There Is Power In Words Racism is still alive in America. It is not as overt but its presence is still felt. I believe there is power in words. The Bible says there is death and life in the power of the tongue. Words can either be used to edify, uplift and encourage or they can be used to tear down, demoralize and debase. Which do you choose? In this essay I will attempt to analyze how African Americans have reclaimed a term that has been used for numerous years to negatively characterize their race and them as people.
By changing the spelling of Niger to enigma and using it to express positive attributes such as brotherhood and inclusion It has aided them in affirming their Identity. I live In a very small town In Louisiana where Bible thumping ministers still preach fire. Brimstone, hell and damnation. This is a place that still holds memories, remnants and scars of an era where men draped in white sheets burned crosses in the yards of anyone off different race or those who dared to disagree with their beliefs. This Is a town where white cashiers will place the change from a black patrons purchase n the counter so they would not have to touch their hand.
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There are still some establishments in this town where employees will wait on white customers first even though black customers were in the place first. In this little town you can hear the word Niger whispered behind the backs of African Americans. The World English Dictionary defines rugged as a derogatory name for a black person or a member of any dark skinned race. (Dictionary Reference) From the earliest usage It was the term that carries with it all the obloquy (abuse, humiliation, attack or shame) and nonempty and rejection which whites have Inflicted on blacks. Cited In Growers 1965} Growing up In the Deep South I have heard many words used to debase and lower the self esteem of black men and women. For Example; a grown woman being called gal or an adult male being called a boy and both being called Niger. This word has always intrigued me because of the power it gave to one race and the dignity It took from another. Enigma Is a unique Intra-racial form of the word Niger popularized by rap artist and hip hop music. In most African American spinsterhood, enigma is commonly used to refer to both males and females.
It is not considered derogatory but evokes a sense of community and oneness among black people. (Coat, Kevin) When I open my door In the morning I see the young black men and women standing on the corner. I can hear them greeting each other with “What’s up my Niagara I have known most of these young adults since they were children so I decided to go and talk with them. I asked them,” how would you feel if a white person walked up and greeted you using those same words? ‘ I could instantly e the change In their demeanor. The hostility In their eyes and voices was unbelievable!
They confessed that even though they do have friends who are white it 1 OFF claim to the word enigma as “their” word. It is not used by them to put each other down but to greet one another and show camaraderie. When this word is used by a Caucasian or anyone other than an African American it is perceived as offensive. The word enigma is used daily, mostly by African Americans, as a term of endearment. This word can be heard in general conversation and in Hip Hop music. It is a slang rod for friend even though it is derived from the derogatory word Niger. “Niger is what Enigma is.
There is no getting around it. Consider this the word Niger is defined in more than thirty different languages throughout the world. Regardless of how it is pronounced the definition stays the same. Regardless of how it is written the definition stays the same. Except in our community where we have tried to erase and embrace. ” (Dews, 2007) African Americans have taken a derogatory word used to offend them for over one hundred years and turned it into something positive. When all is said and done there are still steps we must take if racism is ever going to be completely alleviated.
It must start with each of us teaching our children that any word that is used to hurt, humiliate or embarrass someone else is unacceptable. It is disturbing to me that a culture felt the need to change the spelling of an offensive word in order to gain self respect, and to remove the sting, torment and power the word Niger has held over them. After analyzing these words I have come to the conclusion that although one is primarily associated with malicious origins and offensive nature and the other is all about building a sense of pride in who you are the context and the speaker actually determine the intended meaning and how it is received.