Reflections on Using the Word ‘Nigger’ and Friendships Embedded with Racial Ignorance

Source: http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_4161.jpg
Source: http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_4161.jpg

The other year, I tried to reconnect with a friend I had gone to Dartmouth College with in the 1990s. We’ll just call him “Thomas”. I saw that “Thomas” was on Facebook. I sent him a message to see how he was doing. Somehow, we started talking about things we remembered from college. I told him how I remembered sharing with him that I had been called the ‘n-word’ my first day of 7th grade. We had been sitting on stairs outside somewhere and he had been shocked that, “People still do that!?” It was 1995. He was white, straight, and from an upper-middle class background. He had grown up in Southern California and had shared with me how he had graduated Valedictorian of his high school class. We were buddies throughout college.

However, our re-connection via Facebook ended up being rather confusing to me. After I had reminded him about all the different things we had talked about during college, in particular, how I talked to him about how deeply affected I was by being called the ‘n-word’ as a child (in an all white school system), we started talking about the U.S. presidential election.  He eventually ended up writing something like (sorry, I don’t remember it verbatim and didn’t save it), “I would never vote for a nigger.” Though he was referring to Obama, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. I’m assuming he was, but I was really thrown off guard and couldn’t comprehend why he thought that it was okay to say or even joke about using that word. I ended up stopping our communication immediately. I thought that this just didn’t make any sense. How could he not know how triggering “nigger” is for me? And especially after I had shared that childhood trauma with him? Why did he think it was funny to say that to me?

In 1997 or 1998, “Thomas” had told me that his mother would never approve of him marrying a Black girl. “Yea, she’d be okay with me dating, but not marrying.” I remember being really confused by how he seemed so nonchalant about her beliefs. Alternatively, my parents really didn’t care at all about who I dated or married. How could he be so calm about his mother’s racism? During the same year, our two mutual friends had started dating each other. They were a heterosexual couple, black (“Henry”) and white (“Jessica”). They were supposed to go to “Jessica’s” family member’s wedding together. However, “Jessica’s” mother had told her that she was not allowed to attend the wedding with him because he was black. I remember the couple had gotten into an argument about it and I also remember her nonchalantly telling me, “Well if I have to choose him over my family, I’m going to choose my family.” It was with the ease in which she had said this that made me very uneasy. Don’t get me wrong: I know how hard a child/parent relationship can be; especially if you don’t want to disappoint them, if you love them, and yea, if they are your sole financial support. However, what was disturbing was the ‘ease’ of which she had shared her thoughts with me about the situation– without ever even saying something like, “Breeze, you are black and my mom’s beliefs about dating black people as unacceptable must be really hurtful for you to hear.” But no, neither “Thomas” or “Jessica” ever wanted to talk more about the implications of what it means for their parents, who are part of the racial-class status quo of the USA, to have these beliefs about black people (or perhaps anyone who didn’t fall into their social-class category). After all, if Black people aren’t good enough to marry their children, then they simply aren’t good enough, period. And the implications of this really troubled my 21 year old mind. I remember thinking:

If we’re not good enough to marry, then I wonder how “Thomas’s” or “Jessica’s” mothers think about us in other contexts. If they had to be on a jury and determine if a Black person on trial were guilty or not, would they automatically think they aren’t as deserving as being considered as innocent as white peers in their social network? If these women worked at a bank and a black person came in for a home loan, would they feel like they were less likely to deserve it than a white person with the same economic background? If they were on a college admissions committee and saw that the applicant had marked ‘African-American’ as their racial identity, would they not weigh his achievements the same way they’d weigh a white applicant’s?

After all, one just can’t think that their desire for their child not to marry ‘another race’ doesn’t impact how they generally feel about ‘that other race’ (and I put this in quotations to acknowledge that there really are no races; race is a social construct), even outside of the context of considering who your child should marry.

It has been a couple of years since the Facebook interaction I had with “Thomas.” I have yet to re-connect with him. However, over the last few years since I became more and more active on Facebook, I have been able to follow a lot of my Dartmouth peer’s lives who have Facebook friended me. It has been interesting for me to see the fan pages, political groups, etc., that many of my white peers follow and support.  I am taken aback when I see some of their strong support of political parties such as the Tea Party, or their firm stance against immigration, or liking particular public figures who are blatantly racist and white nationalists in their thinking. Had they always thought this way while we attended college together ? Why would they want to be ‘friends’ with me on Facebook if their heroes are people who hate those who are not white? (Or just hate another population in general!?)

