Hip-Hop Fridays: Minister Muhammad Abdullah Muhammad On THE "N" WORD AND JENNIFER LOPEZ
Anyone who watched last night's MTV Video Music Awards should have noticed the "cultural-political" statement that Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez were trying to make at the end of their performance of the enormously popular "I'm Real" (one of only 4 songs to become #1 on Billboard's pop single charts without a commercial single available in stores).
After catching weeks of flak for the use of the word "nigger", Jennifer Lopez, Ja Rule and whoever choreographed the performance decided to let Ja Rule finish the song by boldly, again, using the phrase "My Nigger" (so that J-Lo wouldn't have to). They both then walked off the stage as if they were leaving the ring after a prize fight. It is obvious that the two are more than a little bit annoyed at the heat that Jennifer Lopez has received for using the word and phrase.
By far the best commentary that we have read on the controversy and its relevance to self-identity and Black and Latino unity has been written by the Latino Representative of the Nation of Islam, Minister Muhammad Abdullah Muhammad. Today, we are pleased to run his commentary, which is really one of a kind.
Here it is:
THE “N” WORD AND JENNIFER LOPEZ
The “Nigger” word has become one of the most widely used, in our Black communities. The Anglo Saxon enslavers bypassed the Spanish/Portuguese “negro” word, and went right into its Latin root terminology, and picked up “niger”, to use it as a destructive epithet. “Niger” is even more devastating than “Negro”. The Dictionaire Etymologique de la Langue Latine, by Ernout and Meillet, Paris, 1959, tells us that this Latin word “has a funereal moral sense, which evokes an idea of death and unhappiness.” Oxford Latin Dictionary informs us that one of the first usages for the Latin word “Niger” and its derivatives, was in the context of death. For example, speaking of hell, Pluto, the god of death is called “deus niger” (god of death or black god). Other examples are: “mors nigra” (black death); On the other hand, the etymological dictionary Origins by Eric Partridge, Macmillan, N.Y., 1959, indicates that “Negro” and “niger” derive from the Greek “anigros”, which means filth, dirt. Some etymologists associate the word “Negro” with the Greek word for death, “necro”. Therefore the word “nigger” literally means “A HELL OF A DIRTY DEAD”. It is the worst insult that anyone can concoct.
Andrew Hacker, in his notable work “Two Nations – Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal”, explains the devastating effect of this word:
“This word has the force to pierce, to wound, to penetrate, as no other has…’nigger’ stands alone with its power to tear at one’s insides. It is revealing that whites have never crated so wrenching an epithet for even the most benighted members of their own race.” (Ballantine, N.Y. 1992, P.42)
The Effects of the “N” Word
“In the beginning was the word” – and words shape thoughts; and thoughts shape matter. A destructive word engenders a destructive thought, which in turn energizes the force that destroys matter or the human being. No wonder there is so much “Nigger” on “Nigger” crime in our communities. When a white cop kills one of us, we protest, we march, we denounce… But “Niggers” kill each other every day, and there is no outcry! Why? Because the meaning that propels a “Nigger” is death, for “Nigger” means – “A Hell of a Dirty Dead”. “Niggers” have adopted the self-destruct idea that was cleverly implanted in their minds throughout generations, by the Slave master.
When a kidnapped, raped, vilified, mentally and physically abused victim adopts the destructive epithet given by his kidnapper as an object of identity, he develops a self-preservation mechanism that transforms the destructive word. First, he turns it into something of a humorous, sarcastic relief; later on it gets transformed into a term of endearment; and lastly, into a term of delusive power “I’m a Bad Nigger”.
The Stockholm Syndrome
“They weren’t bad people. They let me eat, they let me sleep, they gave me life.” – a hostage from flight 847
This is what psychologists call the “Stockholm Syndrome” – The conversion of hatred against a tormentor into sympathy and love for him…. But at the root, the pain remains there; it is as devastating as ever…. Only the constant repetition of the word, the singing of it, the “rapping’ and rhyming of it – can make it tolerable, and seemingly enjoyable.
Thus, the word that the slave master shaped and molded for destruction has been adopted by us, and embraced by our youth, as the “in” word, the code word that identify us in our closest circles. Then we utter it loudly to the world: “We are Niggers, Niggers, Niggers!” The victim has adopted the values of the enemy. It is not a question of long sensory depravation, or long periods of misinformation or even of brain washing. To convert hostages to their cause, the kidnappers simply act sympathetically towards the victim, offering them sandwiches, juices, and speaking with respect. Today they offer our youth Lexus, promotional contracts, and fame – in exchange we talk and act the “Nigger”. We’ve become “bamboozled”, as Spike Lee cleverly depicted in his magnificent movie.
