Growing up, my parents always insisted on proper use of language. My mum would make me read a storybook a day as early as when I was 7 years old. Oh trust me, the school librarian wasn’t my biggest fan in my primary school. To date, I still remember the scolding that I got from my father when he first heard me say “I ain’t” instead of “I am not”. His words? “That is American slang, you are taught British english in school, use that”. He has nothing against America truthfully. My country of birth, Kenya, was colonized by the British and to date schools in Kenya insist on teaching English so strictly it’s as if it is our sign of patriotism to The Common wealth.
I never knew of race till I got to the U.S. Where I grew up? 98% of the population was Kenyan. I never even called myself black till I left home. I mean, who calls you black? Or a person of color? Back home, People differentiated each other with things like tribe, gender, religion or who went to what kind of school and why. It is not as simple as it sounds really. Though, I think the fact that when you walked or drove to Nairobi and all you could see was a pool of people looking like you with a hint of white people driving in UN branded cars made life…normal. For the record, in Kenya, we do not identify people as immigrants or white or black etc. We say ‘Oh, she is from Nigeria Then you leave the country, you leave the continent and come to a country as culturally diverse as America and your being different, being black hits you, hard. It’s never like ‘Oh I’m black, Oh My God! What am I going to do?’. No. More like ‘Oh, I am black. I should identify myself as black because that is what the school forms require me to fill in the description category or when you are walking around campus etc? Got it’
Fast forward a few months in America and learning that there is a bigger picture underneath the facade that immigrants abroad try to portray to impressionable africans back home. A couple of weeks ago, unwarranted, I was called
‘nigga’ by a white lady. Long story short, I was in a work setting, a lady thought that my being African meant that I could not deliver her services dutifully. When she called me that, I was stunned. I mean I had always heard of stories of and seen the clips on twitter where black people would be called ‘nigger’ by white people and it would cause an uproar. I didn’t know how to react so I called my supervisor and explained to her what happened. She came, put the person who had called me that in her place, which was fine then she came up to me.
‘Oh she called you that? Really?‘ She asked, almost laughing. That irritated me. Why would she find that funny?
‘Yeah she did, and I wasn’t too comfortable with that’. I told her.
‘Oh don’t worry about it. Being called a ‘nigger’ isn’t offensive. That is not an offensive word. I mean you black people have been called that for a long time now, you should be used to it by now’
‘What?’ I asked.
I could tell that she was confused by my ‘what?’.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it, she won’t call you that again trust me” She said, casually.
‘Yeah she won’t call me that again but only because YOU told her not to call me that in your premises. I told her not to call me that and she still called me that! Why not tell her not to call anyone like that again? Educate her because she listened to you more than she listened to me on the mere fact that you and her are both white? What’s to stop her from calling me that again when you are not around?‘ I wanted to scream that to her but all I could do was stare at her. I don’t know if my ‘Wow, did you just say that it isn’t offensive’ look. Truthfully, I don’t think she did and if she did, I think she may have chosen to ignore it.
My biggest mistake is that I am using this platform to rant about it. I should have let her have it there and then. My fear of being labelled as ‘an angry black woman’, at the time, made me mumble a simple ‘Oh, okay then‘.
I never really paid attention to the word itself other than when I went on twitter and saw someone complain about having been called that. That and/or in Hollywood movies that still tell the stories on how Americans of African descent overcame slavery (i.e 12 years a slave). However, when I was called this, it felt like a slight stab to my chest. A lot of my friends would and still say ‘nigga’ when they are addressing their friends. Not to me, surprisingly. I saw it all through my undergraduate years, especially among my male friends who would be like ‘sup my nigga’. I would find it weird but then I thought, ‘hey, if they don’t seem to find any offense to that, then who am I to dictate how they live their lives?’ I once asked a friend why he used the word and he said, with an unapologetic hint of sexism that “it’s a guy thing“.
Indirectly, I asked a close friend of mine and my mum what they thought about the usage of the word. They both said that it was offensive, regardless of who used it. I equally googled up a number of articles on the word ‘Nigger’. Interesting articles come up by the way, you can look it up. Especially those that compare ‘nigger’ and ‘negroe’. Each has a different definition apparently. I say it is all the same, whatever context one is used. C’mon, when someone calls you that, offensively, say, privately or publicly, are you going to take out your phone, google definitions, justify that one is less offensive than the other and go about your day as if nothing happened? Please.
Why did I start talking about language instead of going straight to the issue? Maybe cause I think the word is foul? Maybe because I have been raised by conservative parents who would give me the deadliest of stares if ever I said something offensive? Maybe that upbringing may have caused me to feel utterly uncomfortable and weirdly hurt when I was called that AND when I was expecting my supervisor to have my back when clearly she didn’t? I’ve never really understood the usage of (and when) of the term ‘Nigger’. I hear people using it. It’s all over television, social media, music videos but to mention a few. I don’t really know the word, save for how it was used during the dark times in history when people of African descent were enslaved by white people. For that Fact alone, I have never taken kindly to the word let alone give it much attention.
‘Nigga’, ‘Negroe’ etc…hey if you want to use it? It is a free world! Don’t call me that though. I will not hold back next time. I MOST DEFINITELY will take major offense if a person tells me that ‘Hey, YOU black people have been called niggas all through history. It is not offensive!’.