*This op-ed is the opinion of the author alone and does not represent the opinion of the talkmag, the Intercultural Resource Center or the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
*Trigger Warning for discussion on the n-word
[“Ask a Black Dude” ft Comedian Paul Mooney, The Chapelle Show, Episode 105]
I remember thinking that I looked entirely out of place. As a crowd of about 100 people all lost their minds to ScHoolboy Q’s “Blessed” in a room barely bigger than some dorm lounges, there I was in the center, in deep thought. My problem on that Friday night was spawned by the use of the word “nigga” in most, if not all, of the music playing at the club. Personally, I’m comfortable with the word. I’ve grown up around people that use it in many different ways, and though I don’t always advocate its use by any and everybody, I was OK with ScHoolboy Q using it when addressing his screaming fans. The problem, however, was that I was with one of my good friends—someone whose politics I agreed with, and someone I would consider to be an all-around decent person—and as I happened to glance behind me, I saw him, as enthusiastically as everyone else in the crowd singing along with the hook. “…Stay blessed my nigga. Yes, my nigga…” Did I know that those were the lyrics? Yes. Did I know that my friend, just like everyone else who paid for a ticket, would want to actively participate in the show? Of course I did. And still, I stood there feeling conflicted about the contrast between how I felt about strangers in the room using the word and my friend using the same word. Of course, this was because my friend is white.
The word “nigger” (often written “nigga” in liner notes and Rap Genius explanations) is used incredibly frequently in hip-hop. However, the use is not a defining characteristic of allegedly more violent subgenres like “gangster rap”. Everyone from N.W.A to Chief Keef, to artists deemed safer and more suitable for mainstream consumption like The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar use the word in their songs. Though the demographics of hip-hop are complex and constantly changing, it is still a genre in which the majority of the artists are black. No matter the owners of the recording label and production companies, and no matter the demographics of consumers who purchase the music in stores or on iTunes, the vast majority of rappers are black. Because the word is prevalent within the black community, it would only make sense that it be omnipresent in music made by black people. The word nigger has been a core component of black life since the first group of black men and women was abducted from their homes and forced into bondage. It was a word that was instrumental in our denigration and dehumanization; a word that made our colonization possible. It is a word that remains very polarizing, as it seems that every other month or so, the age-old “who is allowed to call me a nigger?” debate rages in classrooms, barbershops, and sometimes even in CNN television studios.
I don’t want this article to devolve into that type of discussion, so I will be blunt: white people should not say the word nigger. White people should never, in any context or situation, say the word. It is a word that has always meant something very different for white people than black people, and consequently, the rationale that because black people use the word, you should also get some sort of informal pass or linguistic visa to also say it is flawed. I promise, it will be ok if you, as a white person, never say the word. However, I am not a fool, and I would be naïve to believe that white people do not say the word. We should all be fully aware that behind closed doors, many white people say nigger as liberally as any rapper would in any rap song. Interestingly, the newest signee to Top Dawg Entertainment, the rap collective to which ScHoolboy Q—and perhaps more notably Kendrick Lamar—belong to, Isaiah Rashad, released a new song a few weeks ago entitled “Ronnie Drake” that discussed, among other things, issues of racial politics. The very first line after the beat drops is as follows: “So don’t call me a nigga, unless you call me my nigga”. That line, in a nutshell, is the rationale behind why the word is kosher for some and strictly off-limits for others. “My nigga” from a black person carries connotations of shared identity and community; from a white person, it carries ideas of violence, brutality, and the ownership of black bodies. The relationship that we as people have had to the word has always been dependent upon race, and there is really no reason to expect that should change now.
I believe I was asked to discuss the use of the word “nigga” in hip-hop partly as a response to some controversial events that happened at an SDT-sponsored fundraiser in mid-Novemeber. Frankly, I do not believe that the issue there is with the prevalence of the word in rap music, but rather, with the actions of those students. If we are all to agree that what happened was unacceptable and something that should not be repeated, examining the use of the controversial word within hip-hop seems to be a step towards victim blaming. “Hey, maybe what I said was racially insensitive, but let’s look at how you all enjoy this music and how you choose to handle your cultural oppression”. If a group of people tells you that you using this word is extremely offensive, that should be it—we should not require a full-scale investigation on the equity of the implications of their feelings. And if using that word within the black community is something that helps to mitigate the damages of our continued colonization, requiring the permission of white people to attain that level of comfort only further contributes to a pre-existing power dynamic. Hip-hop should not be on trial here, as it is not responsible for the anti-black micro aggressions in spaces on Columbia’s campus. The word is integral to hip-hop because, good or bad, it is integral to the formation of the identity of the black community. “Nigga” is here to stay, so it would seem that we all simply must make a more concerted effort to be aware of the feelings of others and our inherent cultural differences before we act or speak.
Miles Johnson is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science. He is also on the e-board of C.U.S.H. (Columbia University Society of Hip Hop) where he develops written online content.
