6th Annual N-Word Program Discusses the Word’s Origins

On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 8, the 6th Annual N**** Program took place with guest speaker Dr. Kaba Hiawatha Kamene, a former Black Panther and SUNY New Paltz educator. 

This yearly event was presented by the Sigma Eta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and the Black Student Union. 

The goal of this program is to discuss and analyze the etymology of the N-word and the controversy of its use as well as its effects in today’s society. This event sought to engage in enriching and enlightening discussion on racial rhetoric and its long-term effects. 

The evening began with a skit portraying a few Black students singing along to a song with that included the N-word. Then, a white student joined them and also said the N-word. 

Following the skit, this question was posed to the audience: “What comes to mind when you see this?” Answers such as “reality” and “being at a PWI [Predominantly White Institution], this is the experience” were given. 

Later, the idea of “sankofa,” a word in the Twi language of Ghana, was brought up. Sankofa means “‘to go back and fetch it;’ we must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward, and we can understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” 

This discussion illuminated the importance of understanding the origin of the N-word, how Africa actually used the word and how it’s been transformed over time. The relevancy of sankofa in the N-word program stresses that people of African descent must understand their heritage in order to maneuver oppression. 

“What does the N-word mean to you?” was another question posed. One participant explained that when she lived in New Jersey the word was offensive, however when she moved to New York, it was used leisurely. 

Other responses about the connotation of the N-word included “bro, my homie,” “a word specific to Black brothers and sisters” and “a prideful word within the community that no one else can say.” 

Then the song “i” by Kendrick Lamar was played. The lyrics in this song briefly explain the origin of the N-word, “N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; king – wait listen / N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, king, ruler, now let me finish / The history books overlook the word and hide it / America tried to make it a house divided…” 

The word Negus, from Ethiopian origin, means emperor. Ngr, from Egyptian origin, means god. Naga, from East Indian and Nubian origin, means people. 

Dr. Kaba explained that these significant African words were translated to Eurocentric terminology and used to oppress enslaved Africans. The N-word would be yelled at Black ancestors as they were lynched and raped in front of their families giving it the negative modern connotation that invokes, anger, pain and malice. “It became a word to describe a social condition that we did not create,” Kaba said.

Dr. Kaba further described that when we often don’t understand the words we are saying, we mirror our society blindly.