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In Defense of the N-Word

    Long As My Niggas Love Me

    More than usual, there is a lot of controversy around “the N-word.”  Especially, given a recent NFL proposal to ban use of “racial slurs” including the word “nigga,” I find it important to enlighten America on my perspective and the sentiment of the vast majority of young Black males I interact with on a deeply personal level.

    If I call someone, especially another young Black person, “my nigga,” I may care greatly for and love that person.  Quite often, “my nigga” is one of our culture’s most endearing terms.  Every time YG’s recent hit “My Nigga” has come on the radio in the presence of my best friends, we have shared an intimate and kindred moment.  We feel what it means to be niggas achieving the American dream, and competing in arenas that were built with the blood, sweat, and tears of our embattled ancestors.  It seems as if our role in history becomes transparent as we accept the struggles that came before us, persist around and within us, and continue to grapple with life’s challenges together as brothers.  Manhood is a complicated ideal in the Black Community.  Many of us grow up without a consistent father figure, and lack an omnipresent paradigm from which to learn how to articulate love for your brethren.  In lieu of the corporate takeover of Hip-Hop and co-opted dilution of Black culture, as well as government-sanctioned infiltration of our communities with violence and drugs, we are inundated with messages designed to make us hate each other and ourselves.  Furthermore, expressions of love are often chastised as weak.  In my experience, there is a certain love manifested through actions that I can only expect from my niggas.  When I refer to someone as “my nigga,” it may mean that I identify with him or her in genuine way, or that I can be truly comfortable with that person I respect on some level.  Sometimes, I say “my nigga” to non-Black people because they are friends or supporters.  Regardless of race, the richest conception of love I know from friends, is that which I can only get from “my niggas.”   When I say that someone is “my nigga,” it may be one of the noblest ways to describe our relationship or that person’s character.

    Referring to a friend or person as “nigga” is in many ways a tribal experience.  On Wall Street, I have seen my Jewish bosses refer to each other and colleagues as “MOT.”  Whenever they were going to meet another Jewish person, especially if he or she was what they considered real, they would say that person was “MOT,” or a Member of the Tribe.  For them, “MOT” confers a sense of loyalty, honor, and respect.  As Jews and Blacks are two historically oppressed groups, a tribal connection and effort has at tangibly enabled each group’s empowerment at times.   While “nigga” is not always utilized in a positive context, I have experienced the same principle of kindred connection when identifying other Blacks as “niggas” in environments where my race and socio-economic position classifies me as an extreme minority.  From 17 to 23, I spent most of my years in Predominantly White, wealthy, & elite, institutions and organizations.  Of the few Black people that are present in such environments, there are even fewer that prioritize engaging and improving the condition of the have-nots, understand the nuances of how to succeed while elevating Black culture, and passionately work on behalf of the hood, incarcerated, impoverished, etc.  As an upwardly mobile young Black man, I have learned that the price of success is quite often assimilation.  In my experience, extrapolating an elite materialist cultural identity inhibited my ability to relate to the underserved populations that need my resources and energy most.  Despite even a desire to help, the more one assimilates in a system that was not designed for his or her presence or does not welcome it, forges a divide between embracing the essence of Blackness or pulse of Black culture, and one’s professional trajectory.  Evidenced by the corporate and Ivy League context I know, social promotion seems to be tied to an ability to be viewed by colleagues as non-threatening.  Nothing will limit your growth faster than scaring the White people within the structure, and representing the unadulterated realities of the Black urban experience—or keeping it too real.  With that said, there’s so few “real niggas” at the top of the American social and economic hierarchy, that whenever a Senior Black Executive has used the word “nigga,” it has signaled to me that this person respects my talents, understands the nuances of remaining authentic, and is capable of helping cultivate the greatness within.  Frankly, there is something uncanny and inspiring about Blacks in a position of power using the word “nigga.”  To me, it signals that I too can succeed and evolve yet remain true…that I can sell without selling out

    Beyond simply saying any word, there is something special about being a “real nigga” that young Black males may respect and strive to emulate.  Although “real nigga” has become a term synonymous with someone that possesses street credibility, the concept also represents  the most authentic, honest, and successful Black public figures.  For instance, when President Obama spoke about the inspiration behind My Brother’s Keeper, his new initiative geared at improving the condition of young Black men, I couldn’t help but realize that not only is my president Black, but a real nigga for speaking up about his experience as a misguided youth, and passion for solutions.

    Personally, I have utilized the word “nigga” to convey the strongest sense of brotherly love.   A “real nigga” is a rare and rewarding commodity, and I know the hope of millions of young Black men is to be a “real nigga”—our culture’s modern-day manifestation of a royal figure.  One of my greatest challenges is to remain a “real nigga” as I elevate to Kingship and the top of all domains, while surrounded by the spoils of victory and material wealth that typically function to desensitize the elite from the struggle.  When someone harps on “the n-word,” as the pre-eminent issue destroying Black America, it typically signifies that what they think is important, usually appeasing the majority and appearing safe, may not align with what I hold immediate priorities for Black people—like economic enfranchisement, quality healthcare, social and business ecosystems and infrastructure, etc.  If the NFL, any other rich elite organizations really care about advancing Black culture, there are a variety of anti-poverty initiatives that might help generate wealth and economic action, reduce violence and substance abuse, and slow the growth of the prison industrial complex, that need immediate investment.  We all know that actions speak louder than words.  Many have yet to internalize that as young Black males advance professionally and educationally, we see fewer people that look like us or share the same vision of the world and foundational experiences.  Quite often, we are greeted with an unnecessary prejudice, condescension, and fearful ignorance.  In this current station in life, I feel something distinctly tribal when I hear another Black person using the word “nigga” in elite environments we were never meant to occupy.  Even as we utilize different words, such as “King,” the genuineness and connection that Black men may share when feeling comfortable enough to refer to each other in the spirit of love as “niggas” is real and must never become lost.  I am thankful for all the people that inspire me to excel and outperform.  However, I will forever love my niggas.  Only my niggas understand the challenges young Black males are more inclined to encounter–that most people simply cannot fathom.  To live and love is the mission.  Salute to Kings & Queens succeeding while working to empower the people.   #tothemoon


    Mike Philson