Jennifer and the “N” Word
So, Jennifer Lopez uttered the “N” word in one of her albums, and many jumped on her for being insulting, and insensitive – and demanded an apology. Meanwhile, thousands of “Black” rappers utter the same “N” word with great intensity and gusto – and not one is singled out for being disrespectful. Why? Is it maybe because only real “Niggers” are immune to this devastating word? Or have we become so victimized that we have become desensitized to its effect?
Who is Jennifer Lopez? She is a Puerto Rican – of Latino American culture. Who are the Puerto Rican people? Aren’t they an African mix? Jennifer Lopez is a light skin so-called “Mulatta” from the Bronx. Had Jennifer been born in Virginia, she could pass for one of those very light skinned “blacks” that are culturally African American. Her lips and body form, her temperament, her culture is Afro-Puerto Rican. In fact, Puerto Rican culture is more African than African North American culture. The Puerto Ricans eat Plantains and green banana, like Africans; they play the Conga, bongos, and a wide variety of African style drums in their “Bomba” and “Plena” rhythms. A vast number of Puerto Ricans still practice the Yoruba African religion “Santeria”. Moreover, slavery of Blacks persisted in Puerto Rico until 1873, eight years after the U.S. emancipation proclamation of 1865. Unfortunately, the Anglo Saxon slave master banned drum playing, and did try to obliterate every African influence from his African slave in North America
New Yoricans (New York born Puerto Ricans) have lived for decades in the same neighborhoods with African North American, and have adopted each other’s culture. The Black North American now dances to “Salsa” rhythms; the New Yorican has adopted the language and inflections of the African North American. In fact, the membership of the Zulu Nation, founded in the Bronx by the Godfather of hip-hop, Africa Bambata, is predominantly African North American and Afro-Puerto Rican. So, its very common to hear in any New York “hood” or “barrio”, the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans or the Afro-North Americans call each other “niggers”, with the same endearment. I am very sure that Jennifer Lopez did not intend to insult anyone, for many Afro-Puerto Ricans use the “N” word with almost the same frequency as African North Americans. If Jennifer Lopez is to be attacked, why not Fat Joe, and the late Big Pun who are Afro-Puerto Rican? They all have used the “N” word. A few shades of lighter skin do not make her less Afro-Puerto Rican, in culture and ethnicity.
The Hollywood moguls and media manipulators are trying to turn Jennifer Lopez into a white non-person, stripped of her own Afro-Puerto Rican culture. They were very thrilled when she was forced to brake up her relationship with Sean “Puffy” Combs. And they are desperately marketing her as their own. An attack by the Black community against Jennifer Lopez, without understanding her Bronx African/Puerto Rican roots, will only drive her further away from herself. The hurt of over 400 years is very profound. It’s a hurt that is being expressed by the Black youth in the most enrapturing popular genre there is, “rap”. Its language has influenced the Afro-Latino youth who lives side by side to the African North American. Are we going to deny the natural process of being influenced by popular words and rhythms? There is an African Diaspora of 150 million people in the Western Hemisphere who come in many shapes, forms and colors. The African North Americans are not the only ones suffering the pain of racism. When we personalize our suffering, we can isolate ourselves, and alienate our natural allies who support us and identify with us.
Expunging the “N” Word
The word “Nigger” and “Negro” – “A Hell of Dirty Dead” must be completely expunged from our vocabulary, dictionaries and writing. To the Elders we say, do we want to stop the propagation and acceptance of this horrendous epithet? Let us not attack the branches, let us not attack the Jennifer Lopez’s – let us attack the root whence it’s coming from. The African Americans in the United States are the leaders of the whole Black world. They are the trendsetters. The Brazilians, the Africans, the Caribbean Islanders, Latin Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans follow the styles and fads that generate from the United States Blacks. Let us then vigorously re-educate this natural leader into the right direction, for the mental health, liberation and salvation of our African peoples, worldwide. Let’s put our foot down and educate our youth as to the true meaning of “Nigger” and its destructive power. We must attack the source, the womb that is producing this aberration – that is – the minds of our Black youth. It originated with the slave master, but the seed was inculcated through rape into the minds of our people. So now, the white slave master doesn’t have to utter the word. We have made it our very own. The branches or peripheral influences will die out, when the dark source of the word is enlightened with the knowledge of our Divine past, greatness and power. Long live the great and everlasting African peoples!
Diogenes Muhammad Abdullah M. is a minister, historian, lecturer and activist in the Black and Latino American communities for over 30 years. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Friday, September 7, 2001