Who’s to blame?

Just about every tongue is wagging about Nas and his decision to title his new album Nigger and wear a T-shirt to the Grammys bearing that expression.Reactions have been mixed. Some are indifferent, others think it’s ingenious, but many find Nas’ title offensive and upsetting.

Even my hometown church, St. Sabina, has weighed in on the criticism. This past Sunday I read a notice posted in the church bulletin titled “Stop Rapper Nas.”

“Nas may have the legal right to put out such a CD, but he has obviously failed in his moral responsibility,” the bulletin read.

In defense to titling his album Nigger, Nas, said he wanted to take power out of the word.

“I wanna make the word easy on mutha–as’ ears,” he said in an interview with MTV News.

You see how white boys ain’t mad at ‘cracker’ ’cause it don’t have the same [sting] as ‘nigger’? I want ‘nigger’ to have less meaning [than] ‘cracker’.”

Here is why attempting to take power out of the word “nigger” and making it as hurtful as the word “cracker” is an exercise in futility.

“Nigger” cannot be compared to “cracker” because “cracker” was a term mainly used to describe poor White southerners (similar to the term “White trash”) and wasn’t used as a derogatory term for all Whites. So, if I am an upper middle class Caucasian who lives in New York, of course I wouldn’t be offended by the term cracker.

Nigger, on the other hand, was used to describe all men and women of African descent living in the United States, and it wasn’t until the later part of the 20th century that it was considered inappropriate to use in describing African Americans.

Second of all, our generation will never understand what it’s like to be called three-fifths of a human, beaten to death just to have the right to vote, and being called “nigger” while rocks are thrown at you. And titling an album or changing the spelling to “nigga” to make it less offensive will never change that.

But do I think this album should be banned? Not necessarily. Chances are if it’s a Nas album, it won’t get much play on the radio anyway. (They are too busy playing Lil Wayne every five minutes).

And isn’t recent criticism of the title of Nas’ album a little hypocritical? After all, how is the title of Nas’ CD any worse than DJ Khalid proclaiming, “We the best! Who? We, nigga!” in the beginning of the hit song “I’m so hood?” Or the gratuitous use of the N-word by the hip hop community on a daily basis?

When I saw Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins I was taken aback by how many times the N-bomb was dropped by comedian Mike Epps.

We have to ask ourselves if Nigger is the real issue here. While I don’t agree with Nas’ album title, at the end of the day it is a title that’s meant to spark controversy. I have an even bigger problem with depictions of African Americans acting like the stereotypical “nigger” that are broadcast for the whole world to see.

If Flavor of Love, midgets in devil costumes, glorified and delusional images of life in the “hood”, senseless violence, materialism, sexism, and degradation of the African American woman is all we have to show the world then we are in trouble.

As African Americans, and as a generation born and raised in hip hop we need to analyze and discuss its message, not only disseminated amongst ourselves, but worldwide. And at the end of the day, that’s more important than an album title.