I'm not going to lie and pretend that at one point in time, I didn't say the word "nigga" in almost every sentence. It was the equivalent of the word "dude" to me. I would say it in reference to a friend, in reference to someone who was not a friend, and in reference to any guy (even non-black men). I've always known the history of the word, but it never seemed like a derogatory phrase to me. Actually, in some cases, I saw it as a term of endearment, a pet name of sorts.
Given my comfort and ease with which I tossed the word around like it was a soccer ball, you'd probably expect me to have no qualms with being called a "nigga," but that's the exact opposite of my reality. I've always hated being referred to as that word. It didn't matter who was saying it — a friend, stranger, or cousin — I didn't want them branding me with that term. I could never put into words why I would snap at people for calling me "nigga." I just didn't like it. I knew how hypocritical it was to sit around and call people something that I wouldn't even call myself, but I still did it. The word was cool to me and I was familiar with it, so why not?
The answer to that question is because it's degrading.
By now, we should all be familiar with the origin of the word "nigga" (black Twitter and black Tumblr have made enough posts about it to last a lifetime). It's a variant of the word "nigger," which was used by racist people to dehumanize blacks. By calling us a nigger, they were marking us as inferior, ignorant and unworthy. A little while later, some black person (I'm assuming this is how it went down) decided it would be empowering to replace the "er" ending with an "a" and start calling other black people that term, to sort of "reclaim" the word in an effort of defiance; to tell all racists that they can call us whatever they want, but we'll find a way to make it positive.
The idea is nice, except there's nothing empowering about the word at all.
I want you to stop and think about the definition of the word "nigga." Just for a moment, really ponder what it means. If you were able to come up with an actual definition, then I applaud you, because I surely can't. The dictionary definition of the word "nigger" is "an ignorant person." Nigger has an actual meaning. If "nigga" stems from 'nigger,' then what are we really calling each other when we say that word? The pronunciation of the two words has changed, but has anything else? Yes, the connotation has changed. Blacks (and non-black people that use the word when we're not around. Y'all ain't slick) generally perceive the word to be positive. But a change in connotation is not equivalent to a change in meaning.
The word "gay" used to mean happy, now it's a term to describe someone who is attracted to the same sex. This is an example of a word that's evolved. Can we say the same about "nigga"?
No, we can't. So we're basically still calling ourselves ignorant and inferior, just with a different pronunciation.
If the word has really changed, blacks need to ask themselves why they get upset when a non-black person says the word. Of course, we could use the excuse that it's "our" word (I mean, can you actually claim a word, though?) and that its history is deeply personal, so only we should have the right to use the word... But is that really all there is to it? Is it possible that we don't like when non-black people say the word because it brings up the same stomach-turning, infuriating feelings that emerge when we hear the original N-word? Is it because it reminds us of the days when racists proudly toted the term in order to disparage us?
That's my reason. It may be different for you. But it absolutely boils my blood when I hear anything remotely resembling the N-word because I am ready to move past the disparaging days of Jim Crow. I am ready for my people to feel empowered and self-assured. And we really can't do that if we keep hearing that word tossed around every second. The more we use it, the more normalized it becomes, and it doesn't deserve to be normalized. It's not normal to degrade yourself (the same thing applies to women who refer to themselves as bitches and hos, but I digress), and I don't want any non-black person thinking it's okay to toss around a word loaded with such a violent and hateful history.
I'm not going to tell you what you can or can't say. How people choose to use their freedom of speech is up to them. I simply suggest being more mindful of the words you use to mark yourself and those around you; but you also can't get offended when someone uses a word that you, yourself, use to refer to yourself and those who look like you. It's hypocritical, and honestly, a little outlandish.
We have to make the decision of whether we want to let that hurt go and allow everyone else to say the word, or drop it altogether, because, at the end of the day, it's still a negative word at heart. And no one benefits from its use.