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Controversial Web Site Draws Jeers - and a Following

By Alan J. McCombs
Maryland Newsline
Friday, Dec. 15, 2006

A new social networking site catering to a young black audience is drawing strong fire for its inflammatory name - Niggaspace.com.

“It’s the worst racial slur in the English language,” said the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, chief operating officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

But the site’s operator, who calls himself only “Tyrone,” writes that the name is meant to turn the controversial word into a positive one.

The site, which launched Oct. 22, allows users to set up and customize personal pages, send messages and blog.

More than 43,000 people were registered on the site in early December, with 2,200 of them hailing from Maryland, a search of the site shows. The vast majority of these Marylanders identified themselves as teenagers.

The site’s purpose is to provide a place for young people and others to come together, wrote Tyrone. It is "supposed to bring a community of people together, rather than apart," he wrote on the Web site. "This site is in no way meant to be racist."

Tyrone, who identifies himself on the site as a 27-year-old man from Philadelphia, says the site works to strip away the negative connotations associated with a word that has been used as a racial slur against blacks but has also been used casually by blacks in songs, movies and other popular culture.

“How great would it be, if the mixed emotions that this word carries along with it, were stripped down to something more positive? Only positive,” Tyrone wrote.

Tyrone does not state his own race on the site.

Newsline was able to track down little information about Tyrone, who did not respond to e-mails to the address he lists on his site. A “WHOIS” search of the site’s domain name revealed an administrative contact at namecheap.com, a Westchester, Calif.-based firm. No one from Namecheap responded to phone calls.

Tyrone differentiates on the site between the words “nigga” and “nigger,” saying that the former is “a common endearing term used by many black people” and is used throughout popular culture.

But many say the word - and the site’s name - are offensive.

Rivers said use of the word by blacks is an example of self hatred.

“There are a lot of blacks [who] have self hatred,” Rivers said. “They express it in many ways: through killing, through hurting, and through using this word.”

At the University of Maryland, Darla Bunting, president of the Black Student Union,  said she was “speechless” when she first heard of the Web site.

“I’m just appalled that people would even think it’s appropriate to name a site for black people that,” said Bunting. “If it was an African American who established the [Web] site, then it just turned back the hands of time.”

What is known is that the Web site was placed up for auction on Nov. 13, said Matt Mickiewicz, spokesman for the Web site Sitepoint, which hosted the auction. Attempts to contact Tyrone through Sitepoint were rebuffed.

“He really didn’t want to be contacted,” said Mickiewicz. “Why, I don’t know.” Mickiewicz said he was instructed by Tyrone not to give out his full name.

Mickiewicz said that while the auction has closed, it does not appear the Web site has changed hands.

The site is not the first social networking site to cater to a distinct racial or ethnic group. Since 1999, the Web site Blackplanet has catered to a primarily black audience and now boasts roughly 15 million members.

Other sites such as Yaari.com, Fropper.com and the recently opened Rediff Connexions cater primarily to an Indian audience.

Rediff Connexions claims to have more than 1.4 million members, while Fropper claims to be India’s No. 1 social networking Web site, with more than 2 million members.    

All of these sites pale in comparison to the giants of the social networking playground, such as Myspace and Facebook. Myspace boasts more than 100 million members, according to Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp., the corporation that reportedly bought Myspace for $580 million in July 2005. Facebook claimed more than 13 million members in December, according to its Web site.

Sites that appeal to narrow interests such as race and ethnicity only attract members interested in those niches, said Jacqueline Lane, a researcher at the C & R Research Services Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.

“With these niche-type sites, it’s another place to meet people, but only ones with that specific interest,” said Lane, 35, who is director of Teen Research with C & R and has taken part in hundred of studies on teens’ online habits.

The niche market and the controversial name were criticisms brought up by potential buyers of Niggaspace.com on the comment board for the online auction hosted by Sitepoint.

In a post on the auction Web site, the listed seller, who Mickiewicz identified as Tyrone, responded to the criticism, saying he intended to change the Web site’s name and relaunch it. Tyrone offered three other domain names: EthnicSpace, AmigoArea and BrothaSpace.

The NAACP’s Rivers questioned why one of those names was not used earlier.

“Obviously brother is better, Amigo is friend, but why not use those in the first place?” Rivers asked.

“Anybody who thinks nigga means friend is either fooling themselves or is unaware of history or hates themselves,” he said.

In a recent posting on his Web site, Tyrone contradicts his auction site posting about a possible name change.

“The rumors are not true,” said Tyrone in a Dec. 12 message on his site.

“NiggaSpace.com is not changing its name."

Copyright 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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