathmaven at 11:39 AM on August 14, 2015


I thought I had full understanding of "nigger" as a disparaging racial slur and not something that people apparently long to be called and to call others out of a sense of brotherhood, so I had no idea how to approach a statement from that POV besides being bewildered.

This is a cultural discussion that has been going on for easily more than a decade. I think I'm bewildered that someone would have an authoritative position on this while also not being aware of that fact.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:45 AM on August 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Eh, we're all bewildered at times and don't know something everyone else seems to know. No biggie.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:55 AM on August 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think some people really, seriously believe it's oppression when speech has unintended social consequences. The idea that you could say something carelessly and be thought a sexist, or racist, or even just insensitive, seems unfair because the *intent* wasn't there, as if that is what really matters. So they feel like it's fine to use the N-word without context--it's only wrong if you say it with anger or hatred or intent to harm behind it. And when you're a woman or member of a minority group, that sounds really stupid, because you probably go about your life always considering what you say before you say it. But some people have been able to coast by without ever really being asked to do that, and they respond really poorly to it, and sometimes turn it into some bizarre Rights Issue.
posted by almostmanda at 11:56 AM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I thought I had full understanding of "nigger" as a disparaging racial slur and not something that people apparently long to be called and to call others out of a sense of brotherhood, so I had no idea how to approach a statement from that POV besides being bewildered.
deathmaven

Are you really not aware that the n-word has come to have other uses, and that black people use it sometimes to refer to themselves and others? And that a white person interacting with these groups might come to want to use this word in the same way, however wrong-headed that might be?

Have you just not listened to any music or watched any TV or movies for the last 30 years? It's baffling.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:02 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


In that article, every usage of the term was disparaging. He implied some camaraderie in the sense of "we're all in the muck together" but the term was still always ultimately disparaging.

Of course I know that black people refer to themselves with it - as a racial slur. I'm also aware that plenty of white people are confused by that, but the idea that any would long to be a "nigger" as well was beyond my understanding before this thread.
posted by deathmaven at 12:24 PM on August 14, 2015


When I was a kid they were derisively called "wiggers".
posted by gucci mane at 12:40 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


but the idea that any would long to be a "nigger" as well was beyond my understanding before this thread.
deathmaven

I think you're being really, really literal here. You seem to know it's a way black people refer to themselves, and that's what people are talking about. No one wants to be called a racial slur. It's just that some white people, having been exposed to the word in a certain context in the media, or having heard black friends use it casually, want to participate in that culture in the same way.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:45 PM on August 14, 2015


See that just doesn't make sense if you're not able to vaguely handwave away that "participate in that culture" means "call people an anti-black racial slur and expect to be called the same". There's nothing that seems obviously attractive about that that wouldn't need a lot of explanation.

The article put it clearly - the consequences are that you implicate yourself as a nigger as well and/or you're viewed as racist. What about either would be understandable as a desire?
posted by deathmaven at 1:05 PM on August 14, 2015


MetaFilter: I thought I had full understanding
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:18 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


deathmaven - I see the usage of the n-word by black people a celebratory redefinition of the word as a stress response. "You think I'm a ******? Well fine, I'll be one." That allows it to be a group identity in the sense of "in the muck together." If you're this awful name and I'm this awful name - but I like you and you like me - then it must not be so bad, so I'll embrace it as its own weird thing. Kind of like women playfully calling each other bitches.

It's a complicated argument and a lot of voices shout with great conviction that nobody should say the n-word. But I see why someone would embrace the term of of gleeful spite, and why I'm not allowed in that club.
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:30 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course I know that black people refer to themselves with it - as a racial slur.

I don't think this is generally how it's used. It has all kinds of uses , is routinely used in casual friendly conversations, and has subtleties that I think Israel was trying to elucidate in this essay. I think mainly it signifies camaraderie with peers. Its taboo status helps in this regard, and some kids who use it may not know that much about its origins. Some hispanic kids use it also.

