Piers Morgan, Daily Mail, September 22, 2017
Twelve years ago, Kanye West had a massive hit with a song called ‘Gold Digger’.
Featuring guest vocals by Jamie Foxx, it hit No1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, stayed there for ten weeks, was the second-longest running No1 on that chart for the entire year of 2005, and remains Billboard’s sixth-longest running No1 ever.
‘Gold Digger’ smashed the record for most digital downloads in a week and was also the fastest-selling digital download of all time.
It won the 2006 Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance and was also nominated for Record of the Year.
The song lists at No60 on Billboard’s All Time Top100 and has sold over three MILLION copies in the United States alone.
So we’re talking about one of the most popular songs of this entire Millennium; one that literally hundreds of millions of people will have heard on the radio.
The chorus to ‘Gold Digger’ includes this line:
Now I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger,
But she ain’t messing with no broke niggas,
Now I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger,
But she ain’t messing with no broke niggas.
I’ve spelled out the word ‘niggas’ exactly as it was written in the song’s lyrics because it’s important and relevant to do so for the purposes of this column.
Of course, by doing so, I will inevitably provoke outrage from certain quarters, but that outrage is also an important and relevant factor for the purposes of this column.
On Tuesday, an Instagram story video was posted showing female members of the Alpha Phi Sorority at University of New Hampshire singing and dancing to the song at a party.
They could be seen and heard singing that chorus, including the repeated use of the word ‘niggas’.
It was promptly shared to the Facebook page of ‘All Eyes on UNH’, which is run by other members of the University who have an ‘intent to expose injustices’, according to the ‘about’ section of the page.
The Facebook post read: ‘A member of Alpha Phi Sorority put up this video of girls singing along to Gold Digger by Kanye West on her Instagram story. The girls then sing the n-word without thinking of the implications. This is a showcase of ignorance and that the Panhellenic Council should do better in combatting racism. The first step is addressing willful ignorance.’ The post ended with this hashtag: #RacistUNH.’
Within hours, this Facebook post had gone viral around America and the Alpha Phi Sorority sisters were furiously branded dumb racists.
They are now being ‘investigated’ for their behavior and there have been widespread calls for them to be thrown out of the university in ignominious, potentially career-ruining disgrace.
To which I say: what utter nonsense!
Even by the pathetically easily offended snowflake standards of modern day US campuses, this is ridiculous.
How can it possibly be racist to sing along to a song that was No1 in America for TEN WEEKS?
And is the word ‘nigga’ racist anyway?
Oh, I know the word ‘n****r’ from which it is derived is racist.
We all know that.
That’s why I won’t even spell it out.
But even among black people there is disagreement as to whether the word ‘nigga’ is actually a racist or offensive term at all.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights group, condemns use of both ‘n****r’ and ‘nigga’.
But many black Americans only consider ‘nigga’ offensive when used by people of other races, viewing that as unacceptable cultural appropriation.
Other black Americans consider it inoffensive except when specifically directed from a white person to a black person.
Famous black stars are split about its meaning, too.
Comedian Chris Rock, in his routine ‘Niggas vs. Black People’, distinguished a ‘nigga’, which he defined as a ‘low-expectation-having mother-f****r,’ from ‘a black person’.
By contrast, the late Tupac Shakur distinguished it thus: ‘N****rs was the ones on the rope, hanging off the thing; niggas is the ones with gold ropes, hanging out at clubs.’
No wonder, then, that white people may be even more confused as to whether ‘nigga’ is actually a racist or offensive word.
Gwyneth Paltrow ran foul of this confusion when she tweeted ‘Ni**as in Paris for real’ after attending a concert in Paris given by Jay-Z and Kanye West which ended with the MCs playing their hit song ‘Niggas in Paris’ over and over as the show finished.
If you Google that song, many of the entries have the title censored as ‘N***as in Paris’, while many others spell out ‘Niggas in Paris.’
Nobody, it seems, is too sure if it’s actually offensive to spell out the word ‘niggas’ or not.
When Larry Wilmore called Barack Obama a ‘nigga’ at the White House Correspondents Dinner, I read several defences by black journalists explaining that ‘n****r’ is a slur against black people, whereas ‘nigga’ just means ‘buddy’.
As such it can be used by anyone, black or white.
But even Kanye West has wrestled awkwardly with this defense. ‘If niggas is such a positive word,’ he said in 2012, ‘why do we feel so uncomfortable for white people to say it, even with a hall pass?’
Which brings me back to the Alpha Phi Sonority sisters at University of New Hampshire.
I doubt any of them gave it a moment’s thought when Kanye’s song ‘Gold Digger’ began playing, and certainly not any racist thought. They’re young, free and partying and it would have just seemed like any other very popular rap song. So they sang along to it, and that meant they subconsciously sang the word ‘niggas’ too.
They didn’t write the song, Kanye West did.
They didn’t make millions of dollars from that song, Kanye West did.
He used the word ‘niggas’ in his lyrics because that is what almost every rapper in America now does.
It’s become a standard, almost compulsory word to include in any ‘cool’ rap record.
Rap music isn’t sold or marketed exclusively to white people.
Superstars like Kanye West target and exploit white audiences for their music just as enthusiastically as they target and exploit black audiences.
So how can they, or anybody else for that matter, complain if a white person sings the very words they have written in No1 hit song?
I wrote a couple of years ago about the disturbing prevalence of the n-word in American society.
The Washington Post reported that it is used over 500,000 times every day on social media, mostly by young black African-Americans.
They argue, like the rappers they revere, that they have ‘reclaimed’ the n-word and are entitled to use it how they damn well please.
But there are still, sadly, many white people at the vile, racist end of humanity who simply take that as a green light to continue using it themselves.
‘If black people use it, why can’t I?’ shrieks their warped, twisted logic.
I argued then that the only way to stop its use completely is for EVERYONE to stop using it, including black people.
To me, there is no difference between ‘n****r’ and ‘nigga’.
They sound exactly the same, and are therefore open to permanent confusion and the exact same capacity to offend.
I wish the n-word could be expunged from society altogether, as the k-word has been pretty much eradicated in South Africa.
But if rappers like Kanye West insist on using it, and writing songs with the word in either form, then it is absolutely predictable and understandable that their fans will sing the songs just as they hear them – regardless of the colour of their skin.
These Alpha Phi Sorority sisters did nothing wrong.
If you want someone to blame, then blame Kanye West.