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Code-Switching: Obama's 'Nigga' Moment Makes Civil Rights History

President Obama laughs at comedian Larry Wilmore at the 2016 White House Correspondents' Dinner

Comedian Larry Wilmore ended his tribute to President Obama at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner by saying, "Yo, Barry, you did it my nigga!"

While the verboten "N word" raised eyebrows in the room, and ire on Twitter, our friends over at Vice.com stepped up to soothe any ruffled feathers (a term which has nothing to do with American Indians -- a people who were neither American nor Indian).

Vice writer Edward Wyckoff Williams acknowledges the awkward nature of the quip, but then explains the context -- historical and cultural -- in a way that made me realize this may have been the greatest moment in civil rights history since the president threw his white grandmother under the bus to protect his black pastor.

Now, I don't expect the vast majority of my readers to understand this, since you're likely white. In fact, I'll probably fail to explain it correctly because I'm likely white. But the upshot of it is that "nigga" is more than just how a heinous racial slur sounds when pronounced with a Boston accent.

It's a term that signifies deep bonding between black men. The fact that Wilmore said it to Obama in front of a room full of white people makes it even more meaningful. O, sure, it was meant to be humorous, but at a deeper level it was a "fiercely political moment" and the quintessence of "code switching."

I had not heard that last term before, so I assume it's another thing that black guys say to each other when caucasians are out of earshot.