read tif’s recap of an incident that happened in our presence last night at tuesday crabs. here’s what I gotta say. sorry, i’m long-winded, be glad this ain’t an audio blog.
i grew up in an almost completely de-facto segregated environment. its a trip. my kindergarten teacher was white and i didn’t have another white teacher until i got that racist wench mrs. ____ in 7th grade pre-algebra. our city mayor is black. our county mayor is black. most of our city council is black. most of our school board is black. not even counting bi-racial people, in 2000, 61.41% of the population of memphis, tennessee was black. i say all this to tell you one important thing: in the 17 years that i lived in memphis, no white person ever called me nigger. not one. not once. however, during the same time period of 17 years, i was probably called some type of nigger, nigga, “my nigg” every single day by countless african-american men and women, boys and girls. i’ve never liked it. i’ve never appreciated it. yet, i never asked anyone not to say it to me, around me, or about me.
when i was 15, i was a volunteer tour guide at the National Civil Rights Museum, the reincarnation of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was killed in 1968. one day, as i was guiding about 60 white people from Minnesota past the section of the museum that focused on the emancipation and reconstruction periods, i asked the question “now, what do you think the former slave and property owners were thinking when millions of people whom they have kept enslaved for their entire lives were suddenly freed and walking around with no place to go?” the group, just like most tour groups, was initially silent as they thought about it from their own perspective. a man at the back of the group yelled “whole lotta niggers!!!” slowly, all of his friends turned to look him in the face. his wife shifted her weight to the foot farthest from him, in an effort to disassociate herself. i smiled. “yes, that could be one thing they were thinking.” i quickly shooed the group to the next section of the tour which focused on lynching while i alerted security of the incident. they didn’t take the man down or anything, but a security officer followed us for the remainder of the tour. i will never forget the incident. it was 1994.
i’m not sure if this matters, but nobody that i knew watched rap city back then if you northerners can believe it. there really weren’t any videos to the music that we heard on our radio stations and even if there were, i guarantee, rap city wouldn’t be playing a video to “Triggerman” or “Tear da Club Up”. the only time we watched BET is when Teen Summit was on. what northerners think of as “hip-hop” didn’t really come to my town until i was about to leave for college in 1997. we had our own rappers and our own brand of rap (see “Hustle and Flow” for a damned good depiction) and it was on uncensored radio all day, every day. but see here’s the thing. white people didn’t really listen to “our” radio stations. they didn’t pick up on “our” colloquialisms. they weren’t up in “our” clubs screaming “Tear da Club Up” and gangsta walking among us. when “Lyrics of a Pimp” came on the radio, you wouldn’t pull up to a red light and find the white dude in the car next to you getting buck.
what i’m saying is, when i was in the dirty, no one wanted to be like us but us. you see how yall northerners turn up your noses when some some clueless dj accidentally puts on some real live southern rap – i’m not talking about that bouncing crap yall embracing all of a sudden – i’m talking about Memphis bling. shit you could only get on a mixtape from Stereo One shawty (a-word!!!).
however, northern rap, or hip-hop, or whatever it is today has crossover appeal. everyone’s listening to it. everyone’s doing it. didn’t they say that this was the first time in a long time that hip-hop didn’t dominate the mtv music awards? and we all know, we weren’t the only one’s buying NWA and we ain’t the only ones buying jay-z, et al. black music is everywhere. on commercials. featured in mainstream magazines. hip-hop artists show up in movies. escorting white women on the red carpet. all that. you think that a white man that’s really feeling hova censors himself when the n-word comes up in a verse? shit, you see that dave chappelle brought the word “bitch” into casual conversation. i think i’m the last black person that found out about the dave chappelle show. me and tif were hanging in bars, and white people kept calling us bitches. we couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on.
what i’m trying to tell you is – they get it from us. like my mama used to tell me “they give you such a hard time cause they wanna be just like you.” for years and years and many years, assholes in other races (notice that i specified only the assholes, there are great folks in other races, some of whom i’m happy to have as my friends) have hated us in all of our unique glory. some don’t hate us, but think that by imitating us they pay homage to what they fall short on – soul. but just like children, they have no ability to discern what’s inappropriate. they see us wear certain styles. they copy the same styles. no problem,right? they see us create certain types of art. they copy the same art. no problem, right? you know what comes next. they hear us use certain phrases and words. ‘lo and behold! they use the same fricking words. now all of a sudden we wanna jump up and fight, start a race war up in this bitch, tear the damn club up! feel what i’m saying here, i don’t think that’s its appropriate for folks outside “the race” to use the n-word. so here i am, taking my little itty bitty stance, kinda like when i was in college and boycotted the NBA cause i felt like they made too much money and me with my $150k degree could never hope to do the same. i’m ceasing my use of the n word. i figure, if i don’t put it out into the atmosphere, then maybe its less likely to come back to me. you dig?