I have a friend named Keith who likes to use the word “nigger” a lot. Maybe it’s because he’s black, maybe not. I don’t like to associate behaviors with colors. But a few months after we met and started hanging out, he began insisting that I call him nigger. Not like every time I talk to him. But he wanted me to be comfortable saying that to him. Why?
We stood in the hall one day for several minutes while he tried to talk me into saying the word. I had been talking about this black client of ours who was an asshole, and I said something like, “I can’t stand that big dumb…” and I didn’t finish the sentence. The joke was that I was saying it to Keith to see if he’d catch what I was throwing. And he did, and he called me out on it. He said, “Go ahead, say it.” I shook my head. No, I don’t want to say it, because I don’t really feel that way.
Well anyway, after another month or so, I finally warmed up to it, as I’d been hanging out with Keith and his pals, and they sort of took me in, accepted me, considered me one of their own. I was as black as any of them. So when we’d meet up for lunch or something, he’d say, “What’s up, nigga?” and I’d say it back to him. That’s what he wanted. All right, I can go with that. If that’s something the black guys consider a friendly term, I’ll go along. Hey, they own the word now as far as I’m concerned. They can use it however they see fit.
So I called Keith one day on his cell phone. I hadn’t talked to him in a few days, and when he answered, I said, “Hey, what’s up, nigger?” And the voice on the other end said, “Who this?” Uh… It’s space. “Oh, you lookin’ for Keith?” he said. Uh huh. He said he’d have him call me.
So Keith calls me and says, “Hey man, my brother says you called him a nigger…”
Uh, yeah. Actually I guess I did. Because YOU freakin’ TOLD ME TO! So after an uncomfortable situation like that, I went back to not using the word. His brother was cool with it, just wanted to screw with me, but still. The last thing I want to do is call some black guy I don’t even know a nigger. The whole point of Keith’s plight was to get me friendly with his boys. Not to get my ass kicked. I’ll stick to what I know, thank you.