About a year after I had graduated from Dartmouth College, I moved to Princeton, NJ to take on a telecommunications job. I had made a new friend named “Curt” who was working at a hat store I would frequent. After hanging out for a few weeks, he invited me to go on a weekend trip to NYC to explore the Stonewall area as well as other vibrant areas of LGBTQ life in NYC. We hitched a ride with his friends, a white gay male couple, “Luke and Dan”. While we were driving to NYC, a driver cut off “Luke”. In instant rage and anger he yelled at the driver, “Nigger!” (the driver of the other car had been white). Everyone in the car went silent as they realized that this was kind of awkward with Breeze in the car. After a small bit of silence, “Luke” responded with , “Sorry. Great, now she probably hates me now.” I responded with something like, “I don’t hate you, but you really should be careful with saying that word.” I think what was weird about this comment was that it was not really an apology as much as he was worried about how I would hate him. Was he not disturbed by his comment and what it represented about his consciousness and how structural racism and white supremacy had made him comfortable to say what he had? To think the way he did? He only seemed concerned about, “I wonder if Breeze now hates me”? It was an external response, not a deeply internal and critical response. For the rest of the weekend trip, he didn’t talk about it or offer a more sincere and deeper apology/analysis of what it means to be a white male and how he may collude with upholding racism and white supremacist ideas about Black people and other non-white folk (i.e. using “nigger” to insult someone). And perhaps this had more to do with the fact that we live in a USA in which white people– at least during the end of the 1990s– just don’t feel comfortable about talking about that white elephant in the big USA room because they are collectively socialized NOT to talk about it in this “post-racial” age.

When I first started the Sistah Vegan Project, I was met with a significant amount of resentment and anger from white vegans who truly thought that if focused on how racialization and socialization affected black female vegans’ collective epistemologies, I was creating disharmony, distractions, and ‘playing the race card.’ As I shifted from just black female vegan epistemologies, to understanding how neoliberal whiteness undergirds mainstream vegan philosophy in the USA, I opened up Pandora’s box. When posting updates on my Facebook status about the work I was doing and the questions I had, I ended up receiving posts and emails from white friends (none I think were vegan) who didn’t understand why race was so important to me. I even had a child hood friend unfriend me and call me a racist when I had posted about racism and white supremacy as structural and systemic problems. She sent me a post that ‘reminded’ me that she had grown up very poor and that we were friends and that she had never judged me because of my skin color. She told me she was not a racist and how could I post these types of questions and concerns that implied that she was, ‘just because of her white skin color.’

I was amazed that she interpreted my research as a direct attack against her as an individual. This is common, as I have spent years trying to explain structures and systems versus ‘individual racists’. No, having ‘white skin color’ doesn’t automatically make you a racist, but let’s start thinking about how all of our consciousnesses have been shaped by white racist structures in the USA. How has being racialized influenced how all of us experience our world, regardless if you identify as an ‘individual’ or ‘overt’ racist or neither? This is what I tried to share with her, but she completely disagreed with me and promptly unfriended me. For those who I have grown up with or went to college with and have not [yet] unfriended me on Facebook, I get the ‘reminders’ several times a year that, “I am not racist and don’t care about skin color.” Funny reminder, no? You know, when I receive posts, articles, updates from friends who analyze their embodied experiences about being fat in a fat shaming culture, trans identified in a trans-hating culture, or living with disabilities in an ableist culture, I know they are not individually attacking me as a slim bodied, CIS gender identified, able bodied woman. I completely understand that they are trying to understand issues of sizeism, transphobia, and ableism at the structural and systemic levels. I also understand that regardless if I am or am not a fatphobe, transphobe, or ableist, my consciousness has been affected and I have automatically earned certain privileges because of my body shape, my CIS gender identification, and my able-bodied status. And yea, I want to know what I don’t know, because of the ignorances that my privileges have produced in my consciousness. I am thankful that I’m asked to engage with these issues because I may very well be complicit. I want to eradicate the injustice, suffering, and violence that epistemologies of ignorance and privilege produce.

