Say What? Youse A Savage? Decoding “Savage” and its Popular Appeal

I wrote a post a few weeks ago that listed words colloquialized as weapons against the black community. A word I did not include on this list was the word “savage,” whose nuanced use mirrors what the black community continues to see with the n-word. The word savage, like the n-word, illuminates the use of language to socially reproduce hegemonic ideologies and compartmentalizations that continue to cage black people in America.

The word “savage,” in its inaugeral use, acted as a means to align non-whites, first the indigenous and then the kidnapped African, as in need of white intervention—colonialism veiled by the word “civilization.” The contemporary climate witnesses the word savage as transformed by popular black female artists who equate the term with women bearing desirable attributes. 

While Beyonce’s recent remix with Meg the Stallion is an obvious example, the term incurs a similar meaning with regard to pop star Rihanna’s lingerie line, a word she employs to encompass the confident and sexy women her products strive to frame. 

What’s significant about savage as contemporary verbiage, is that it aligns with the hyper-sexualized black women of the contemporary era. So though the use appears nuanced, it remains circumscribed to its inaugural meaning.

Specifically, taking a step back from the colloquial impetus to employ the term as merely transient slang, affords an essential perspective. The same world that encourages those of African descent to adopt the belief that we were not all kings and queens, cultivates a culture that suggests we are all in fact “n*iggas” and “savages.”

The media’s racist recycling of loaded terms illuminates the pure savagery of white supremacy, a savagery that continiously escapes its derserved labeling. Moreover, what functions as a carefree colloquialism to the black community, elucidates the white media’s careful methodology to veil anti-black rheroric with favor to the majority.

Here, I speak directly to how a generation of African descended people calling themselves “n*ggas” and “savages” illuminates social reproduction of that which irretrievably disrupted our story. This social reproduction reveals that not only has much of the black collective adopted the master’s language, but that much of the black collective, to paraphrase the late Audre Lorde, believes that somehow the master’s tools will assemble a feasible means to conceptualize themselves beyond the hegemoic house built in anti-black words, phrases, and the battered bones of our ancestors.

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