my nigga

I’ve been teaching English in Medellin for over 4 years now. As many of you know, I run my business, Red Door Studios, from home and that takes up most of my time, but teaching is a passion, and it’s really fun, so I continue to teach, even if it’s only one class a day at 6:00 am. If you’re interested in my experience as an English teacher in Medellin, I wrote a post about it.

Throughout my 4 years of teaching I have encountered the word “nigga” at least once every semester. At first I would feel angry and scold the students for using it.

After 4 years I have come to terms with the word and realized that people in Colombia really do not know what the word “nigga” means. Many times they use it incorrectly, and when asked what the word means they usually have the wrong idea.

Therefore, my idea with this blog post is to help those English as a foreign language students who are curious about the word know the real meaning of the word and its use and perhaps inform some native English speakers as well.

My Nigga, My Nigga

First of all where the fuck are students hearing this word? The word “nigga” has been around for a long time and it has been used, by black people, for many years in the United States. In my opinion the widespread use of the word “nigga” among black people in the United States can be traced back to Richard Pryor’s stand up comedy album called: That Nigger’s Crazy in 1974. (I’m aware of the Paul Mooney’s “nigga please” routine.)

Currently, you can’t hear a rap song without hearing the word “nigga” a few times. From Snoop Dogg to Kendrick Lamar the word is littered in all rap songs. The song My Nigga by YG was released in 2013 and peaked at 19 in US Billboard Top 100 list.

The song features the word “nigga” a total of 115 times! It has sold over 1.2 million copies in the last 2 years and most of my young, male students know the song.

Other examples of songs using the word nigga are: Niggaz Wit Attitudes (N.W.A), A Tribe Called Quest’s “Sucka Nigga”; Notorious B.I.G.’s song, “The Realest Niggaz”; Jay-Z’s “Jigga That Nigga”, “Nigga What, Nigga Who”; Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Niggas in Paris”; DJ Khaled’s “I Wish You Would”; Snoop Dogg’s “For All My Niggaz And Bitches”; and Nicki Minaj’s “Lookin Ass”. One of the earliest uses of the term was in the 1983 song New York, New York by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

There’s no question why students know the word, so now let’s talk about how they use it here.

How “nigga” is used in Medellin

In my experience kids that use the word “nigga” in Medellin use it incorrectly. Instead of using it as a colloquialism meaning “dude” or “homeboy” as it is supposed to be used, young Paisas use it as an adjective or a noun. A common sentence would be, “That is nigga” or “He is nigga.” They think that the word “nigga” means “hood” or “ghetto.” The proper way would be, “That is hood” or “He is ghetto.”

Understanding this has helped me to cope with my anger when a student uses it in class.

Why would I get angry at the use of “nigga” in class?

At first, I would get angry at the student for using the word in class. I grew up in Southern California, where we have a large variety of cultures and races. Most of my friends were Mexican and white, and never, ever, ever, ever, would we ever, under any circumstance, use the word “nigga.” The word “nigga” back in the 90’s was solely used between black people, and I still believe that this should be the case. Therefore, when a student would use the word in class, all I would see is a brown person using a very racially sensitive word.

Once I understood that people here in Medellin do not know what the word actually means, and that their only source of contact with the word has come from rap songs my anger became directed at African-Americans that use it and accept it.

Why "The nigger is not fit to vote."

Why “The nigger is not fit to vote.” – Nast, Thomas (1840-1902)

Where does the word “nigga” come from?

Nigga is a colloquialism meaning dude or homeboy, but in literature it is what is called eye dialect. Eye dialect is when a writer spells a word in the way it is spoken instead of the actual way it is written in order to transmit a characters background. For example the word “that” can be seen written as “dat” and this would make the reader understand that the character is probably uneducated and/or hip.

It’s not that complicated though.

The word nigga comes from the word nigger. The word nigger comes from the Portuguese and Spanish word for black, negro.

In the early 1600’s white Americans used the words neger and neggar in reference to black slaves. In history books and literature the word has not been denoted as being used as a derogatory term for blacks. It was simply the word used for African slaves being brought over to Virginia.

Nineteenth-century English (language) literature features usages of the word nigger without racist connotation, e.g. the Joseph Conrad novel The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897). Moreover, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain created characters who used the word as contemporary usage. Twain, in the autobiographic book Life on the Mississippi (1883), used the term within quotes, indicating reported usage, but used the term “negro” when speaking in his own narrative persona.

The word nigger has evolved and since the early 1950’s the word has been used as a pejorative (derogatory and/or insulting) term. It is used, predominantly, by white, racist Americans to degrade black people.

The word nigger is a VERY BAD word! And you should never use it!

This is a picture of a slave wit some torture equipment.

This is a picture of a slave wit some torture equipment.

Teacher when can I use the word “nigga?”

NEVER! In my opinion, whether you are black, white, brown, yellow, orange or purple you should never use that word.

I love hip hop and I listen to it almost every day, but the word is not in my vocabulary, I wouldn’t use it even jokingly. In my opinion the use of “nigga” implies ignorance and a loss of faith in the black american culture. I’m sure Jay Z and Snoop Dogg would differ, but that’s not the argument. The fact of the matter is that you shouldn’t be using words that you do not truly understand the meaning of.

It’s like if a foreigner comes to Medellin, and he listens to reggaeton, and hears the word “gonorrea” and then starts to use it instead of “parce” or “hombre.” Imagine what trouble he would get into or how stupid he would sound.

I recently had a an ex-student contact me via facebook. He is now living in New York. He told me that he inadvertently used the word nigga as an adjective, as people do here in Medellin, and a black man overheard him and he got into a fight.

This is evidence that one should steer clear of using this word. It’s ok to listen to hip hop and to like songs that have that word, but don’t go using it.

whipped peter

April 2, 1863
Baton Rouge, LA
“Peter”

What word can I use?

The word “black” is now accepted to refer to someone of dark skin. If you are in a formal setting I would suggest you use the word “African American.” You can also say that a person is “dark skinned.”

In the United States people are very sensitive to racial words and terms. So, as a good rule of thumb, it is best to just use African American.

I hope this post has been informative and has helped you understand the word “nigga.”

If you have any questions feel free to post them below in the comments.

About the writer – Andrew Macia

AndrewHello, my name is Andrew Macia and I am the founder of the Medellin Buzz.  I am an advanced level English teacher here in Medellin, and I also have a website development, and marketing company which I run from home, RedDoor.com.co.

My idea with the Medellin Buzz is to push those who are learning English and to integrate native speakers with non-native speakers.

I love living in Medellin and I love Colombia.  I want to give back to the community and this is the best way I know how.  Let’s practice English and Spanish and have a great time!

About the Medellin Buzz

The Medellin Buzz is lighthearted resource for English as a Second Language learners in Medellin, Colombia to practice with.  The Medellin Buzz is written in a way that is easy to understand (B2 – C1 level).  If you do not understand something feel free to make comments below.

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