I still hold in my heart the wonderful memories and times I have shared with these friends, in spite of these clear instances of racial ignorance and misunderstandings. (As a matter of fact, that weekend “Luke” yelled “nigger” was a weekend that also inspired me to write about my experiences and develop them into the ‘fictional’ character “Cesar” in my newest novel Scars). However, maybe I’m naive, but I also hold in my heart that one day, my friends from childhood and college, such as “Thomas” and “Jessica” , will make the effort to reconnect with me one day. I fantasize that they will share with me a type of awakening and acknowledgment they have had about the realities of systemic racism in the USA; how they were able to realize that ignoring racism in any manifestation won’t make it go away… and that they really are trying to do something to remedy it.

In the mean time, for many of us who are still hurt and confused, and seek ways of healing from ongoing racisms and/or racial micro-aggressions: I continue to do my anti-racist and critical whiteness awareness activism and scholarship through webinars, web-based conferences, and writing.

18 thoughts on “Reflections on Using the Word ‘Nigger’ and Friendships Embedded with Racial Ignorance

  1. Thank you again for sharing very insightful epxeriences because ” yea, I want to know what I don’t know, because of the ignorances that my privileges have produced in my consciousness. I am thankful that I’m asked to engage with these issues because I may very well be complicit. I want to do eradicate the injustice, suffering, and violence that epistemologies of ignorance and privilege produce.”

    Last week, I was been a witness to “joke” racism in my work place. I was discussing an upcoming trip for the winter shut down. Clément, a white male, Brunette a Haitian woman and I were engaged in this conversation.

    I expressed my desire to visit Haiti this winter as opposed to the expected Cancun retreats because I wanted a stronger culture clash. Clément responded with “Don’t you want to visit a more civilised country?”. Other “jokes” were made about Haitian culture and the situation in Haiti. This gentlemen, in another conversation also said that Haiti is in the situation it is because Haitians are lazy.

    I feel very bad for my collegue. She laughs it off, but I wonder if she laughs with her heart.

    I do not want to fall prey to the “white Savior complex” but I think these comments even as “jokes” are inapropriate and hurtful. Honestly, I would rather suffer from the “Savior complex” than be a useless spectator, an accomplice.

    I intend to talk about this with Brunette, and ask her what she really thought about the remarks. We have had other “deep” conversations and I think she will be honest and not shy away.

    Breeze, while you were with your friends in the car and the driver yelled “nigger”, would it have made you feel better if someone had spoken out ?

    And this question goes out to others who do not identify as White and went through a similar situation.

  2. Two comments, Breeze…yes, you are in fact naïve about white people, and I am sure that will continue to cause you pain in your life. but so would being cynical. second, the reason the man responded with “ok, now Breeze will hate me” is that 95% of white people have as their primary agenda maintaining their own self image as good people. As you can tell from the very well-intentioned comment from Crystal, who wants people of color to tell her how to be. The point, if one is seeking justice because one is diminished and oppressed by living with injustice, is not to “make you [people of color] feel better,” the point is to speak the truth about YOURSELF. For example, the most appropriate response to someone saying Haiti is not a very civilized country is, “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you really see the USA as civilized? Are the greed and violence that dominate the USA your idea of the best the human race has to offer?” etcetera

    1. Thank you Susan for you response to my inquiry. I think your response to negative questions about Haiti would be appropriate if 1) I was the only person impacted by the conversation and 2) this conversation was in another setting than in a professional work environment in which I hold a sensitive position.

      I think I would respond in a very similar way (minus the first sentence) if I was sure that Brunette would not feel offended/threatened afterwards.

      I think she downplayed the whole situation because she suspected a social status of an “angry? frustrated? racist? insert name calling here? black person. I think Dr. Harper referred to this ego identity as “the nanny”, which basically means catering to racist people’s needs.

      I have come to realize from writing this that the best thing to do would be to talk about it with HER. I already know what MY “truth” is. What I do not know, is what hers is.

      And yes, the ultimate goal is to verify if the “end user” of these racist remarks is hurt or not.

      1. since this happened in “a professional work environment” i would suggest you take it up with the human resources department. you should not have to be subjected to racist remarks, right?

