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Other Articles from The Villager

How art created N-word in Namibia

Thu, 4 September 2014 17:47
by Andreas Kathindi

Namibian rappers and youth in general have used culture and art to embrace a system that calls them ‘Nigger’ – a derogatory term derived from negro during the dark times of slavery- although they still take with a pinch of salt being called a Kaffir as they associate the later with oppression.
Ironically history books have shown that more often than not most emancipated black youths in Namibian and the world over who have access to historical material do not want to be associated to either of the words but are dragged to the fantasy by way of mass culture.
Academics and musicians who spoke to Vibe this week concur that there has been a significant growth on the number of youths who have embraced the N-word.
In fact a snap survey in the Namibian arts industry shows that despite a history submerged in the oppression of all black people in the western world, these days, it is common to hear the word ‘Nigger’ being uttered by  black folk, more than anyone else.
Youthful politician and academic and black consciousness believer, Job Shipululo Amupanda explains why black people welcomed the word.
“You have to understand the historicity of the word. It is part of the history of the black slaves in America and following the civil rights movement they decided to convert the negativity of the word in order to de-legitimise its strength as a tool for oppression, but of course white people are not allowed to use it,” says Amupanda.
He agrees that Hip Hop played a crucial part in the N-word gaining eminence amongst black folk as “Hip Hop became part of the liberation culture and hence carried the message.”
Black Vulcanite rapper, Mark Mushiva, known for deep lyrics involving topics of black consciousness and who has used the word in his lyrics on occasion says, “It’s been appropriated to invoke some or other kind of camaraderie amongst members of the global black community. I’ve often used it for the same purpose, although of course under the sway of being edgy and hip.”
He adds that he has also used the word in situations where he wanted to emphasise the negative characteristics of black people through a “white” lens, even though he has since trained himself not to do such  “because of how infectious it can be.”
Mushiva however remains doubtful of whether a word can completely rid itself of the negativity surrounding it.
“I hardly think you can disentangle the innocuous noun from its more sinister cousin. Some people add a “ga” towards the end to polarize the two words but I’m afraid the very sound of the word plays on a tacit emotion that varies from person to person.”
He believes it is highly unlikely that the word can shed the negative connotation as long as colour lines divide us and force us to reflect on the terrible etymology of the word.
Mainstreamed by rappers like  Jay Z and the late Tupac Shakur, the usage of the N-word went global, spilling all the way down to the south west of the African continent, where artists like Jericho and KK have now embraced the word as a major component in their rhymes. The audacity behind black communities’ adoption of the very word that was used in their subjugation has raised more questions than answers and has been the subject of many a debate. .
Although the N-word is of American origins and has been adopted by black people in Africa, Southern Africa in particular has had its own share of a derogatory word which was used to put down black people: the word, ‘Kaffir.’
It however seem that the sting of this word is still quite fresh for many a people. But can the same principle that was utilised to quell the bite of the N-word be applied here?  
Amupanda disagrees. He argues that, “there’s no way black people here (in Africa) could ever call each other that because there’s a difference in context with its American equivalent. The oppressors there (in the USA) were indigenous, whereas here, the whites where not. I cannot speak theoretically because it will never happen.”