Date: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 11:20:20 EST
From: Larry Horn LHORN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALEVM.CIS.YALE.EDU
Subject: Re: ADS-L Digest - 27 Oct 1997 to 28 Oct 1997
Ron Rabin writes,
Someone also noted that African American use of nigger reclaimed it, as
did homosexual use of queer. But my sense is that nigger has been used
right along as a general reference term for black man (not black women?
not by black women?) by African Americans for as long as I've heard it
spoken. And you?
The someone was me, but I agree with the point: "nigger" has evidently been
used by African Americans (although I think there has been a conscious recent
reclamation effort too) in a way not quite parallelled by "queer" or other
recent reclamation efforts ("hag", "dyke", etc.).
What do we know, historically and a matter of sociolinguistic practice and
lore, about a group themselves using a term neutrally that is used to
label them from outside negatively? We do have the example of "Black
is beautiful" where a group asserts as positive that which is used
as a negative. What I find interesting is that nigger could remain
neutral for black speakers while it exists (and existed) in such a nasty
sense for whites.
One candidate for this status that I think doesn't really fit is the Yiddish
"yid", referring to a (Jewish) person. This word was around in Yiddish before
becoming a pejorative in German and English, I believe. Someone who knows the
history can correct me.