It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!…So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? Because in spite of myself I’ve learned some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled “file and forget,” and I can neither file nor forget. Nor will certain ideas forget me; they keep filing away at my lethargy, my complacency. Why should I be the one to dream this nightmare? — Ralph Ellison
Twenty one years ago I wrote my first published essay, HeyNigger—The Power Of A Word. In it I examined the origin and use of the word ‘nigger’ from a personal and historical perspective. For me the transformation of that day was one of extreme power and influence and led indirectly to this website eight years later because I wanted to share what I had learned from life.
In his book The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison said that Black people living in a white society had to be multidimensional. By the very nature of American society we were forced to learn how to live and function in two different worlds and for many years that is exactly what I did. I lived in two different worlds defined by race. One white, one black.
That all changed when I moved to Fiji. My life is no longer divided. Perhaps it is this lack of division which caused Richard Prior to proclaim after his arrival in Africa in 1979 that,”There are no niggers here!” He did not see people defined by the prejudice of the society in which they lived. He saw people who defined themselves. He saw free, beautiful people of color not having to deal with the dualities of black white racism in their homeland. It was after this experience that Richard Prior discontinued the use of the word ‘nigger’ in his stage performances.
As a race Black Americans attempted self definition in the sixties but we still live in a society were we are invisible except during election years.
In that first essay I wrote, “All I can do is understand the energy I give to this word and then disarm it, take away its razor edge as best I can, remove its demeaning quality while still recognizing it as derogatory. I can take away this word’s ability to create the reaction it did and no longer be its victim!” And so as of today, the birthday of Martin L. King Jr., I am taking those written words a step further. I will not only “disarm it.” I will eliminate it. I will no longer use the word ‘nigger’ in any of my writings or everyday conversations except in direct quotation. I made a similar transition with the word ‘hate’ in 2009. See Hate—The Word. By eliminating these two words from my vocabulary and writings I hope to make my life more positive and self defined. I live in Fiji now, the people are beautiful and come in all shades of color from white to black. As Richard Prior learned from his trip to Africa, and I from living in Fiji— “There are no niggers here!”