Every so often, the debate of the use of the word “nigger” in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is brought to the table. Normally, when it is being reprinted, the tug of war debate begins of whether they should or shouldn’t reprint it with “nigger” being used in reference to the runaway slave that travels with Huck, Jim. Throughout the novel, he is called “Nigger Jim,” to set the precedent of how the antebellum south was and how calling someone something so derogatory was an everyday occurrence, because it wasn’t seen as derogatory yet. Whenever the debate comes to light again, one of the big issues is that people feel as though America is so far removed from that time that the use of “nigger” in the story has no point, it is just offensive and makes students and teacher uncomfortable. However, the word is needed now more than ever. We live in a time where the word nigger lives in a dichotomy of being a derogatory term yet one that people have deemed to be affectionate. Nevertheless, within the black community, it should have reached its demise a long time ago.
In 2009, rapper Jay Z and Oprah Winfrey had a discussion/debate on the use of “nigger” in the black community, though the word “nigga” with the -a ending was being discussed, not to be confused with the original racist -er ending. She felt as though it shouldn’t be used at all, and he felt as though his usage of it diminishes its derogatory power, taking it away from the white community, and making it a term of affection within the black community. However, the word is still as derogatory when present. It is because it had such an evil beginning that black people who hear it know that it is something that should not be said in mixed company and something that they should not accept being called. No matter whose lips it leaves from, there is a level of disrespect when the word is used.
I have used this word with many of my friends, and when we call each other this word, it is used not only in a joking manner but as a reminder of the where we have come from and how far we are going. Successful African Americans do this to remind themselves that in this world, they are still being called nigger behind closed doors and never to their faces. When they use nigga, it is in reference to those individuals that reinforce the stereotype of what white America thought a black person was and is, and also to remind themselves that in this world, they will always be black and always be reminded of said blackness. Nevertheless, the word is still subject to the poison that it was created in and should be left behind by the black community.
Many people believe that giving a word a different meaning eliminates its power, making it something different. However, certain words are contrived with so much evil that they do not deserve to be uttered. Nigg(er)(a) is one of them.