  3. Deep Breath. I’m white. I just want to put that out there. So, when I say something that offends and shows my ignorance I can called out on it- as honestly and harshly as I should be. White privilege seems to be something white people refuse to believe. I have White Privilege. I have privileges that I will never even know how abundant they are- because I will never ever be able to know. NO MANY HOW MANY STORIES I READ FROM FIRST ACCOUNT PERSPECTIVE, HOW MANY BOOKS I READ OR MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES I WATCH OR PEOPLE I TALK TO. Not that many people want to talk to a white person who does seem like or is attempting to be this moronic- “so tell me about your people.” Has anyone ever heard that phrase uttered from someone’s mouth? It literally – I can’t think of a strong enough word that surpasses offensive and ignorant. Now to the the true and most important part of this reply. I have never been able- NEVER- in my entire 34 years been able to explain to a single person how the N-word makes me feel. I have never had that “hey, your right” epiphany moment with someone. Usually, I get hey- its just a joke, most of the time it starts with” im not racist, but” if anyone starts a fucking statement with that preface- I have to fucking call them out and then walk away and cut them out. These are most likely the people who say- “come on its a joke- im not talking about rape/rape.” Whatever the fuck that’s suppose to mean. Hot button with me- which does not have any get out of fucking jail card- if you say the N-word in my house- you will be told to get the fuck out and you will never be invited back through that door. If it is said by people I know or even something I have overheard at a table next to me or some fucking asshole in a Walmart line- I am not a passive person and no matter what the consequences of my actions- I don’t care. The word and once again- I WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO WALK IN ANYONES SHOES OR KNOW WHAT ITS LIKE IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM TO EXPERIENCE ANY OF THESE EXPERIENCES. So, I walk on egg shells as I type about this- it seems like its not even my place to put in my opinion, but, for some reason I felt compelled to write. The N word for me- once again I will stress my knowledge of my white privilege and the fact that I have no idea what it is like to hear that word and the emotions that come with it. When I hear it and I go insane – I try to explain the history and heavy weight of hatred that comes with it. It is not just a word. I don’t want to hear about how I hear it in rap songs or ” they say it”- When you say that word- in the comfort of your racist friends or to someone’s face- you have no idea – I cant even express it properly. 1. most of them do have an idea. 2. if they are as naïve and ignorant enough not to… I can’t properly express how much I want someone to understand that – its not just a word. It is a statement of who you are, how you truly see people and the hatred you can’t even admit you carry. I hear the word and the images that flash before my eyes involving the word and the true history of it and terror and genocide and a person’s ability to completely .. give up your soul willingly and with pride over another persons life. Then and today. I can apologize until my tongue fell off and it wouldn’t matter. This is flip of the coin history that I will never be able to wipe clean. I will never experience anything but white privilege. It is not my place to even assume any of things that I wrote aren’t exactly what white privilege is about. It’s not. I’m not here as an ambassador for all white people. I am not as a martyr or as some liberal who thinks “I get it”. I am also not writing to say or imply that anything that I said in this letter makes me deserve a medal for not being a piece of shit asshole “well, good for you Melissa” . I am writing because I am not passive and maybe my actions don’t mean anything and never will. I do it because you should act your life as if god is always watching and be able to do it just as easily when he’s not.

    Melissa Krauss

    1. so, melissa, while i really feel you, and while i encourage you to keep wading through your own shit about race (as i do), may i suggest that how you started your post is your biggest problem? cuz whether or not we whites are liked or disliked by any person of color is IRRELEVANT to whether or not the next trayvon martin or oscar grant is murdered in our city.

  4. I totally agree with what you are saying Breeze, but I want to possibly answer some of your questions about your friends.

    In general, I’ve noticed whenever someone has a great passion for a cause, like a social justice cause, and talk a lot about it, being serious about it of course, people–even those who agree with that person–tend to start doing or saying things in a total opposite way that would offend the person fighting for a cause. I think these people feel that the people fighting for a cause needs to lighten up and/or maybe see the other side of view. So they do passive/aggressive things like say things they know that will make you angry as their way of saying something like: ‘Do you always have to discuss racism?’ Or ‘Why not balance it and discuss black racism more.’ Or, ‘You make it sound like white people are the devil incarnate.’ I’m just guessing as to what they may be thinking, but are afraid to tell you. They probably feel threatened as white people even though you may not be talking about them personally; they may have loved ones who are who you are talking about and feel offended and defensive for the loved ones even though what you are saying is right and just.

    With your friends liking racist politicians, groups or other things about these people/groups that are negative, maybe many of your friends are just naive to what some are really about. Or maybe there are things about these people/groups that are positive, so they like them for that.