When I was a kid they were derisively called "wiggers".

I've also heard that said with racist connotations, as in "look at those white kids trying to be black. Why would any white person want to be black?"

In some parts of America today, some families and communities, there is a degree of assimilation between white/black and other families that I think extends beyond the scenarios in Yahdon Israel's childhood. I don't recall encountering such interrelationships when I was a kid, even in more diverse areas, not that I spent that much time in them then. Accusing white kids of trying to "act black" rubs me the wrong way, in that it makes assumptions about both what white and black kids are "supposed" to act like. Young kids in racially diverse areas today are definitely making some new patterns.
posted by callistus at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This makes literally no sense and it's painful trying to figure out why someone would piece together such a supposition.

Holy fucking shit. And here we are talking about disguised racism.

Wow, metafilter.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:28 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


"That's one way that Americans raised as white people..."

I'm not sure how to read that phrase. Does it mean PoC raised to think they're white or is it just a bizarre new way to say "white people"?


I've spoken at length about asian anti-black racism before, including about the ways I've personally been socialized to be racist against black people. Much of this stems down to how Asians in North America are taught to associate economic and social mobility, and "goodness" with whiteness, and the opposite with blackness. Therefore, many of us are taught to aspire to be white - and for many of us, this means to disparage black people and communities. It is a terrible, terrible lesson to internalize, because even if we pretend to be white, we will never be. And in doing so, we harm not only another racial community, but our own in striking a sharp hierarchy within our own communities and in killing our own cultures. Like many Asians of my generation, I grew up not even learning my own language, because the culture of white people was prioritized and seen as more inherently stable, pure, and worthy compared to my own. I lost so much of my own culture. White people have got to realize - white supremacy twists into the core fabric of every PoC in North America, having more pernanicious and insiduous effects upon the psyches of PoC than you could ever imagine. Why do we call it white supremacy after all? Because it demands control of not only our racialized bodies, but our racialized minds and racialized souls.
posted by Conspire at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Fuckin' Metafilter users don't even know the difference between "nigger" and "nigga". You people need some diversity in your lives.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:58 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a difference of accent. Is there anyone here who uses the term casually as a term of endearment themselves? If not, has anyone been told directly by someone who does use it that it's a term of endearment?
posted by deathmaven at 4:06 PM on August 14, 2015


Seriously have you not watched read or listened to any pop culture from black Americans for black Americans in the past thirty years? There's a whole shading of nigger used in different ways as a powerful word with its linguistic flexibility and in/out group intent.

The older expatriate with power issues - so deftly summarised. I've seen that in other cultural combinations and the specifics of Sarah and the racial issues here - damn that was good writing.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:56 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


. Is there anyone here who uses the term casually as a term of endearment themselves? If not, has anyone been told directly by someone who does use it that it's a term of endearment?

Can you hold off on your seventh comment here for long enough to do the bare minimum required for a discussion on the internet and Google the word?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:28 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Deathmaven, seriously, quit digging. If you haven't paid attention to any African-American culture in the past twenty or thirty years that sucks for you, but you're being aggressively clueless here. (Or honestly much of any American culture at all; you'd have had to be marinating in the most whitebread of whitebread environments to miss this one.) I am fishbelly white and even I know that there are a lot of intricacies to the use of those words and that there's a huge difference in how they're received based on context, who's using them, and spelling/pronunciation. (It's a difference in accent which also carries a difference in meaning--shocker.) Can you please just take it on faith that there are nuances here you're missing and shut up and listen or go google instead of derailing further? Jesus christ almighty.

I was so interested in the discussion of identity and owning one's own history woven through the piece--and how he and his parents dealt with owning that history in such different ways, picking out different threads of the past to celebrate for themselves. Especially given the white-centrism of formal American history classes, it really speaks to the importance of folk history and informal historical narratives to defining a coherent identity.
posted by sciatrix at 5:37 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


"They wanted to call someone a nigga and instead of paying the price, they wanted me to cover the bill."

