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Like most people who use Instagram, I peruse the platform to seek out black beauty—men and woman. I live in Brazil, a country that is more than 50 percent black. But you wouldn’t know that by the faces you see on television, in magazines and even on mainstream websites.

So Instagram is where it’s at.

This tall, dark and handsome model posted a photo that caught my attention because of its obvious physical beauty. But it was the hashtags that stunned me: #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackIsBeautiful, #Nigga.

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#Nigga.

A feeling of disgust overtook me. I didn’t expect to see a word whose history is entangled with so much pain for African Americans to be used as a hashtag alongside words that make me proud of my blackness in Brazil.

The black-pride movement is experiencing a renaissance in Brazil, and Instagram is its main stage. To assert black pride, many young black Brazilians are using #Nigga as a hashtag on their photos. There are more than 3 million photos on Instagram tagged with the word #Nigga, the vast majority coming from black Brazilians. The others include people from other parts of Latin America and even Africa. African Americans rarely use the hashtag.

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I’m not the first American to be surprised by the casual use of #Nigga by Afro-Brazilians. The American rapper Jordan Fields, also known as BiXop, lives in Sao Paulo, and two years ago he produced a documentary, Não Me Chame Nigga (Don’t Call Me Nigga). The goal of the 21-minute documentary, subtitled in English and Portuguese, was to explain the heavy history of the word to Afro-Brazilians.

When Fields first starting meeting Brazilians, many of them, black and white, would greet him with, “What up, my nigga?” He was taken aback by it, to say the least.

“I didn’t know that the word traveled like that,” Fields said.

For the documentary, he asked his family and even his co-workers about their relationship with the word.

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“If it’s a term of endearment between people of the same culture and you are not of that culture, then it’s not for you to do,” said one of Field’s work colleagues. “Think of a derogatory term that is used based on your racial identity or cultural background and equate it to someone calling you the same thing.”

I wanted to understand why Afro-Brazilians were using the hashtag, so I responded to several people on Instagram with the simple question: “Why are you using this hashtag #Nigga alongside such other empowering hashtags?”

Iago1ago is a model and singer who shows off his personal beauty on his Instagram. Alongside the hashtag #Nigga, he also uses #EmpoderamentoNegro (black empowerment), #BlackIsBeautiful and #BlackMan, among others.

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“I used ‘nigga’ because it’s an American term used to show solidarity among blacks,” he said. “It has to do with the relationships between black people for me.”

Iago is right. “Nigga” is a term used to show closeness among black Americans (as much as it is used to show disdain among and for African Americans). Many of us use Instagram as a private digital sanctuary to show off our beliefs. But using #Nigga as a hashtag seems to cross into the public realm of using racial slurs in public.

“You can see that this is a cultural misunderstanding,” said Ad Junior, a popular YouTuber among Afro-Brazilians. “When they see the word ‘nigga,’ some think they are seeing the American word ‘black.’ So there is a contextual problem. And they also see how black American artists unite and use it, so they believe that this is a form of self-affirmation and even pride.”

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Then it began to click. Brazilians, black or white, had never had a person call them a nigger as a racial slur. So their emotional attachment to the word was entirely different from African Americans’.

“They have no historical connection to the word,” said Sadakne Baroudi, an English teacher and a longtime African-American expat living in Rio de Janeiro. “They receive the word through African-American culture, mainly through hip-hop. So it’s arrogant to assume that people outside of American culture have an understanding of the word. They have only heard it out of black mouths.”

Baroudi remembers one time when her Brazilian English students, white executives at an oil-and-gas company, eagerly used the word “nigger” in her presence. Nov. 20 is a day when Brazilians celebrate the accomplishments of Zumbi dos Palmares, a 17th-century black leader of a community of runaway enslaved blacks, who defeated the Portuguese in several battles. To this day, Afro-Brazilians look up to him as inspiration to combat racial inequality and social injustice. When Baroudi entered her classroom on Zumbi Day some years back, several of her students eagerly pointed to a photo of Zumbi and repeatedly called him a “big nigger.” All she could manage to say through her shock was “Stop.”

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“My students had no idea what they were doing to me,” she said.

They called him big because “big” in Portuguese, grande, also means very important. To them, calling him “nigger” was just saying exactly what he was. Instead of telling her students to never use the word, Baroudi gave them a challenge. She told them that “nigger” is a word with lots of contextual rules and that if they weren’t willing to suffer the consequences of breaking rules, then don’t use the word.

“You say it the wrong way to the wrong person, you could end up in an ambulance,” Baroudi said.

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No one took her up on the challenge.

Black Brazilians have their own words that take on different meanings depending on the context and the person saying it. Take, for example, preto—black in Portuguese. When Afro-Brazilians call themselves preto or preta, it means they are proud to be black. But no white person would dare call another black person preto or preta without knowing their racial preference. And sometimes it can be used as a racial slur. If a white person said, “É uma coisa do preto,” it’s equivalent to saying, “That’s a nigger thing.”

Context matters.

“When it’s not your language and your country, it’s just phonemes,” Baroudi said. “You want to sound contemporary. You want to sound like your peers. But when someone says that’s a hurtful word, you have to listen to that.”

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Hopefully, Afro-Brazilians will get the message in the near future.