    I’m vegan and am VERY passionate about veganism, but if I disliked every speciest, I don’t think I would have any favorite musicians, actors, etc. because I think all my favorites are speciests, so should I no longer like them, no longer listen to their music or watch their films? Do you, as a vegan, listen to speciest musicians, or see films with speciests? I think this is how your friends feel about liking certain racists people/groups on Facebook. As I said, maybe there are some things about them your friends do like. Obama is not vegan–he’s a speciest, so why should we vote for him if he has no issue with the horrors of animal cruelty? I don’t know if you did vote for Obama but if you did, a vegan could say to you, ‘Why would you vote for a man who approves of animal slavery and cruelty?’ Or a vegan could say that to you if you voted for ANY non-vegan/speciest politician. But there are positive things about non-vegans and people look at that, like there are positive things about racists. Just because a person is racist doesn’t mean everything about them is wrong. So people like them because of their positive ways as they feel no one’s perfect.

    There are other things that are evil besides racism. But this issue is more glaring to you and more sensitive to you because it’s what you are most active about. Your friends are probably involved in other social justice causes and may be thinking how come you are not voicing out about their causes also, but we can’t be major activists on every thing that’s wrong on this planet. We wouldn’t be able to sleep for one thing! So, most pick the cause(s) they are most passionate about and obviously with your friends, racist issues are not one of them.

    I want to say this again, I am trying to speak from your friends point of view Breeze, as what I think where they are coming from psychologically, emotionally, mentally.

    1. and sometimes people are just plain WRONG. if you cannot tell the difference between slave ships, ovens burning bodies, and people eating meat, you have the most serious case of moral-relativism-turned-downright-nuts i have ever seen.

      1. I don’t think it’s necessarily nuts. It is easy to perceive the suffering of animals as on the same level as human suffering, especially if you have spent a fair amount of time witnessing non-human animals in agony, suffering, screaming, etc. It’s not about not being able to tell the difference as much as one’s heart is just open to suffering and misery of all beings in a way that is anti-speciesist, or I guess, more ‘post-humanist’?. Susan, I don’t know much about your experience with animal liberation work, but I do know that a lot of animal compassion activists, rescue workers, etc dramatically shift their understanding of injustice and suffering after being exposed to the reality of what so many non-human animals in the industrialized food industry endure. And there are plenty of non-white vegans who strongly feel that racism and the way animals are consumed (at least in the USA) are inextricably linked. It’s not necessarily just how white vegans and AR people feel. I think the big difference is that most non-white vegans have to deal with racial ignorance that often pervades the largely white dominated animal rights and vegan mainstream way of thinking.

        I really enjoyed “Eternal Treblinka” and “Dreaded Comparison”. For me, it helped strengthen my own conception of anti-racism activism and understand matrix of oppression. I didn’t agree with everything, but it was quite profound.

    2. Lorrie, I actually have to say that my work encompasses exploring all types of ‘-isms’; but the one thing that annoys/annoyed friends/ex-friends was when I would mention race and whiteness. And these friends were almost always white. I engage in work that critiques heterosexism, neoliberalism, speciesism, consumer capitalism, and sexism to name a few. But what does it mean that it is the ‘race thing’ that seems to annoy them? Does that make sense? What about ‘whiteness’ is so hard to acknowledge? Why does that annoy, enrage, bother, etc., them when other topics about social justice do not? I don’t even get any types of anti-speciesist responses from my white omnivorous friends when I post about animal compassion and rights.

      Will write more later.

      1. Maybe because racism is brought so much in the world, some people are just sick of hearing about it all the time (I think of all the “playing the ____ card”, playing the racist card is the most common phrase and race may have been the first in that phrase to be used).

        Maybe when a friend reacts negative next time toward a race discussion, just ask them why are they reacting that way.

        I think asking people why they are doing this or saying that is something we all should be doing more (I’ve been learning to do this more), and less showing of anger or any strong reaction to their actions. Just a calm, “Why did you say that?” Or “Why are you reacting in this way?” Sometimes this is the best way to approach ignorance, rudeness and just plain evilness. Like play the psychologist with them and see what they say and how they respond.

        I’ve noticed that since veganism is more popular than ever, more people seem to be defensive and and make negative jokes about being vegan. It’s as if people are getting sick of hearing about it so much that some are fighting more against it. I think as time goes on Breeze, people who are not vegan in your circle may start to react negatively about veganism the more they hear about it, or any other social justice cause that gets a lot of constant media exposure.

