An Introduction: Why I Use the Word ‘Faggot’

Legendary emcee, NaS.

As an undergraduate, I majored in African American Studies, I program which was chronically understaffed, underfunded and under-supported by my diversity-touting university.

During one of my introductory courses, the professor mentioned offhandedly that he hated the fact that our field of study was referred to with the term “African American.” When members of the class asked why, the professor replied curtly, “It should be called Niggerology. I’d rather be referred to as a nigger than an African American. It’s far more accurate.”

His inflammatory remarks were met with genuine shock by the class, with many students squirming uncomfortably in their seats, and a few even excusing themselves momentarily. I myself was surprised, having never heard a figure of academic authority make such a statement, and appreciated the jab at our hypocritical institution. It wasn’t until many years later in my own education, however, that I began to understand what the professor had been trying to get at.

“The n word” is debated ad nauseum in Black/Brown communities and beyond, and certainly was in my family when I began using it as an early teen. Almost inevitably framed as an inter-generational feud, tomes, documentaries, lyrics, poems and articles abound which address various hypotheses as to the roots of the word, its geographical lineage, its shifting meanings over time, and its contested usage in popular culture. What few if any of these texts address, however, is why the word persists as a topic of debate, and continues to live on as a loved and hated staple of the community. This, I believe, is what my professor was attempting to address.

The term “African American,” which attempts to smooth out the hatred and disenfranchisement so associated with other terms, likewise erases the violent histories of black folks on this continent, ones which are as silenced and secondary as ever. It is complicit with the myth of the melting pot, and allows us to imagine that we have all miraculously arrived at a moment of shared rights and universal opportunities. It fails to remind us that rape, conquest, genocide and forced labor may have more to do with how we got here, and that poverty, privatization, and other neoliberal reforms are working in this current moment to dismantle our rights, not multiply them.

For me, the question then arises: Does the n word persist because the systems which create us as abject, denounce our histories and erase our identities as oppressed people also live on?

The reasons why I refer to myself with the word “faggot,” and why I have given that title to this blog, are the same ones which caused my professor to suggest a new title for Black Studies. It is not to hurt or offend any members of any generation of my community, nor is it to shock individuals of any gender or sexual identity. Rather, in an era of mainstream media representation, invisible trauma and neoliberal reform (gay marriage is still imagined as the primary political issue of the queer community), it is to remind myself and others who stand by me that we are different, we are abject, and we do exist in opposition to current social, political and economic orders. The goal of this realization is not, as so many tend to argue when they hear my usage, to make us feel victimized, disempowered or hopeless. On the contrary, it is to remind us that we as queers, as Brown people, as women, as disabled, immigrant, poor and marginal communities have a unique role in tearing down the current order and imagining whole new ones which can bring justice to all people.

It is only when we remember our opposition, invest in our outsiderness, that we can commit to working together to topple down power, rather than finding spaces for our individual benefit inside its oppressive machinery.

2 responses to “An Introduction: Why I Use the Word ‘Faggot’

    • Thank you so much for the encouragement. I would love to know more about what you all are doing to keep these fires going in your neck of the woods. Stay up!

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