The Time I Learned to Pronounce “Niger”


Many of us have a humorous little anecdote about the confusion of pronouncing the country of Niger. Here’s mine:

On Christmas Day, when I was six years old, my grandmother gave me a globe as a present. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed, but at the same time, it was a small step up from the clothes she usually bought me. Progress was progress, I figured.

I put the globe in the corner of my desk, not planning to ever look at it again. Unfortunately, with life being the bore that it can occasionally be for a middle-class six-year-old, there eventually came a day where looking at the globe was the best option for stimulating my mind. After wiping away the thick layer of dust that had accumulated, I began to look over the countries out of mere curiosity. Being too young to see the humor in ‘Uruguay’ and too intelligent to find any humor in Italy being shaped like a boot, the world was seemingly one giant, round, dull motherfucker.

However, when I reached the continent of Africa, everything changed, completely. The first time my eyes glazed over the country of Niger, I did a double take. I had trouble accepting the idea that a nation could have such a name, given our society’s social stigma on a certain N-word. I looked at it again for a few more seconds and when the reality of its existence finally sunk in, I couldn’t help it, I laughed hysterically.

The reason I laughed so hard was because of my logic at the time, which was as follows:

1.) I had no idea ‘Nigger’ was spelled with two G’s.
2.) A person from America is called an American.
3.) Therefore, a person from the country of Niger must be a Nigger.
4.) Profanity is hilarious.

Flawless reasoning, no? It gets even better.

Throughout my short life, at various times, I had heard select family members talk about “Niggers”. Usually while drunk at parties, they would be yelling about nigger this and nigger that, but more importantly, they would sometimes suggest that niggers go “back where they came from”, without ever identifying exactly where it was they came from. That’s what got me so excited. I had seemingly discovered where niggers came from, all by myself!

This discovery was so exciting that there was simply no way I could keep it to myself. I just had to share it with someone, so I ran like the wind from my room down into the kitchen where my mom was preparing dinner.

“Mom! Mom!” I screamed, “Guess what?”

“What is it?” my mother replied sweetly.

“I know where niggers come from!”

My mother immediately produced a shocked look on her face. But at the same time, she couldn’t help but be curious, so she answered with, “Where do they come from?”

“They come from Nigger. The country of Nigger. Look, it’s right here on the globe. In Africa, there’s a country called Nigger.”

My mother promptly corrected my error, albeit while fighting back laughter.

From that day forward, I knew how to pronounce Niger correctly. The only downside was that Niger’s comedic value had dropped 100%. In the end, I’m just glad that I got all this out of my system when I was six.

And don’t worry, I didn’t grow up to be racist. A liberal education saw to that.