I recently interviewed Jimmy [Jones] about the play while sitting on the lip of the stage, and toward the end of our talk, I asked him how he felt about Obama’s victory. Since Election Day, every conversation I have eventually turns to Barack Obama and our emotional reactions to this American epiphany. Jim confessed that the election inspired him to drop the word “nigga” from his vocabulary—where it was a nearly ubiquitous presence—and replace it with “Obama.” He gave me a few examples: “What up, my Obama?” “Yo, did you see them Obamas last night?” “Now that’s a real Obama.”
I was blown away. Black men have used nigga for more than three decades as a way of expressing a certain gallows humor. It is a way of saying, “Hey, if America thinks we’re the national boogie monsters, then fine, we are. Boo!” It stems from a peculiarly black sense of the macabre.