On the evening of November 5th, bell hooks and Eve Ensler sat down to discuss gender, race, power, privilege and its connection with our living bodies. I was eager to attend the discussion, if not only to be in the presence of the one and only bell hooks, but especially because of the recent controversy surrounding Columbia’s all women of color cast of the Vagina Monologues.
The conversation, however, was not about Ensler’s world-renowned play. The topic was female bodies, specifically how systems of institutional oppression—to quote bell hooks, the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”—enact themselves on the bodies of women and particularly on women of color. The discussion emphasized that while racism, classism, and misogyny are often independently critiqued, they almost always work simultaneously and are made visible in both a sociological dimensions but also through personal physical manifestations. Women suffer not only from institutional discrimination that prevents them for attaining equal education and professional opportunities as men, they are also the main targets of acts of physical violence—rape, abuse, medical discrimination—that are expressions of systemic oppression.
However, I do not mean to put forth the idea that women are the helpless victims of institutional violence. In fact, I believe this conversation provides insight to the contrary. Just as political violence manifests itself on our bodies, our bodies enable us to carry out personal physical actions that have institutional repercussions. This discussion reinforced my belief that we must reexamine ourselves as political bodies. As our physical bodies are the recipients of trauma caused by social and political forces often beyond our control, they are also the vessels through which we can demonstrate our resistance.
This is done through the intentional positioning of our bodies in a social context. This may appear obvious since our actions are always used as a barometer for who we are and what we stand for. I’m arguing, however, that we should be more critical of which actions we deem to be representative of our political beliefs. We have been taught that our schoolwork, professional work, what we read, what we write, how we dress and even the food we choose to consume have larger ramifications than merely how they impact our personal lives. We have a basic understanding that where, when and how we present ourselves not only gives us some control over how we are perceived, but also allows us to represent our political convictions.
Rarely does this this framework extend into our ideas about our interpersonal, emotional and/or sexual relationships. Yet, it is in this realm where we should truly be conscious of our bodies as physical representations of the political. I would urge everyone to be introspective about the way we situate our bodies in relation to others. We need to examine whom we engage with, how we engage with these people and recognize the institutional dimensions that influence these interactions.
We need to see our bodies not only as platforms on which political violence is acted upon but also through which resistance can be manifested. How we present our bodies is a political act, and I am talking about more than just what we choose to wear. It is important to erase the belief that our physical interpersonal relationships—who and how we choose to engage, love, screw—are merely a matter of circumstance. No, these actions are reflections of our internalizations of systems of power and can also be active forms of resistance to those same systems.
Ask yourself: do I only date within my racial and ethnic identity? What is the racial and gendered composition of my friend group? Did I choose this, or is this just how it ended up?
I am not talking about acceptance or tolerance or diversity, or any of the terms that are thrown around when discussing friend groups or relationships. I am not urging you to diversify who you talk to or have sex with. There are often legitimate and compelling reasons for choosing tostay within your social circle. But that is the key idea here: active choice. I am asking how many of us make active decisions regarding how we will conduct ourselves with a person by taking into account dynamics of race, gender, class and/or privilege. Do we make these decisions in order to physically dismantle inequities of current power structures? Do we make these decisions in order to maintain them? And if we aren’t making an active decision at all, than in what way are we perpetuating institutional or physical violence through our non-action?
Our physical presence is political.
By occupying a certain space, by building relationships with specific people, your body is either representing or counteracting certain entrenched social beliefs. We cannot deny this or prevent it, so we must work with it. We can claim to adhere to a philosophy of radical change, but how do we physically position our bodies to engender such change?
Bell hooks and Eve Ensler discussed the importance of coming together as a black woman and a white woman to address the issues of power and privilege within their work as feminists. They made the choice to engage in dialogue, one individual act that physically breaks the silence between white and black feminists in this country. I am not claiming that this is revolutionary or groundbreaking, and of course, they are not representatives of all women, and do not speak for all women. But they are aware of how their physical unity is an act of defiance to pressures that often set them against one another. The simple act of speaking together is a visible manifestation of resistance towards a system that would prefer to keep these women apart.
Erida Mariela Tosini-Corea is a Columbia College junior majoring in Sustainable Development and is the Director of Curriculum Development for the WomanHOOD Project; she is also a participant in the 2014 Columbia-Barnard Vagina Monologues.
by: Miguel Orea
“Where the fuck are you going?” I just stood there frozen not sure how to respond. Before I could, he slams me against a wall, knocking the air out of me and the smile I wore 2 minutes earlier along with it. I He pressed my face harder and harder against the wall, while he ran his hands through my pockets. I felt a numbness rush over my body, too many things happening for my mind to register and react to it.
“Dumb fucking spic.”
“you dirty Mexican.”,
“Don’t say a word or I’ll bust your fucking lip open.”