This sentence gave me a new way of thinking about this already so complex issue. To nerd it up a little, use of that word is something you've got to pay the iron price for. It can't be bought.
posted by MsMolly at 5:56 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I spent 20 of the last 30 years socializing almost exclusively with other black people, and am black which is why I have no illusions about the term being celebratory or a reclamation from its original meaning/am unfamiliar with whatever circles you're picking up third hand knowledge that they are. Did you even read the link you posted the agents of KAOS?
posted by deathmaven at 6:01 PM on August 14, 2015


[deathmaven, it's totally okay if your personal experiences differ from what other folks are talking about, but this feels like it's really clearly established at this point as a thing you disagree on and doesn't seem to be going anywhere, so probably best to just let it be now instead of continuing to come back around on it further.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:09 PM on August 14, 2015


There's a lot of interesting academic and essay writing in the word but a recent broad take which gets at what I think is partly missing here - it's also very much a word that changed usage generationally, a Washington Post series on the current perceptions of the n-word.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:43 PM on August 14, 2015


My hapa friend has this satirical (I hope) shtick where he talks like a stereotypical redneck and complains about the 'chinks' and 'japs' and so on. I don't think I'm qualified to unpack the behavior, but it speaks to the difficultly of existing between two categories in a structurally racist society.
posted by Standard Orange at 7:46 PM on August 14, 2015


*long, deep-ass breaths*

I use the word "nigga," even though respectability requires me to at least publicly deny any sort of connection to the term whatsoever. I also consider the first time I was called a "nigger" a rite of passage, the first time that I became aware that I was an Other. So I took the word "nigga" back, and I use it whenever I feel like using it, because it is something already ascribed to my body whenever I leave my house. It's a word that I use when in the company of other people who have been Othered like I have (and a select few white people who are well-versed in Black politics, and clearly understand why they can't use the term).

I find this piece interesting specifically for the tensions between Africans and other members of the Diaspora (in this case, Black Americans). I grew up directly in the crosshairs: my direct ancestors sold slaves on one side (and quickly embraced Western conventions), and were enslaved on the other. And the subsequent centuries-old assumptions about either group clashed constantly. Whatever shame I was supposed to experience for being Black was often canceled out by the fact that I was African, too, and therefore "better" than those who could not trace their bloodlines like I could; whose family trees were splintered and hacked off due to the deep ancestral trauma the practice of slavery required. It wasn't until I was sufficiently Othered that the barrier between me and other Black people came tumbling down, which was an experience that I shared with continental Africans I went to school with. It didn't really matter much where we came from - at the end of the day, we were phobogenic objects to be projected and acted upon, obstacles to transcend, lessons to be learned. Bones on which white students could sharpen their teeth, or mirrors through which they could search and find themselves.

Also, Afrocentrism (which is what was described in the piece) is an attempt to address that ancestral trauma. An Afrocentric lens renders Blackness acceptable because it rewrites Black people as long-estranged Kings and Queens, violently removed from their thrones in Africa by white people. Which is part of why you see strong Afrocentrics referring to each other as such, and also why there is such a heavy focus on ancient Egypt. But it starts from the same premise as anti-Blackness: that to have come from a line of slaves is to be less-than, or a source of shame or weakness. And Afrocentrics both revere and revile continental Africans because Afrocentrism recasts them as unjust usurpers of legacies to which Afrocentrics consider themselves entitled.

It's complicated. A great piece, all-in-all. Thank you for sharing!
posted by Ashen at 9:56 PM on August 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


See that just doesn't make sense

Let's see if Chris Rock can clear it up for you.
posted by flabdablet at 10:28 PM on August 14, 2015


In case anyone else is vaguely curious about this usage but not invested enough to click the link I posted and read it, here is the relevant sentence:

used by blacks, the word may indicate "solidarity or affection",[12] similar to the usage of the words dude, homeboy, and bro.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:50 AM on August 15, 2015


This is a fantastic essay; completely blown away.

