Rich Gang White Boy, Tom Hanks’ son, and ‘nigga’

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Non-Black people using the word ‘nigga’ is always touchy. Tom Hanks’ son using it is just disappointing.

First of all, the thirst that some White people have for the privilege of saying the word is highly suspect. Do you really feel left out? Do you really need to have access to the word in order to appreciate the culture that is already frequently exploited, ridiculed, and so accessible to you?

But for every White kid dying to find that coveted group of Black friends that will let him say ‘nigga’, there is a White person that genuinely wants to know why it’s such a problem for non-Black folk to say it.

This video demonstrates how culture, without awareness of history, can be consumed until it’s as intuitive as Rich Gang White Boy saying ‘nigga’ around older Black males.

It might be unnerving, angering, or even funny, to see a young White boy say what he’s saying so obliviously. But it’s also a stark reminder that nothing about the use of ‘nigga’ is inherit to anyone.

What’s troubling about the word then?

No matter the intention behind its use, it evokes something when used by a White individual. It’s undeniable that a word’s meaning can be fluid in different contexts, especially words with such cultural significance. But as long as people identify themselves by race, a White person saying any variation of ‘nigger’ will always give rise to historic power and privilege struggles in the United States.

From the arrival of the first African captives (Jamestown, 1619) until the Civil Rights Act of 1965, some form of law explicitly stated Black and other non-White racial statuses were inferior to White on American soil. today that manifests in the public school system, the prison-industrial complex, and police brutality. Nothing about the nation’s history is too distant to not be attached to a White person’s use of ‘nigger’.

That being said, some White folk (i.e. Rich Gang White Boy) pick it up and use it as intuitively as some Black folk use it. Other White folk, such as Tom Hanks’ son, use it a little more unconvincingly.

See, it’s one thing when Rich Gang White boy is using the n-word to appeal to his older, non-White acquaintances. They even rewarded the behavior, encouraging the boy to show out by bragging about the car and hitting a board slide.

Though I’m not with that, you can’t fault Rich Gang White Boy for not thinking about how he is using the word. A group of young adult Black males rallying around a young, shirtless White boy bragging about a sports car is indeed a confusing context.

In the case of Tom Hanks’ son though, not as much sympathy should be had. As illustrated by the Complex news video above, Chet Haze—who I will continue to refer to as Tom Hanks’ son—has publicly fought for his ‘nigga’ privileges on several occasions. With not-so-casual uses of the word in IG posts, Twitter beefs with Howard Stern among others, and a condemnation of all these hatin’ ass niggas he purportedly deals with, Hanks’ son has simply tried way too hard to validate his relationship with the word and urban culture.

“Hip-hop isn’t about race. It’s about the culture you identify with. And can’t no one tell me what I can’t say,” (0:41 to 0:47).

It is impossible to engage with hip-hop culture, whether you’re White or non-White, without coming into contact with beliefs, experiences, and practices unique to non-White, inner-city Americans. Much like how racial history is impossible to avoid when ‘nigga’ is used by a White person.

But Hanks’ son does have a valid claim about his freedom to use language the way he wants to. Freedom of speech and the ambiguity of ‘nigga’ in today’s world makes it impossible to mandate who can and cannot use the word, or even if it should be used in the first place.

Given all of that, Tom Hanks’ son is making declarations about the word, and hip-hop culture, with a sense of authority neither given to or earned by him. His willful ignorance to what he’s doing is what sets him apart from Rich Gang White Boy. It is what makes him, “Ugh, shut the fuck up,” and Rich Gang White Boy, “lol, really?”


‘Nigga’ will always be a weighty word. But it is not the root of the social problems that creates figures such as Tom Hanks’ son and Rich Gang White Boy. Also, trying to regulate its use would be to regulate how people speak. Like any other word, its significance shifts in different contexts. You can’t treat a word with such social significance in absolute terms.

What we can treat ‘nigga’ as is a symptom of social phenomena. Whether it’s a diverse crowd of Childish Gambino fans rapping along to ‘The Worst Guys’, White gangbangers, or loyal White friends mired in confusion, the use of the word in these contexts speaks to how attached people of different racial identities are to the nation’s history, urban culture, and each other. Taking an all-or-nothing stance on the word will keep you from seeing what its use is really indicating about our culture.

Perhaps it’s not so black and white. Literally. And figuratively, of course. Yes, that was intended.

I’ll leave you with this clip from the Rick Famuyiwa movie Dope. The scene depicts Will, played by Blake Anderson, arguing with Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib about the privilege of saying ‘nigga’ as an anti-racist White person. Their resolution resembles that of mixed-race friend groups around the nation. It might even be an accurate representation of race relations among Generation Z in years to come.

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