There is power in taking back words. Words are probably the most powerful weapon in our disposable. There are all sorts of clichés and saying to attest to this fact. The pen is mightier than the sword, is one that I am sure we have all heard.
If you can take a word that has been used against you and take it back, then that word loses power over you. That was the reason for blacks using the n-word themselves. I understand the concept and the reason for trying to reappropriate hurtful language. I have done it myself. I used to make self-degrading comments about myself quite publicly. I would say it in the halls of the high school, in the malls, and when I was out with my friends. In retrospect now I can see that I did that as a coping strategy. No one could use those words to hurt me because I used them to describe myself.
My question is does this really work?
I think the answer is quite complex. I think that reappropriating negative words works in the short term. The words lose their power and the person who has turned the words feels better.
In the long term, I don’t think it works at all. The n-word has fallen into common usage and is heard a lot more today than it should be. I have been writing all day long while listening to satellite radio. I have heard the n-word probably about 200 times today. I have heard it countless times daily since I discovered hip hop in the early 80’s. I have become desensitized to the word.
As part of hip hop culture, it seemed like this word was there and that it should be used. It’s almost like if you don’t use it you are not hip hop. That is not the message I think that was trying to be conveyed by the use of this word on record. Now we have a bunch of youth coming up who think this is a word that they should use. As a teacher, I have seen kids of all races using this term. They don’t know about the history of the word and the pain involved for those who have fought hard to overcome racism.
Racism still exits. Reappropriating the n-word has not stopped it from being used in hurtful ways. In fact, it seems that it is being used more now by ignorant children who do not know exactly what it means.
So for reappropriation of the n-word to really work we need to make sure we educate the youth about the power of words and the history of this one particular word. I’m still not sure that this will help but the one thing I do know is that we, as members of the hip hop culture, need to educate the youth better to the things that we say on records.