Yesterday I was sitting on my porch watching my granddaughter play with two of her cousins in the front yard. The house across the street has been a vacant eyesore since I moved into the neighborhood, so I’ve been happy to see construction taking place on a daily basis. The workers are young, Latino and appear to be working diligently to resurrect the house, which is pepto bismal pink and in a state of total disrepair. Sometimes they blast music and banter loudly amongst themselves, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m sure hard manual labor is easier when you are joking and laughing with your peers. If I want quiet, I’ll just take my book and move indoors.
Yesterday was no exception. The guys were bantering and a musical party scene prevailed. I was skimming through a magazine as I kept an eye on the kids and had pretty much tuned out the construction crew. That is until a word spoken loudly by one of the guys jumped out at me. “Hey, nigger.” He was addressing another Latino man, and my first thought was “Wow, this is a popular word with some people in the Hispanic community too.” Up until four years ago, I worked with middle and high school students, so I shouldn’t really has been surprised, but since my retirement, I’ve lived in somewhat of a bubble, I guess.
I’m not Black. I come from a jewish background, but I have four grown biracial children as well as grandchildren of color. I’m relatively new to this area, and I don’t know my neighbors well, but I do know this street is almost exclusively African-American. Apparently this guy felt perfectly comfortable and entitled to spit out a word with a hateful legacy in a neighborhood of mostly older generation Black home owners.
“That’s the wrong word to be using in this neighborhood” I yelled, hoping to be heard over the sounds of machinery. Apparenty I could, because the “perpetrator” threw a sheepish look in my direction and with a slight shake of his head said “Sorry.” I’m sure Black people who routinely address themselves as “niggas” would have been highly indignant, and may have even tried to take it further than I did, but is it possible they need to re-think their own use of such an inflammatory word?
I know the argument Black people use when they address each other that way. “It’s okay for us.” “We are entitled, because we are in the family.” “It’s a term of identification and comraderie.” And so they use it over the air waves and in public places and within earshot of other races. Well, I don’t care what color you are. This is a word that carries a lot of weight and a brutal history. There is a term called “The Stockholm Syndrome” where victims, worn down by brainwashing and other dehumanizing tactics start to identify with their oppressors. Maybe they feel like if they can’t beat them, for the sake of sanity, they might as well join them. Battered woman often display those characteristics “If I didn’t provoke him, he wouldn’t beat me, so it must be my fault.” Could there be something of this going on in this instance?
The word nigger is not an innocuous word that can morph into something teasingly playful by taking off the letters “er” and substituting an “a” at the end anymore than you can decide to call a table a bed and then expect to sleep comfortably on it.
Just like many young people have no idea what the Holacaust was, they also seem completely clueless about the long lasting effects of slavery. These topics just don’t seem to be taught at home or at school. Maybe people feel like these occurences were so painful that they are best left as relics of the past with no relevance to generations fortunate enough not to have been victims of such horror. “If I just close my eyes and put my hands over my ears, it didn’t exist” But it did, and much respect should be given to those who fought hard on the front lines of history to make bloody inroads for those who came after them. To me, it seems like using the term nigger/nigga is like slapping them in the face and purposely taking a step backward instead of gaining ground and moving forward.
My five-year-old granddaughter and her two young cousins didn’t seem to hear that word that was so lightly spoken. I hope they never will, especially by a member of their own race. How confusing and what a mixed message to send to impressionable children.