By Alan J. McCombs
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
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
“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
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
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.
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.
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
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
“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
“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