        It’s like too much of any talk–even good–just upsets some people.

      2. When I began reading Dr. Harper’s work, as a white person, the word “whiteness” got to me. I had not heard that word before except from KKK and BPP and they both used it to their own tuning.

        Basically, I did not know what whiteness meant to her and to all others working and studyng in the same field. I was afraid that it meant the same thing Malcolm X thought in his younger days of preaching.
        Was my inherent whiteness, as in the color of my skin, evil ? Wasn’t that just “reverse racism”? And does reverse racism even exist ? Is that possible ?

        Every word I had been using that pertained to the idea of ethnicity “race, whiteness, negro, white, jew, color, black” had to be reframed in a context of non white supremacist thinking. And that’s when I found out how deep the rabbit hole goes…

        And now, all I seem to see is racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism. Why couldn’t I see that before ? Because my intellect had not yet brought it to my consciousness. We all know something isn’t right in our society, we can feel it. But do we understand it ? Do we see our racist, sexist, ageist behaviour ? And are we willing to call it out, in ourselves and in others. Well, that’s up to us and our attitude towards our egos. All I know is if I call someone out on any of these things, their first reaction is “What ??!!”

        I came to understand that whiteness, according to Dr. Harper’s work and many others, was the institutions and the ignorance of people in a place of privilege. I have never been a witness to her watering down her words, but she almost always responds to people asking for clarifications. So, I would encourage everyone to be responsible for our own ignorance/defensiveness and ask questions. Go to the bottom of things. We can’t change the speech, militants like Dr. Harper do not seem to be interested in making sure we are happy and comfortable in our unmindfulness, they seem to be interested in bringing about awareness.

        Dr. Harper’s work, for me, was so revolutionary, so different ( and it still is ! ) to my community’s way of seeing racism, that my initial reaction was confusion and defensiveness. So maybe that’s what other white people are feeling ?

        I don’t know, but I don’t thing that that would be a good enough reason why Dr. Harper should need to change the topic, especially when one encounters someone calling another person a nigger!

  5. I thought I responded to this essay at the time it posted. Apparently not. My response to “the word” is a variation that I have not encountered, I,therefore, do not usually discuss my personal response to the word. Mine is a combination of historical, linguistic, personal experience. Honestly, my perception varies so much from anyone with whom I have conversed or studied that I fear saying anything. My try: Unlike Breeze my initial encounter with the word was not painful. The circumstances were that I had a “falling-out” with a white neighbor playmate. Her mother seeing “race” in a childhood argument called the police. b: My neighbor, Shirley Brooks, same age, about 8-8, and her family had lost everything in the depression and were living in a relative’s house. She had told me that they had livid in a truck for awhile. Being the daughter of an “up and coming” physician, accustomed to perks, including respect in our southern town did not view whites in the usual racial terms, but in class terms, she poor, I “well-off.” I knew we were Negreos/Colored, adnd the laws were strictly segregational, but the treatment I saw, and was ALLOWED to see minimized the distinction. Even my father’s white cousins visited, and protected us. Our middle-class adults in the south in the 1930s-40s did all they could to protect children from the most obvious discrimination. Some of us grew up with an altered view. We saw, we knew, but our sense of self could be even one of superiority–at the least self confidence.

    The day after my conversation with the policeman, that resulted in my telling him I refused to follow his instructions to avoid passing their house–he smiled and left–I later rode my bicycle past the Brooks house. As I approached Shirley and her brother, Dan, jumped below a brick wall on the porch and yelled, “You old brown nigger.” I said nothing, and never spoke to them again, I did not feel angst–from my superior class position.

    So, Breeze and I, everyone responds as appropriate for our unique experience..

    Throughout my childhood , I now know, I lived a charmed–crazy life based on my family’s position and the respect given it. I came to know the meaning and hurtfulness of the word, but more of the condition of segregation. The word was insignificant to me. I resent it more as it became used by young black hip-hopers in recent years. If I am/were taunted by it I would react as angrily and strongly as 99.99% of black people–and many whites. I resent the younger generations being incensed BY the word without first hand experience of it. A friend is angry because I cannot change the one word of my first novel’s title. At the time I wrote it, 1988, published 2002, hip hoppers had not made their effect, that has been reversed as I see it.

