“A Real Nigga Show” — True Stories About The Real Niggas All Of Us Were, Are, Or Could Have Been

a-real-nigga-show-pic-4

by Petula Caesar

Images from Director Troy Burton’s Facebook page

Last night I went to re-experience “A Real Nigga Show”, the production that blasted the roof off The Theatre Project this weekend.  This was my second time visiting the collection of characters that populate this choreopoem directed by Troy Burton, and my primary reason for returning to this particularly raw and gritty piece of theater was that I wanted to see how it moved me as my opinions about the word “nigga” have evolved.

a-real-nigga-show-pic-6

My daddy was a very assimilationist-minded Black man who felt the key to Black people’s collective success was to become as much like White people as possible. So he always detested the word nigger. (To him there was no other variation.) He detested all its historical and modern day connotations of shiftlessness, laziness, and just general you-ain’t-about-shit-ness of the word. He would not allow the word to be used in our house, not that it was being used anyway. Nigger was as vulgar a word as any every produced. It was never to be spoken. Educated, articulate, reasonable, thoughtful Black people in particular NEVER used the word in any context for any reason. And that was the bar that was set for me. The word “nigger” was, as they said back then, was a “fighting word”.

a-real-nigga-show-pic-7

But once I became an adult and went out into the world on my own, I found a lot of things were different from the way my daddy presented them. Particularly the word nigger. In the real world I almost never heard the word nigger, from Black people or White people. But what I did hear was the word “nigga”.

Now “nigga” was a derivation of the word nigger. But this derivative, this new word, this “nigga” was different. The word nigger had very limited definitions and use, and all of those definitions and uses were grossly negative. But this new “nigga” wasn’t like that. It was a chameleon. It had just as much power as nigger to boil the blood, but much more ability to change into all kinds of meanings without assistance from other words. A mere shift in the inflection of the voice could shift the word “nigga” from harshest insult to highest praise. There was never a way to make the word nigger a compliment on its own; it always required an adjective or some collection of descriptors as accompaniment – “smart nigger”, “good looking nigger”, “strong nigger”. But “nigga” didn’t need help! Simply saying it with the right amount of drag and pull on the middle consonants and the right amount of lilting sway on the beginning and the ending could turn it into something with affection dripping from each and every letter. This new “nigga” seemed to be better at interpreting the context of modern day Black experiences. It was able to reflect that nuanced context more easily. It possessed more fluidity, was more malleable, and though its roots were in oppression, something totally unexpected had sprung from those roots and presented itself.

a-real-nigga-show-pic-1

News about this new “nigga” found its way to my father, and he felt compelled to discuss it with me. He told me Black people who were educated about the history of the word nigger would never see fit to use it. He told me it was my responsibility as an educated young Black woman to not just follow along with the uneducated masses when it came to things like this. As a more thoughtful, well-read, better bred, more articulate young Black woman, I had to bring light to the darkness of the minds of anyone who thought the word nigger was, or could ever be, a positive thing to say. He reminded me of how stupid many Black people could be, about how so many Black people held onto ignorance and bad behaviors because they had never been taught to behave better. It was job to make it clear to anyone and everyone within my hearing that nigger was never an appropriate thing to say.

But by this time I had started writing. And as a writer, and as a truly passionate lover of language I found I really didn’t agree with his opinion. I am violently opposed to all limitations placed on the use of language. Period. This is especially true of the use of language passed onto oppressed peoples by their oppressors. As far as I’m concerned, any way the oppressed want to manipulate language to articulate their experiences is legitimate. And it is dangerous for other Black people to take elitist attitudes toward that natural and even necessary manipulation of languages we only speak because of centuries of systemic oppression.

audre-lorde-quote

Furthermore, language isn’t solely defined and determined by linguists and scholars and philosophers alone. Language isn’t created in some sort of sterile space Language is created by the users of that language, and carries all the weight of where there are in any given moment. The definitions of various words and phrases are created by the users of those words and phrases. And at times the meanings of words and phrases shift dramatically – one would be hard pressed to find anyone using the word “gay” to mean “happy” in current days and times. So while it is all well and fine for “educated” people to be highly cognizant of the history of the word nigger and to determine that is reason enough to banish it, there are many more people who don’t agree. And the use of language is one of the most democratic functions that exists – what the majority says truly goes. So even if you don’t use the word nigger or “nigga” yourself, there are large numbers of people around you who do – and you can’t stop them.  And language is contagious. If a new different way is found to convey a universally held thought or feeling, the more that method is used the more accepted it becomes. If a word is felt to ring with truth in the soul of the one using it, it cannot and will not die. It will only grow. It will take flight. In other words, the more you say “nigga”, the more ways you find to say “nigga”, the more of your truth you can tell with the word “nigga”, the more valid “nigga” becomes, the more broad the definition becomes. And the next thing you know, “nigga” is such a flexible word, it can even be used in the title of a sold out live theatrical performance like “A Real Nigga Show”.

a-real-nigga-show-pic-5

“A Real Nigga Show” is a theatrical encapsulation of all the ugly shit this country has heaped on African Americans, and a showcase of the many beautiful things African Americas have created from all that ugly shit. This new “nigga” is very much like soul food and hip hop – a beautiful, soulful and soul-filled creation born out of necessity with things that others considered not good enough for them but good enough for us. “A Real Nigga Show” is uniquely Baltimore too. You find this in the way distinctions are made between “Eas Side Real Nigga Shit” and “Wes Side Real Nigga Shit” in the vignette “Real Nigga Shit”. It is in the way the audience collectively recognizes the junkie lean so frighteningly and accurately portrayed by Robert Lee Hardy in the vignette “Bmore Stan The Man”, and the monologue that manages to represent and summarize every conversation you would have with a lifetime junkie. The differences between Blacks and Whites culturally are also clear – you see this in the way a broad joke about a girl being physically disciplined by her mom plays to hearty laughs from Black members of the audience, but plays to Whites with more discomfort and nervous uncomfortable chuckles. (Yes, White people come to “A Real Nigga Show” too!)

The whole point of “A Real Nigga Show” is best defined by one of the opening vignettes which also serves as a call to action. The cast asks all the men in the audience to join them onstage as they speak about how demonizing others creates distance, while humanizing others allows us to see our similarities. “A Real Nigga Show” speaks to the nigga is all of us, and hopefully will help us be kinder, more compassionate, and more human to all the niggas around us, no matter their race, creed, troubles, triumphs or station in life.

Many thanks to everyone who made “A Real Nigga Show” possible, with special thanks to the cast: Brandon Tate, Joshua Dixon, Davon Carey, Ezekiel “Eze” Jackson and Robert Lee Hardy.

,

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s