When I was about seven years old, I was bullied for the first time in my life. Now, for me, this was incredibly shocking, because I was a rather charismatic child and well liked by most adults and kids my age. At the time my father had just been transferred from Lagos to London, and the rest of the family, my mother, brother and I, had been brought along for the ride. Due to the nature of my father’s job, I was quite used to moving from place to place and had become good at being “the new kid.” Equipped with an accent that was more “question mark” than Nigerian and confidence instilled by my parent’s insistence that I was destined to be the head and not the tail, I embraced life in England with all the vigor a seven-year-old could muster. And it paid off, initially. Despite the eternal gray that seemed to cover every aspect of English life, I managed to find a comfortable place for myself, including at school, a posh primary one in North London whose name I won’t mention because I’m pretty sure that could get me in trouble.

The school was fine, at first. If my memory serves, I spent about a year and a half in that school, and during the first year, I managed to find a good (I thought) group of friends. Keep in mind that at seven, you determine friendship by who you play with at break time and who invites you to their birthday party. I had a group of friends who I did both of these things with, so in my mind, I was safe and sorted. But then the second year happened. I’m honestly not sure if I just have a really poor memory when it comes to my actions (which my brother would probably say is true), but I am honest when I say that the bullying came out of left field for me. One day, everything was fine and dandy, and the next day, my group of “friends” had discovered a new form of entertainment which involved yelling “blackie!” at me and running away giggling. Now, this was a relatively snobby primary school, full of kids whose parents didn’t suffer from the kind of money issues that led to more extreme prejudice. As such, I assume that their racism wasn’t polished enough to venture into nastier name-calling, but if I’m honest, it did hurt at the time.

So what was a girl to do? Naturally, I went to my mother. If you’re expecting this story to end with my mum telling me that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” then I will put forward a guess that you have never met my mother. Rather, she gave me some advice that was far more useful. She said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a big group of girls. Find the smallest, weakest one and deal with her.” And so I did. My mother was later called into school and told that I had attacked one of the other children. In my opinion, “attacked” is a rather harsh word, and far too dramatic for what happened, which, again, my opinion, was entirely deserved.
That particular day I had walked into school with the calm of a person who had been given permission by their parents to fight someone. And I was ready. Come break time, once again, the usual group of girls started yelling names at me, and as they turned to run, my eyes laser-focused on this one, tiny Italian girl, who, for the purpose of privacy, I will call Isabella. Isabella, unaware of her future peril, had turned and started to run, but I guess at some point her survival instinct kicked in, as she soon turned around and saw that I was coming for her with the speed and passion of a demon out of hell. Isabella did try to run, but unfortunately for her, she was rather small, and I was not. The force of the impact sent her hurtling across the yard, and to this day, I believe that the satisfaction from that tackle was what compelled me to start playing rugby in my third year of high school, but I digress.

The school called my mother in, prepared to have her apologize on my behalf, but my mum came in mad as hell and ready to cause some problems. She pointed out that the school had no problem turning a blind eye when these racist children bullied me, but suddenly grew concerned once I decided to fight back, and with one mention of the R-word, the school backtracked in a big way. Oddly enough, those girls left me alone after Isabella walked into school the next day with a bright pink cast. Apparently, I had broken her arm in two places.
In any case, the moral of the story is that that experience taught me that words have a particular power, but you can negate that power with how you deal with those that use them. It taught me not to suffer foolishness from anybody, no matter their intentions. Now you might be wondering, “Bucky, this is a very inspirational story and all, but, what does that have to do with the title of this?” Patience, I’m about to land.

I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been scrolling down my twitter page, or watching CNN, or doing literally anything, when the conversation comes up: Why can’t *insert non-black racial group here* say “nigger”??” And this question is usually accompanied by a plethora of supporting arguments,
“black people say it all the time! If it’s so bad, why can they use it?”
“I mean it in the “a” way, not the “er” way.”
“So what am I supposed to do if I hear it in a rap song, just not sing along??”
“Well, my boyfriend/cousin/neighbor/gardener is black, and they don’t mind when I say it.”
And so on, and so forth. The history major in me is dying to go on a long, extended rant about the history of black oppression in the United States, both pre and post slavery, and how black people have earned the right to decide individually to use that word how they please. But I think I’d be asking too much of those of you who just read my blogs as a courtesy to me, so I’ll be as concise as possible: Black people can say the word nigger because they cannot weaponize it. Let me explain. I too have white friends who occasionally say nigga, not in a negative context, but whatever. Usually, out of the desire to avoid conflict, or understanding of their good intentions, I’ll let it slide. HOWEVER, should the day come that any of them try to use me as a justification to say it to someone else who isn’t comfortable with it, they’ll be shocked by the speed of the unlooking. By the laws of volume XI of the official Black Handbook, white people aren’t allowed to say nigger, or nigga, because while a good number of people claim they won’t use it in its negative form, a great many do.

Personally, I have never heard a black person call another black person “nigger” as an insult for the colour of their skin. As a black person who has that same skin colour, it would make no sense, as the history behind the word is shared by both people, to different extents. However, white people are very capable of using the word “nigger” as an insult, as many black people will tell you. Now, you might say, “well, maybe just don’t allow racists to say it.” And that’s well and good, but how can you tell who’s a racist? Certainly not by face. So rather than pick and chose who can and can’t say it, doesn’t it seem fair only to allow the people who can play nice with it to use the word? And that goes for other POC who feel confused about why black people don’t like them saying it, despite them not being black. Non-black POC are also capable of weaponizing the word “nigger” and using it deliberately to hurt black people. Whether you see this as racism or prejudice depending on your conception of the two terms, it is foolishness, and as my experience taught me (do you see how the story ties in now?), I refuse to suffer foolishness.

It might seem a tad excessive to have written such a lengthy entry over this issues, but I assure you it was for educational purposes. Many people seem genuinely confused as to why their use of the word “nigger” is so heavily contested, and so, as a gesture of goodwill and friendship, I invite you to share this article with anyone who has inquiries over the matter, because together, we can help eradicate global confusion.

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