What’s in a name: ‘Nigga’ v. ‘Hotep’

“Nigga” is passed around like high-fives in today’s society. Hip hop has allowed for the term to become more mainsteam, and through musical waves it travels through multiple communities, cultures, and countries. However, the origin of the term still stings the oppressed people that it was made to remind of our alleged inferiority. Because of this, we fight to keep the term out of the mouths of those who spat it on us in the first place. However, many of us use it as a sense of endearment for black peers and those who we love and respect. On the other hand, a term like “hotep” is considered offensive when we reference it to another black person. It tends to be more controversial than if we called each other “nigga.” But what’s really in a word? A name can speak volumes, so what energy are we speaking onto other black people when we use these terms?

“Negus/negas” meant “to reign” or “royalty” in ancient, semitic Abyssinian languages. There were royal figures who had this title in their names. And many believe that the term may be the origin of “negro.” The derivative of “negro” began with the Latin usage as “niger/nigrum,” and, as Latin-romance languages, the Portuguese, Spanish, and French have their own takes on the term during the African slave trade and colonization (“negra,” “negro,” and “nègre,” respectively). The term here means “black person/black,” which was a concept that began with Europeans noting Africans’ skin color thousands of years ago. There never was a term for “black person” in the Americas. The concept of the Americas was still fairly new when the British settled in the area. However, the British during this time of colonialism tended to use the terms “Moor,” “Ethiopian,” or “black” to describe people with a darker complexion. So, where did “nigger” come from? Probably a hybrid of “negus,” romance languages’ terms, and a dollup of ignorance because it misappropriates the original term into something else with a complete opposite meaning. In the U.S., “nigger” meant “inferiority” or “depreciation.” A far stretch from royalty.

“Nigga” derives from “nigger.” It’s not that the current black society purposely changed it to reinvent ourselves and take ownership of the word. Majority of blacks in the U.S. during those times were forcibly brought here couldn’t — and were not allowed to — read and didn’t know the correct spelling. Also, southern dialects have a softer pronunciation of “R’s” in the deep South. (Think about it: Even the English have softer “R’s” if you were to do a British accent. In dialect and accent training for actors, it is know that people with Southern dialects do a very good British accent and vice versa.) That’s why “massa” (when referring to the slave master) wasn’t us taking back the term for the man who beat and raped us. We pronounced it the southern way. So stop with the bullshit. We’re not reclaiming “nigga;” it was the 180-effect of the term that did describe our power and authority. It was a term used to remind us of our lack of humanity, our lack of soul, our lack of being anything else other than another man’s property in the U.S. — and eventually throughout the world.

As a community of marginalized people, it’s something we’ve probably heard most of our lives about others disgusted in our existence. But because it’s been engrained with us — literally — for centuries, we still have the tendency to call ourselves what the slave master has named us. Only now, we have a better understanding of the English language and shouldn’t view the word as a token of being black. Sadly, it has been molded within our culture. But why should it leak onto the streets and in media and aloud to one another so that the world hears how we still want to be degraded? How we still view ourselves as less than? Instead, why not revert to the original title?

The black community seems quicker to condemn “hotep.” “Hotep” has come to be applied to black people who think they know all black history, when really a good number of them are just making up falsehoods. Pro-black but anti-progressive. They believe in these theories without reading any reputable books or studying from any credible theorists or philosophies. Instead, they believe that all things white are evil and any European history is an abomination to mankind. Nonetheless, many of these people also tend to be misogynistic; they’re very pro-black man but blame the black woman for her weaknesses. They blame the black woman for tempting the black man. They also tend to be homophobic, even in regards to black homosexuals. So, on one end, they’re all for fighting against oppression, but only for a select group of black people. Most of their websites look like they still have the coding from an old MySpace page with moving graphics that are too slow because the system is outdated.

There were a number of “Hoteps” throughout history. Imhotep II was a renaissance man of Egypt, if you will. This was during the period when Egyptians were synonymous of being “black.” Imhotep was the advisor to the pharaoh of his time. According to historian John G. Jackson, “[N]o individual left a deeper impression than the commoner Imhotep. He was probably the world’s first multi-genius. He was the real father of medicine … ‘Priest, architect, astronomer, and magician. He was a poet and philosopher.’ … Imhotep’s fame increased after his death. He was worshiped … early Christians worshiped him as one with Christ” (African Civilizations, 1994).

“Hotep” initially was used to describe those with vast knowledge or to be at peace, but somewhere along the way it got lost from its true meaning. And instead, as black people, we adopted to call each other “nigga/nigger.” Whether we realize it or not, we degrade ourselves with our word choice and antagonize the title that we should want to be called. Why is it that we choose one over the other? Why don’t we just revert to the original terms that were always ours? Or instead, was it a subconscious game at play for us to acknowledge ourselves as subordinate?

For example, if I walk around calling people I’m close with “king” and “queen,” they will act as such. I’m treating them with respect, and they will give it in return. They will embody the meaning behind those words. Whereas, if I address someone as “moron” or “idiot,” there’s no question that the conversation would not go far. More negative name-calling will ensure, there will probably be a physical altercation, and everyone would walk away worse off than how they started.

Language changes as times and trends change. Colloquialisms vary over time, from positive to negative meanings or vice versa. But they always have some sort of relation to one another; wording can change but the phrasing has a familiar root. Why resort to the tainted version of “negus” when it really does not provide the same connotation? And why demonize “hotep” when it holds so much intellectual power? In the world of language, nothing is accidental and everything is intentional.

 

 

One Reply to “What’s in a name: ‘Nigga’ v. ‘Hotep’”

  1. Excellent post! When I’ve had similar discussions, I keep saying ‘we eat our own’ and ‘why call yourself a term that attempts to diminish you to a thing considered sub-human’ – usually falls on deaf ears. Hope your readers appreciate your guidance, history lesson, intellect, and perspective.

    Like

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