We do have a whole lot of baggage around this word, especially North Americans. This word has served to make us feel dehumanized. The word has also served to make us act dehumanized. Of course, I’m not only talking about black people here in the USA. So we all understand how powerful the word appears to be. I’m reminded of a joke Richard Pryor told long ago about how Vietnamese people first arriving here in the USA are taught how to say the word. In the joke, the newly arrived immigrants are made to do drills of pronouncing the word and developing proficiency. The punch line said, “if you get your ass kicked you know you made it”. Richard was the truth.
What a word, what a word, what a mighty strong word! So many people are using the word, developing a proficiency with it! Tweeking and twerking and twisting it! The word is morphing all the time. I’ve seen it spelled with a variety of unlikely letters. The letter Q! The letter U! It’s straight Sesame Street up in here. But the letter N is always there. That first letter is the heart and soul and marrow of the word. Without it, the word is eviscerated! Yes, that first letter is so important, that it stands on its own to represent the entire essence of the word.
The power! The meaning! It means so many things, to so many people! I’ll never forget the time I heard some Vietnamese kids using the word among themselves. I was in a Vietnamese sandwich shop near the SF Public Library, and a group of teens was using the word with abandon. Punctuating their every sentence with it. Each kid. One to another. Richard was right. My jaw hit the floor of that little hole in the wall sandwich shop with a thud.
Oh, that WORD! It seems to have some kind of voodoo to it, where people can make a comeback, a step up, a come up and rise, all out of this one little word. We often get so twisted up with just the utterance of it. We fight against each other, or for each other. The elders against the youths; the youths against the babies! Some utter the word to show that they down. Some to show that they hardcore. Some to show they can hang. Some to show they got cred, cool, skillz. The word is so heavy! There’s so much weight that it’s made to carry. There are so many opinions and counter opinions, hatred against fighters, fighters against hatred!
There’s real naivete, and feigned naivete. Props and smack talk. Friendships and enemyships are built and destroyed and rebuilt around this one little bitty itty word.
Careers are built, destroyed and rebuilt on the power, (or perceived power) of this strange, dark word. Rap careers, movie careers, director careers, writing careers, political careers, pimp mack daddy, and Queen Beez careers – all built and destroyed and rebuilt on this heavy laden word.
Fashion careers, high styling and profiling careers. All on one little teeny tiny, teensy weensy, itty bitty, one letter word.
Only in America.