    Finally, I understand the pain of the word, but I CHOOSE to say, the individual and group that gives anything power over them, power that ‘shuts them down to another form of segregation would be better served by realizing that the process cuts all ways. I refuse to give anything power over me, certainly not a word. My power has be taken away. A word does not have that power. An attitude and resulting behavior does, individual and structural..

    I with I could be understood on this point. I never have.

    1. Is it possible, Ms. Fortune, that you HAVE, in fact, been understood but simply not agreed with? I am white, I hate the word “nigger”, and I think it helps to keep Black on the socioeconomic bottom–structurally speaking, since there are obvious exceptions such as your family–each time the word is used. By anyone of any race. You had better believe words have power over people–the words in the laws, the words in churches, the words surrounding our consciousness every hour of every day. They shape our reality, and when they shape our common reality, you had best not be in your hoodie knocking on any white suburban doors no matter how mainstream you are.

      1. Indeed, all things are possible, Ms Starr. I have tried to offer a/my variation– a balance–to gut level reactions to the word “nigger” as I do for everything I encounter. As Breeze says I am an octogenarian. I have been involved in the racial war since birth, Texas and SC. I am not a seer or “perfect.” I merely offer summations from my experience, that includes, “trying” to be a Rosa Parks several years before she opened her public action, and I had no organization supporting me. I investigate the history, including , in the case of language, the etymology of the word in whatever contexts I can. From that position I ask myself things like, what value can be gained by a particular response, AND what is it IN me that precipitates my response–my psychology. The effects are my responsibility.

        Being an “A” personality decades of my cohorts can testify to my combative nature and actions. I do not deny the power of words to harm and to energize. What I do notice is that when I present my perspective and insight from my experience (teaching in several venues–small-large–black, white, multi-racial, across ages and classes, I reflect and comment, and often am rebuffed and/or ignored for my perception. Like everything, my comments re “the n-word” has personal implications. I wrote of one, the white playmate who first used the word to my knowledge. I felt no anger toward her, but for her mother having seen race in children’s interaction. Other times I have reacted differently–depending on circumstances. I reacted more from a white school clerk referring to me with, “Will you look at WHAT they sent us for seventh grade” (substitute) than I ever have to “nigger.”

        I said that I CHOSE to respond to the word–all words and actions as I do from my experience and psychology. I call this freedom, without the ability to express choice there is o freedom. If I did not allow students to say what they felt/though I had no opportunity to help them move forward.and I have walked on egg shells ( robin’s at that) all my life. I censor every thought and word on the basis of do I want to that the risk. I take more risks than many–and pay for it. My orientation is holistic, and this is not the usual western position, a detail- micro approach to issues, especially seen as controversial.

        Breeze sees the essence of my observation-response in her reference to my upbringing and age. I am an interdisciplinary social scientist whose orientation is the old school–before everything became number and polling. Initially, trained as a participant-observer in social psychology, with grounding in the seven disciplines: anthropology-geography-history-political science-sociology-psychology (the old fashioned way) my synapses function a bit differently. (I am sending you, Breeze, a copy of the talk two weeks ago, “Alien in the Homeland: Rescuing the Bourgie.” Wish I knew how to use the photos with it in this medium.)

        I wrote a true novel, 1986-88, published 2002, and “THE word” had much to do with the book not getting attention. I was not naive. I told the publisher they could change the title, although IN context the emotional response to the title was misplaced. How can one know what is in a full novel by one of four words in a title–and misinterpreted? I was shocked, and surprised, and will never recover from the attitude toward my life’s work. Some readers say it is their favorite book–people of color, too. Search books with”nigger” in the title. By the way although amazon.com carries the book,I was ot able to write the title in a response online.

        I think of myself as a writer, and a communicator, but I am, again, on the verge of deciding that this linear medium–in its format–is not ideal, as it was hoped and thought to be–whether 140 characters or more. The back and forth/give and take with body language and tone are missing, although a kind of combativeness does come through from some posts.

    2. Gwen, can you explain more by what you meant in your last entry in regards to how words don’t have power over us? Do you mean in terms of ‘self-esteem’ but not in terms of how these word/concepts can affect laws, actions, etc (as Susan had mentioned). Gwen, I know you quite well and know that you are completely conscious of structural and institutional racism, but are also from an era and socio-economic class that are very foreign to me (i.e., you are nearly 80 years old and grew up in a professional black household in which your parents had graduate school education).

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