There is no other racially derogatory word that has more pain and historical impact than the word nigger. Dating back to 1619 when the first Africans were brought to Virginia and were enslaved writer, John Rolfe wrote in his journal the Africans were negars rooting from the Latin word niger meaning black. Negar developed into a parallel lexicon-semantic reality in English as a result of the white southern pronunciation of the word negar to nigger.

The word nigger was and still remains used as a term of exclusion for African Americans. During both American slavery and the Jim Crow caste system negative stereotype images were used to portray African Americans with the word nigger being used as an accent. Negative portrayals of African Americans in commercial business and media can date back as far as 1874. Material objects such as toys, postcards, ashtrays, detergent boxes and children’s books were all marketed to the white consumer

In 1917 even tobacco companies used the word nigger as a marketing tool. The American Tobacco Company had a “Nigger Hair”, redemption coupon that was redeemable for cash. In the 1930’s there were nursery rhymes, playing cards and toys designed for children using the word nigger. The famous writer, Agatha Christie published a novel called Ten Little Niggers that was later adapted to Ten Little Indians but as late as 1978 copies with the original title were being produced. Children’s teapot sets were also sold with the word nigger written in script on the dishes including negative images of African Americans. Lullabies were also published by music companies such as, “Your Just a Little Nigger, Still You’se Mine, All Mine.”

The racial hierarchy, which began during slavery and extended into the Jim Crow period, was not challenged until the Civil Rights Movement. The word nigger was then used for social and historical commentary with such examples as Dick Gregory’s autobiography, Nigger or H. Rap Brown’s, Die Nigger Die. Teenagers as young as eleven years old protested for equal rights and not to be called nigger. They were beaten by the police, hosed down with water and haled off to jail.  Even though there was landmark Supreme Court Decisions, a black empowerment movement, the word nigger has not died.

After a period of dormancy in the public eye, nigger has been reborn into popular culture. In the 1970’s Richard Pryor won a Grammy for his comedy act album, “That Nigger’s Crazy”, but after a pilgrimage to Africa Pryor disavowed never to use the word again.

Today Rap music is under attack for it’s casual use of the word nigger and these artists argue that they are using the word as a term of empowerment or endearment but the word nigger is often accented with other lyrics about drugs, killing, and degrading lyrics about women. Some argue that the word could never be seen as a word of empowerment but reflects a duality of confusion in our society because we are not taught a comprehensive history about African Americans in this country.