Thursday, March 16, 2006
Subverting a subversive word
It's been a week. I've been just about crazy-busy, but I guess I should post something, in case my three readers are still out there. So...
On the way to work one morning last week, I was listening to the radio while two (white) DJ's where expressing great indignation at Damon Wayans's attempt to register the word "nigga" as a trademark. (In case you didn't know, Damon Wayans has spent the last year-and-a-half quietly trying to trademark the word "nigga." He wants to it as a brand name for clothes, music, and other stuff, as well as movies and television shows. It seems that he even wants to open a line of Nigga brick-and-mortar retail stores. The Patent and Trademark Office has been quietly rejecting his applications. Anyway, back to the two (white) DJs:) They both remarked how hard "the late Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife" worked to erase nigger/nigga from the language. They made a big point that the word was derogatory. Honestly, they went on and on. They were really worked up. I was surprised because these two DJ's are normally sort of soft-core shock-jocks, and this little burst of PC was unlike them. Oh... and another thing: They never actually said the words "nigger" or "nigga." They always said "the N word," or spelled it ("It's outrageous that Wayans wants to trademark n-i-g-g-a!").
Hey, if Damon Wayans wants to trademark "nigga," I have only one thing to say:
Go for it!
As my two indignant (white) DJ's pointed out, many people have worked very hard to stamp out "nigger." And you know what? They haven't succeeded. And they won't. They can't. It's not possible. A language isn't subject to editing. However, it is subject to transmutation, and that's why Wayans's idea is so great: There's no better way to remove the stigma from a word than to welcome it into general circulation. Consider the words "shit" and "damn." When I was young, these were seldom heard, and when you heard one of them you knew something very, very bad had happened, or someone was very, very angry. Now they're so common that, not only do they no longer mean anything bad, they can actually mean something good:
I'm having a hot date over for dinner tonight, so I spent $20 on the good shit.
You got me tickets to the ballet? Sheeeeit!
That's your car? Hot damn!
The same thing would happen if we just let Wayans have his trademark:
That's my new TV. Look how sharp the picture is. It's a Nigga!
I asked that hot chick out, and she said yes! I need to look my best. I'll wear my Niggas.
Welcome, everyone, to the Waylon Jennings and Trisha Yearwood show, sponsored by Nigga Productions!
Wayans could singlehandedly do what generations of civil rights leaders could not. All we have to do is grant him a trademark.
Excuse me while I write to my senator....