Question regarding Sen. Byrd's umm....interesting...phrase

I really didn’t want to put the actual question in the header.

Apparently on one of the Sunday morning political shows, Sen. Byrd made several disparaging remarks about (pardon me in advance) “white niggers”. From his remarks it wasn’t clear what the hell he was talking about.

Either he was saying it’s OK to use the word “nigger” because the word “nigger” refers to both black and white people or he’s saying “white trash” is bad. I’ve heard the phrase twice before in my life, once in the song Oliver’s Army by Elvis Costello and once from a Klansman on a radio-show who was using it in the “Hey the word refers to blacks AND whites, so it can’t be bad” sense.

Anyone know the actual connotation of this term? (Whatever it is, it can’t be good)


Aargh! I meant to post this to GQ. Can this be closed or moved please?



My first (I’m hoping this will be moved rather than closed) experience hearing this word was on a Big Boys album. They were Texas based Skater Punks, in the vein of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The album was from 1980 or so. And the song was called (we are all) White Niggers. It was a refference to how skaters were treated in Texas at the time.

Didn’t this word evolve from the word “Negro”?

I try very hard not to pass moral judgements on someone else’s expression. And I’m trying hard in this case too, but it’s not working. What kind of an asshole uses that word in any kind of public discourse? The guy is a politician? I would think being over 6 years old would be enough of a qualification to know this is unacceptable language. But a man who’s supposedly an adult and some sort of government representative? Who VOTED For this imbecile?


Sen. Robert Byrd, known as “the Conscience of the Senate”, has apologized for the unfortunate choice of words.

I don’t believe the term white nigger was used that much in the south. When I heard it,I thought it to be synonymous with white trash.

Some use it today to describe rich suburban white kids trying to act like ghetto brothers.

I always thought the proper term was “wigger.”

Given that “nigger” is definatly racially specific (comes from Negro which comes from “black”), I’d think it would have to refer to a white person the speaker feels is acting like a black person.

And it’s pretty clear it’s meant to be an insult.

I.e, it’s pretty clear it’s racist.

I am glad Sen. Byrd has come so far and learned so much since his days in the Kl Klux Klan.
Goodness. Why all the racial an sexually based insults? We in New York solved the problem years ago by calling everybody “assholes”. Nice and universal.


I think that calling it a racist terms is oversimplifing the matter. I think that the “n” word has gains a group of associations that refer to a way of acting and outlook upon the world. I believe Chris Rock has built a routine and a career on this definition, seperating (pardon me it I forget his exact term) “black folks” from “n*****s.”

Also, if I remember correctly, “white n*****” is often used for the Irish in England, meaning a lowerclass which is looked down upon.

I use neither phrase, but I think that there is something going on besides simple race disparagement.

It might look to you like a “slam dunk” that the word Negro simply comes from the Spanish/Portuguese word for ‘black’: negro. Looks that way to me too. But is it really?

One gentleman from the inner city (who often said that while in military intelligence he had been trained to read the secret messages concealed in innocent-seeming news stories) told me in dead seriousness that “Negro” was a code word to keep down the black man. It’s actually an abbreviation for “never grow.”

Bet you didn’t know that.

So are you suggesting that common sense and conventional wisdom ought to be abandoned just because of what some random nut said “in dead seriousness”? If so, I wish I could remember what the design that some guy at a subway station told me for a perpetual motion machine. Something about a pentagon…

Justin Green did an underground comic once where he referred to a big dumb Teutonic guy working as a bouncer in a Chicago beer garden as a “German Nigger.” Robert Armstrong did the same sort of thing in a story about Minnesota, with “Scandiniggers.”

So, yeah, when it’s applied to a white person in such cases, it denotes worthlessness and interchangability. Pretty damn insulting indeed.

I wasn’t suggesting that anyone take the brother’s conspiratorial etymology at face value. As I indicated, I see it differently.

Just passing it along, FWIW…

In Fear And Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Hunter S. Thompson refers to a large segment of D.C.'s population as “niggers”- he states that this is not a racial distinction but refers to the underclass or the opressed.

Growing up in the D.C. area, I can say that the term “wigger” was used, typically to describe a suburbanite who tried to affect an urban patois. For some reason this typically involved growing a crappy moustache and wearing jean shorts, driving a 2x4 pickup truck, Camaro, or Hyundai.

I was called that just a few months ago. Random woman on the bench in a park said “…them white n*****s are so rude.”

I couldn’t figure out if she was trying to insult me or be sarcastic (I said “pardon me” when I went past her in the park). For peace of mind, I’ve decided she meant to be sarcastic.

I certainly don’t attempt any ‘urban patois.’

The word “nigger” is a dialectical variation of “Negro” that originated from a particular region of the South where “Negro” was phonetically pronounced “Nigra”.

(from Bill Bryson’s Made in America)