A lot of times it seems as though its perceived as barrier to be to really being one with the tribe

One thing I've noticed in myself is that there is this undercurrent of wanting to be better than other white people, or different than other white people, which appears to be endemic. The Metis in Space women refer to this as being "More Indian than the Indian" when it shows up (frequently) in various forms of media about American Indians, and I think it's part of the dynamic that drives appropriation as well. One learns from and engages with the other (black, native, etc...), then returns to ones own white tribe as a leader and creative person with different and unique thoughts (whose origin can be eluded).

It seems like an only slightly more sophisticated version of basic colonialism, where white people would go to other countries, buy curiosities and curios, and return home to get the appreciation they deserve for surviving with those "savages". The ultimate point isn't about the people being stolen from, it's about the relationships and power/money/prestige among white people with other people as props and sources of "inspiration" but not actors in their own right.

The added level of sexism within the context of African versus diasporic Black really underpins how this is a dynamic which plays out over and over again in a variety of guises, though. Ingroup/outgroup, privileged/marginalized, it's complicated but understandable. There is an extent to which I think all people have a tendency to use other people as projector screens upon which we play out our own fears and insecurities; the cultural trends magnify this effect, though, and either reinforce or undercut the personal dynamics in play.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:18 PM on August 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, in New Zealand, I was the whitest Maori in my high school Kapa Haka group (Maori culture - music & performance group), after moving to the South Island, which was markedly and shockingly more racist than the environment I'd grown up in.
Now, for context, African-American culture has absolutely been very influential on the various polynesian cultures of New Zealand. Black pride/brown pride.
I was also REALLY terrible with names.

So, one of the guys there, was often called, in the friendly in group sense, amongst a bunch of Maori kids, 'Nigga'. It was him reclaiming being one of the skin tone darkest in the group, against the backdrop of a very white town.
Now, I'm part Maori, and in Maori culture, Maori isn't something where you are 'part' Maori, you just are Maori. But what I am? Is lighter, and whiter.
So, I could have thought, oh, I'm Maori too, it's being used as an ingroup term, but... No.
Because being Maori might not be defined by my proportion of melanin, but being subject to racism? Being subject to unfriendly use of the N-word? Sure is.

So the other problem I had was that every time someone referred to him as Nigga, BOOM, it would replace his name my head, so I'd be awkwardly trying to avoid referring to him at all until I could remember his real name. EVERY DAMN TIME.

Anyway, to both address the appropriateness of polynesian peoples adopting the same ingroup usage of 'Nigga' etc as many African-Americans do, and looping back round to one of the points of this discussion, I think it comes down to:
Being able to appropriate a term of offence, and use it as an ingroup term, is absolutely down to whether you, personally, would ever have it used to or ABOUT you as a term of offence. For most of my Kapa Haka group, they were 'dark enough', and the South Island was racist enough, that that could/did happen.

For me? No.

For the white people in the article? Hell no.
It's that cultural blindness that wants to have it's cake and eat it too. Missing the huge context that using offensive terms as an ingroup term is only a teeny-tiny little layer of icing and rebellion to help swallow down the big ol' cake of racism.
That cake is how those words are usually used, what they usually imply, how hurtful it is to have them used against you or those you love.
No cake? No fucking icing.
If you fall into the group of people being insulted by a particular term of offence, I think you fall into the group of people who can choose to appropriate that term and turn it around, IF you want to.
If you don't fall into that group, you don't get to appropriate those terms, or you're basically just adding to the cake that other people have to choke on.


P.S. I also want to read about all the things that smart, funny Sarah did after divorcing.
P.P.S. I also want to buy some black soap, but that's my adult acne desperation...
posted by Elysum at 5:48 AM on August 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


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