Over the years, the word Niger has been used as a derogatory term used to define, limit, make fun of, and ridicule all Black people regardless of social stature within society. We can reference America’s President from 2009 to 2017 and the level of hatred he received from those that did not except a man with African blood being in the Oval Office of the White House. The word Nigger originally spelled Niger, was introduced from Latin language meaning black. The word was used to describe those with brown skin, of African descent. The word Niger evolved to different variations of the same term: negre – a black man; negress – a black woman, nigger, negro, nigga. Communication over the centuries of using the word has allowed the definition of Niger (noun), black person to turn into Nigga (noun, verb), an ignorant person or action done by a black human being. Let’s discuss.
Africans brought, born or raised in the American states have endured many different racial slurs that were used to diminish the self-esteem and mannerisms of the black man, woman and their children. Some terms that were used at different times, coon, savage, mammy, monkey, and buckwheat. When I think back to these names, it was nothing but unkind gestures made by others that were visibly different than those attacked. White people were not the only members of society that called black people a Niger. The term was used as we use Mr. and Ms. to refer to someone’s name, as if they did not have an identity.
How did we get to a place where black people would call other black people the urban term Nigga? How are we okay with using a word used to diminish any self-awareness of the black person by saying it as a kind gesture? Some would articulate that the removal of the meaning was made when they refer to Nigger as Nigga. With that same thought in mind, would that be true for a time when our ancestors and sisters and brothers were and are called Nigger instead of the original term Niger? Although the complexion of our skin is not black, per se, the reference that our brown skin is something to be frightened of and thought of less than. No man, Caucasian, African or American is allowed nor can they make me believe that I am less than because of the complexion of my skin.
Caucasian Americans referred to the niger term to create a racial hierarchy with Whites at the top and Blacks at the bottom. Americans continue to have this process of thinking, not realizing that there are Caucasian people without a African bloodline, who are also in the same social class as the Black American. In 2019, there continues to be a misconception that Black people are the poor minority in this country. I can walk down the street in my neighborhood, which is in a downtown area, and appear to be in the same demographic as a person being led onto a bus in handcuffs. However, I am a highly educated, working class citizen that has never been near a jail cell. Let’s take a closer look at this from just my small county of Richmond (Staten Island), New York.
According to The Demographic Statistical Atlas of the United States US Census Bureau, the county I live in Richmond, New York, has a total population of 473,324 (four hundred seventy-three thousand, three hundred and twenty-four) reported as their city or county. Within this population, there is a 62.6% (296,000) of the total who are categorized as being in a White ethnicity or race, 10.3% are within the Black race or ethnicity – I would be included in this group. Most would agree that the population in this county is predominately White, and they would be correct. There is an invisible line that is not safe for a person non White to visit, even if you have a reason. I do not cross this line. The somewhat neutral area would be the Staten Island mall that is somewhat towards the middle of the island. According to the numbers, we can see, that there is a greater number of White residents to Black and Hispanic residents.
Race and Ethnicity in Richmond County, Staten Island NY
Still discussing the presence of the Niger, according to “their” definition of the term, the lazy, ignorant, uneducated, black male or black female. According to the statistics of the population on Staten Island, you could imagine how many of these individuals believe we are such. However, as per those same statistics, the percentage of White residents who do not have a high school diploma is 15.9% (17,202). What could be their circumstance to not complete the fundamentals of education by achieving a high school diploma? Yet, statistically, those without a high school diploma continue to strive in the county because they are given the benefit of the doubt (white privilege) if they walk down that same street I do in the middle of the day.
In the neighborhood, I grew up in, it is now populated by more Caucasians who want to see immediate change of those less fortunate than themselves. They don’t want to live among black people, but they move into neighborhoods that are heavily occupied by a heavy mixed diversity of individuals. And then want to see the neighborhood mimic what was advertised in the paper and not the reality. Who is really the ignorant, uneducated one in this scenario? I don’t think it’s the man or woman who happens to be black sleeping on the park bench because of whatever circumstance that lead them there. It’s the tenant or buyer of an apartment across the street from said park bench who didn’t ask the appropriate questions before handing over their money to have this be their visual every morning while sipping their morning beverage. Young people moving along the street that don’t move to the right to allow a mother and child to move along the same street. NYC public transportation where people just walk on the bus or hop the train stalls, not because they have no money, but because they don’t want to pay the fair. These are all ignorant and uneducated acts that I see daily. Would I call them a nigga, no! I would callout their choices as irresponsible with a lack of care for those who must pay the cost of their decisions.
So, knowing more about the history of the niger and then the environment in which I live, how can people that look like me call themselves, lazy, ignorant, uneducated brown skinned male or female in friendly gesture? Is it a social norm from the entertainment industry that makes it okay? Are we really telling society that the assumption of the word evolved from niger to nigga, is okay to use because it holds no meaning? I truly believe that once we remove this reference from our vocabulary and start to recognize that every word has a meaning for our culture as others have meaning in theirs, will we begin to come together as a unified force in this country, state, city and county of Richmond, Staten Island.