So I’m hitting the heavy bag at the boxing gym the other day when I notice my young Afghan friend walk through the door. As he walks toward me I realize I hadn’t seen him at the gym in about 3-4 months. So I momentarily stop my workout to say what’s up and ask where he’d been. He just looked at me while shaking his head. Then he leaned in close to me and said in a tone slightly above a whisper;
“I ain’t gone lie. A nigga got shot up hella bad you feel me.”
“For real?” I responded kind of surprised that he had gotten shot but even more surprised that he considered himself to be a nigga.
“Yeah dude. These Mexican Norteno niggas got at me over some punk ass shit.”
And I stood there dripping with sweat feeling tired and dumbfounded. I was wondering when did the “N” word become so universal. I mean I’ve been hearing Cambodians, Mexicans, and even some white boys refer to themselves as niggas since high school but it was something about this particular occasion that really struck me. I started asking myself does he feel like a nigga because he grew up poor, or because he is an immigrant, or because he had been shot, or because he listened to rap music, or simply because he wasn’t white. And even more importantly, is that OK?
My parents of course would answer that question with a resounding NO! Both of them having grown up in the segregated south they always felt like it is never Ok for anyone to use that word under any circumstances, but then again we always disobeyed. When my siblings and I got out of the earshot of adults we said the “N” word just as frequently as we used the “F” word and the “S” word. And even though all of our playmates were black we still knew it was wrong. We all knew about slavery, the KKK, the lynchings, and the marches but we still decided to throw that word around like it was harmless but now it was being thrown back at me.
I felt like maybe I should have been offended but I really wasn’t. I was just like wow this guy sounds really dumb. I thought about something C-Lo Green said back in the day when he was one of my favorite rappers and not just a soul singer. It was on the Goody Mobb’s “Still Standing” album when he dropped the line; “You ain’t a nigga because you black/ You a nigga because of how you act.” Well in that case if he wanted to be a nigga that badly then I guess I had to let him be that nigga. The choice was his.