He screamed at me with a hate in his voice that rattled my soul. He pulls my school ID out of my pocket while making a remark about my name then tosses it across the street. That’s when he ripped my backpack and track bag off my back. A swift push and I’m on the ground, seconds later the contents of my bags join me. That must have been when he decided he was finished and walked away, but as he did he uttered the words that scared me most,
“Now get the fuck up and pick your shit up before I give you a ticket for littering.”
I gathered my stuff as quickly as I could and bolted to the bus stop faster than I ever had, knees trembling and still unable to compose myself I waited at that bus stop for what felt like hours, more vulnerable and isolated than I had ever felt before in my life despite the typical rush hour crowd. I felt violated and robbed; not of the two dollars I kept in my back pocket for a Gatorade and apple after practice but of my dignity and sense of security.
This is not a representation of everyone’s experience with Stop-And-Frisk and should not be used as an example to represent that; this is my personal experience being Stopped-And-Frisked as a frail 5’6 120 pound 16 year old kid walking home from school in a broad day light. However I am certainly not alone in this experience, this is a reality that far too many people of color have to fear; walking down the street every day being physically harassed and abused by those meant to serve and protect them from that very situation. The reality of Stop-And-Frisk is that it lacks any accountability for violent and racially motivated actions such as these, which only work to further the already existing chasm between the NYPD and communities of color, as it did with me that day. This is not a condemnation of the ideology behind Stop-And-Frisk but rather the implementation of it which has failed far too many people of color in New York City.
Miguel is a Senior at Columbia College studying Political Science and Human Rights.
by Katie Zheng
it isn’t the first time this has happened; it happens all the time, in fact
you tell me that i need to think about things in a different way
perhaps i have not been fair to you
or to myself
and i think to myself every time it is easy! so easy for you to say that
i’m not trying to be oblique. i refuse
that easy way, i will say what i need to and want to say
clearly and with force, the way that so many of my teachers outlined
when they told me my thoughts were unruly and wild
like across the profundity of saltwater
my relatives and ancestors were too
it cuts through; eventually, you think!
not animal but human. that there is a natural order
that this system will work for me one day
after all, i am here
the lights on college walk from my window so bright and indefinite
my parents are bleeding from their fingers with anxiety because i am so far
i say solidarity. with everyone! i hold hands with them all
the white man whose love is so revolutionary
my white teacher who told me that there is more to life than anger
these white walls around me which i have tried and failed to fill with home
i have tried so hard to feel that space and incubate
correctly. but white is not my home
nor will it ever be, right? i think what you meant when
you told me to be reasonable and hold my tongue
when i said i’d burn a white woman’s house down if she stole my man
when i said i felt like foucault’s unthought you said—
it is too much. just for now.
what you meant was
i need to wait forever in line!
what you meant was
i need to feel less and bleed less!
what you meant was
when i call home and my whole body aches
nothing can mend a tectonic fault
Katie Zheng is a first year at Columbia College. She plans to study comparative literature.
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by Zahra Bhaiwalla
I hate you I hate you I hate you
And I want to erase you
Chase you down
Just like you did
Sometimes I wish I could hunt you kill you fry you
I just wish you could fly away
From my mind my waking eye my
In the most recent update on the alleged hate crime that happened on Sunday, May 5th, Columbia’s Asian American Alliance sends out a response:
Columbia Asian American Alliance
Statement on Alleged Hate Crime
May 9, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Updated 4:24 PM
According to several news sources, an alleged hate crime occurred on Columbia University’s campus involving a number of Columbia students on Sunday, May 5, in which one student, a Black male athlete, allegedly called another, an Asian male, racial slurs and pushed him against a wall. As a consequence of the incident, the suspect faces criminal charges.
Columbia’s Asian American Alliance (AAA), along with a number of student leaders from across campus, have submitted statements to the Columbia University administration regarding our concerns and urging the university to take action. Furthermore, a number of us have met with members of the administration to discuss these concerns and urge the administration to act accordingly. We are thankful that the administration has been very responsive to our needs and are hopeful that they will continue to address the situation in a timely and thoughtful manner.
We are deeply concerned about the environment maintained on our campus. This is not an isolated event, nor should the perpetrator of this incident be treated as an anomaly. The fact that this incident occurred points to a systemic culture of hateful speech and action on Columbia’s campus, of which this incident is merely the latest manifestation.
UPDATE: Columbia’s administration released two more statements, one from the OMA and one from Athletics. Their responses follow KevSho’s:
In case you missed it, on Sunday, May 5, there was an incident of anti-Asian hate crime on Columbia’s campus. A few minutes ago, Columbia’s administration responded with the following statement:
As educators and leaders of a diverse learning community, we are deeply concerned when racism, sexism, homophobia and incivility—whether in words, actions or posts of any kind—target individuals or groups. Such behavior violates our Community Principles:http://www.studentaffairs.columbia.edu/comdev/principles.