Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Infamous "N-Word"

By: Krystal Flores

A few days ago, Professor Rosa showed the class a couple of interesting YouTube videos regarding the use of the “n-word,” that at first left people speechless, but then sparked some rather interesting conversation. Discussions about the “n-word” always come along with the question of “who gets to use it and why?” 
      So let us go back to last Wednesday in Bobst room LL151 around 11:45a.m. when this video was played for us in class. At the shocking moment of two minutes and thirty-three seconds into the video, Jennifer Lopez, or JLo as she is most often referred to as, drops “the n-word.” Yes folks. That is correct. JLo said “nigga.” Now let us take a step back and analyze this for a minute. She is Puerto Rican and from the Bronx, which some would say gives her enough “street cred” to use it. However, even so, numerous people were upset by the comment and could not believe that she used it. 
Next up, to complicate matters a little further, as Professor Rosa put it, we were shown this video of one of Fat Joe’s hit songs Lean Back, where he uses the “n-word” a countless amount of times. The point of this video was to show the ways in which Fat Joe can say the word and not be marked for it, and yet again re-analyze the question of “who gets to use it and why?” 
The most important thing to note within these two cases is the type of music each artist is making as well as the type of audience they get portrayed to. Jennifer Lopez, although Puerto Rican and from the Bronx, has not once in her whole career come across to me as this street girl with any kind of street cred whatsoever. She was never this girl that came into the music industry and needed to be trained on how to be “standard,” or “less ghetto.” I understand how this may sound because it seems like I am trying to say that if you are from the Bronx you must be “ghetto,” but that is not it at all. The only purpose of me saying that is just to show that Jennifer Lopez was not a Pop music star, being portrayed to a white audience, because that is what the industry made her do, that is who she is. She is not from the street and she is not ghetto because no one can hide their “true colors” for this many years. The point is, if JLo was really that hood, she would not be able to conceal who she really is for this long, and she certainly would not need to come out with songs reminding her audience that she still is indeed from the Bronx. “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got, I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block.” JLo, no you’re not. You would not dare to step foot in the Bronx just to visit your old neighborhood. Let’s be real.  
Now Fat Joe on the other hand, although he is also Puerto Rican and from the Bronx, works from a different rule book than JLo does. Hip Hop music and culture is so different from all other genres of music because of how raw and authentic it can be. Although I am sure there are people out in the world that think Fat Joe should not say the “n-word,” his use of it goes unmarked a lot of the time because the word has become so adapted into Hip Hop culture throughout the years. It may sound wrong, but I put the “n-word,” in the same word category as “queer,” in that both words were once considered to be so derogatory, but somehow throughout the years, became reclaimed by their respective groups. Again, just as a little disclaimer, not everyone feels this way, but most do; there are still some black people that do not feel that the “n-word” is a good word to say, just as there are still queer people who would rather use another word to refer to their sexuality. 
In this video, Fat Joe is questioned about his use of the “n-word,” and responds in some rather interesting ways. He discusses that where he is from and the lifestyle he was involved in, embraced the word as a term of endearment. Calling someone the “n-word” was a way of recognizing them as your brother and close friend. He also talks about how blacks and latinos are one in the same; they face the same types of discrimination and come from the same neighborhoods. Fat Joe and JLo simply differ in their personalities, in my opinion. Maybe JLo did use the word many times, but when approached about it she backed away from the conflict and embraced the idea that it was wrong. Unlike Fat Joe where he stood up for his position and basically said where he is from, there is nothing wrong with it. 
A discussion of the use of the “n-word” outside the realm of only African Americans using it, would not be complete unless I mention authenticity. Within many of the articles I read for class, almost all the scholars touch upon authenticity and whether or not the language people use is authentic for their ethnicity. In my opinion, authenticity is not fully based on your ethnicity, but more so on where and how you were raised. Therefore, I do not think that Fat Joe is trying to act black or prove anything to the black community with his actions because for him, it is a normalized term. For Fat Joe, the “n-word” is not derogatory and so it is much more socially accepted in the contexts that he would use it in. However, Mike’s language, from Cecilia Culter’s article “Yorkville Crossing: White Teens, Hip Hop and African American English,” would most likely be looked down upon if he went to the Bronx because he is not authentically the person he is portraying himself to be. He is a white teen from Park Ave in New York City; people who live on Park Ave do not call their colleagues as the “n-word.” Park Ave and the Bronx are two completely different cultures. Mike is imitating, faking, and trying hard to emulate his favorite rapper on television, meanwhile Fat Joe grew up in a certain environment that shaped him to be the way he is. Mike was raised in a “standard-English” speaking home, so for him to speak AAVE the way he does, he is using some much needed effort. 

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