N-Words In Paris

Globalization through technologies such as the internet and radio have made it easier to connect with people from around the world. In France, American pop culture is cool and beloved amongst the youth. As most hip Americans know, American pop culture is centered in African American culture. The French youth are pushing away from the traditional Euro dress code. Traing their dress pants and shoes for skinny fitted sweat pants and Nikes. Hip Hop and R&B are the music of choice. On the cramped metro you can hear it blasting from their iPods. Unfortunately, with African American culture comes the infamous N word. From my experience in Paris, they have no problem playing uncensored music. Places such as Zara and have songs playing in the background with Chris Brown saying the N word about 30 times while unbothered mothers push their babies around looking for a new t-shirt. Even at Monoprix, the local grocery store you can catch uncensored Drake playing while you shop.

This issue struck a chord with me during the final UEFA Euro 2016 game France was up against Portugal. The streets were filled with Parisians and travelers from around the world. During the game cheering and conversation took place. A group of French men trying to get the attention of my blue eyed, tall, blonde friend asked where we were all from. My friend said California, the next said Ivory Coast and I said Washington DC. The young French guy around 25 turned to me with a smile and said, “West Side, Nigga!” My blood immediately boiled I was so hot I had to turn and walk away. First of all, he was completely wrong Washington DC is East coast and California is West. There was no logic to his comment. Did he just want to call me a nigger or express some false connection to American culture? None of it made sense. With disgust on my face and his words still floating in the air as I walked away furious. My Caucasian friend stood shocked at the transaction. I could hear him say ,“Did I say something wrong” and my Ivorian friend reply, “No”. That “No” felt as if it echoed and vibrated through me as I walked away. This sparked a debate between us. She felt it was foolish to be angry in the face of ignorance. I believed education is key and I should have said something. Later I saw the guy who ruined my night. To the chagrin of my friends I walked up to him and calmly said, “Hey I wanted to let you know saying nigger is disrespectful to African Americans. It's just not cool and inappropriate." He didn’t understand me at first and needed his friend to translate. I could tell he translated it verbatim. He apologized with the excuse that he did not know only learning American culture through Hip Hop music and of course he has many black friends and would never want to disrespect anyone. His friend was also in agreement with what I said apologized too.

It was clear to me that being an African American is a unique experience and our views are different from those who have been colonized. I believe this is rooted from African American absence of history and tradition prior to slavery, oppression and racism. This is our history, whereas countries that have been colonized had a sense of self, history and tradition prior to colonization.

Recently homesick I listened to my favorite American Podcast The Read. Two Parisian listeners on different occasion asked how to deal with the issue of their white friends wanting to use the N word around and at them. They too explained the ignorance of their white friends separating the derogatory meaning from the word to a cool slang used in Hip Hop music. The African American hosts were baffled that at the listeners could even call these people friends. Their response was comical but informed them that this is not a word up for debate. White people can not say nègre, nigger or nigga.

Several questions popped into my head, how could France one of the largest colonial empires in the 19th and 20th century not understand the hurt behind the N word? Should African Americans shy away from the N-word in music and daily life? Are African Americans seen as N-words around the world? Is ignorance truly bliss, allowing Europeans to say the N word without shame?

African Americans created this discourse on language in order to change the language that was handed to them. The idea if we change the language maybe we can change the structure in which it supports. By this, I mean using the term nigga themselves to take the sting out of a word used to oppress them. Thus it is frequently used in African American culture and now globally by those who feel they have been historically oppressed. Although it is amazing that African American culture is wildly received globally with trending hashtags such as black girl magic being used, interest in the black lives matter movement and Afro Punk making it to Paris. The repetition of the N-word in music and movies has normalized the word. Now ironically globally people of European decent feel as though they should be able to say the N-word too. This is ridiculous and should not be up for debate. African American historically and continually make huge strides against racial divide and stereotypes. From the black girl in Paris, the N-word is holding us back and it is time to walk away.
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