I am done. I am done saying it, even to provide context.
I am done listening to it, even in my favorite songs.
I am done defending it, those times when I have said “I can see how they turned a negative into a positive”.
I am done with the “n”word in all of its forms.
My 4-year old son was called “nigger” at the park the other day. It was with all of the venom I have seen in sixties era newscasts and movies depicting American slavery. I cringed and for a few seconds and was at a loss for words. My son looked at me and said, “Mommy what does that mean”.
I had shielded him from that word his whole life. He had never heard it in a song, heard it said in a conversation, and never on a television show or in a book. I had succeeded in only letting the positive in. As tears welled up in my eyes, I struggled to tell him something other than the truth. I was not ready for him to know what that meant. I had not planned enough for this conversation.
I am a child of parents and grand-parents who gave me great oral history of civil rights and African-American history. I grew up hearing the names of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B DuBois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the list can go on and on. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Government after spending four years soaking up facts about the history of our people around the world. I am married to a first generation immigrant from Trinidad & Tobago, whose family history broadened my understanding of people of color and our history. I watch him everyday deal with being a tall, dark-skinned man in corporate america. I had even been warned about the great responsibility it is to raise a Black boy into a man in this society.
Still, I was not ready to have this conversation.
He is so small at 4. He still refers to people as brown, tan, and orange. He has no idea that people look at him differently and in the future will judge him before he even speaks. One day soon I will sit down and explain it to him. I will tell him to never ever use the word or allow it to be used in his presence. I will tell him that “nigger” is something he will never ever be. This starts by me letting that word go too. What we resist persists, what we face goes away. For too long we have resisted obliterating this word from our speech, music, literature. So every now and then it rears its ugly head and we see it for what it really is, evil, degrading, and mean.
Even though I know this conversation will have to happen someday, I held my baby that day and told him, “It does not matter what it means, because he was not talking to you”.
A lie I know, and yes I will one day tell him the truth, but I just needed his innocence to last a little longer.