Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Nigger by Any Other Name: Part II

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Alright. Forget all that heartwarming garbage I posted yesterday. I do. I do want my babies back. Because this shit is hard and I don't want to do it anymore.

There was a fistfight in my front yard yesterday. When Husband went out to break it up, nobody was talking. The only thing we could discern, thanks to Diminutive One, is that our son had been gut punched by another child. Husband sent all the other kids home. He called the parents of the other child involved and explained that there had been a fight but that he was unable to get details from either child.

Five minutes later she called back and said that Pre-pubescent One had called her son a Nigger.

Husband and I were thoroughly and completely shocked. Sick. Sad.

Because we live in an area of the country that has been so thoroughly ravaged by racism and slavery, and is still divided to a degree, we have tried very hard to instill love and acceptance of all people in our children. Not just black people and other minorities, but fat people, skinny people, mentally challenged people, physically disabled people, people with buck teeth, people with big ears. Everybody deserves to be loved for who they are, not what they look like. This is what we have preached, this is how we have lived.

We have encouraged our children to enjoy and embrace other cultures. We have friends of many different ethnicities, through whom we learn about and experience all the wonderful ways in which we differ from one another. We have taught our children that these differences make the world a richer more beautiful place.

And we have suceeded! Our children do not see color, they do not hear halting English, they do not feel the rifts caused by religious divergence. They see a playmate. A friend. A human being.

Pre-Pubescent One is greatly enamored of the African American culture. From the clothing styles to the music, to the slanguage, he loves it all. This is because he has a great many African American friends whom he believes to be the epitome of cool.

My point is, he's no Strom Thurmond. And it's just not in his nature to hate. Which is why the incident was so puzzling and heartwrenching.

Husband and I knew we had to get to the bottom of this thing and fix it. Fast.

Once we had all calmed down, we talked about it. As the facts began to unfold, it became clear that he really had no idea why the word was so terribly insulting and demeaning. Why? Because he had heard his black friends use the word with one another on many occasions.

I know, that's hard to swallow, but stay with me here. I'm not excusing or condoning the use of the word.

My son has never heard that word used in it's orignal context and all the horrible connotations it carries. He has never heard it spoken with contempt and loathing. He has never heard a white man address a black man in this manner. So by sheltering him from this word, we were doing him, as well as his African American friends, a grave disservice. Our intent was to raise a child without the taint of racism. What we didn't realize is that we had to first teach him what it was, to then teach him what it wasn't.

Of course he knows about slavery, but it's a concept in a history book. It's a long forgotten thing in his mind. Slavery is abolished and everything is a-okay as far as he's concerned.

Which brings me to my second point.

I am not black. I can't even begin to understand what it is like to be black. So I realize perhaps I am missing some vital element that would aid in my understanding. But I have said before that I couldn't quite grasp why a people would want to hang onto a word that historically signified opression, hatred, and persecution for their race. But, I never really considered that it might one day impact my life, and so, I suppose, I decided that while perplexing, it was of little import to me.

But now I understand that a word such as "Nigger" affects all of us. Because the it's sad and shameful history will never be dissociated from it, no matter how hard we try. We can't make it a symbol of brotherhood, or solidarity, or triumph, because for too long it was just the opposite. It's a word that unleashes all the hatred and terror of the ages every time it is spoken.

So a hapless child comes along, a child who doesn't appreciate the subleties of racial imprecations. A child who sees only right and wrong. Black and White. And this child uses a word he has heard his friends use, his friends' parents use. A word that is written in song lyrics and spoken in interviews. A word that is seemingly harmless. A word that is often said with a smile and a good-natured poke. A word that is accepted and even embraced by a very large segment of the American Population.

Honestly, how was he supposed to know it's bad?

The way it went down was this:

There was a verbal argument. I'm not sure what it was about, but I think it was a dispute regarding the game they were playing at the time. The other child knocked my son to the ground in a tackle, whereupon my son hit his head, hard enough that it made him cry. If you know anything about 11 year old boys, you know that they would rather vomit than cry in front of their friends. So it must have really hurt. The other child laughed and jeered. This, understandably, angered Pre-Pubescent One. He said to the other child,

"Shut Up Nigger!"

The child punched him. And I suppose, if I were a black child, I would have punched him too.

But he did not say,

"You're nothing but a filthy Nigger."

or

"I don't talk to Niggers"

or

"We don't want any Niggers around here."

Now I know that the word is shocking and sickening no matter the context in which it is used. And he knows that now. But then, he was simply saying something that he had heard them say to one another 100 times. To him, the word was comparable to "sucker".

So we, as a AMERICAN people need to decide, is this a good word, or a bad word? I do not believe it can be both. And I do not believe it can be okay for one race, but not for another. We either strike it from our vocabulary never to be spoken again, or we attempt to nullify the historical implications by making it a part of our common usage. I prefer the former. I don't think the latter is realistic.

My son learned a very hard lesson yeserday. He lost a friend, and he had to face some very angry (and large) parents to apologize. I am concerned that he will face further repercussions on the bus and at school. I hope to God he doesn't get his ass kicked.

And the thing is...I don't really think it's his fault. I'm not going to punish him. I'm sure that many will disagree with that decision. But I am choosing to educate, rather than penalize. He doesn't understand, so I need to make him understand.

I think he needs to watch "Mississippi Burning" or "Roots" or "Rosewood" or "The Ghosts of Mississippi". Maybe I will take him to the King Center. I regret that we did not visit a plantation while we were in Charleston. The Boone Hall plantation has one of the most complete collection of slaves quarters in the country. It was jarring to me to look in those tiny, dank, earthen floored hovels and realize that whole families lived in them. It would have been tangible evidence for him of how horribly slaves were treated and what the African American race has overcome. It's one thing to hear his father and me preach about how African Americans were once treated with less kindness and humanity than dogs. It's quite another to confront it face to face.

So, America...is it a bad word, or a good word? Do we preach against it's use, or do we ignore all the evil inherent to it and accept it as part of a cultural vernacular?

Someone please make a decision so I can let my kid know. Thanks.

23 Comments:

  • At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You did your best. That is evident. But, just because banning the word would make your life a little easier does not make it right. Life isn't black or white, there are many shades of gray. This is an important life lesson for your child.

     
  • At 10:12 AM, Blogger Oh, The Joys said…

    BA, I appreciate this post and your thoughtful reflection. I think it is always the role of the white community to educate rather than opress - there's been enough of that - particularly I think it our role to educate within our own community about the hurt we can cause and have caused. I think you must be a great mom.

     
  • At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Momish said…

    BA, how I feel for you and your son. It is terrible to stive so hard to do right and just have it all go wrong. It is confusing for a young boy to be surrounded by others who accept him and whom he accepts, yet the bottom line (unfortunately) is they are different and have different standards in situations like these. I don't know how you would try to explain this while trying to maintain that it is still not right. Your children are extremely lucky to have such wonderful parents, even if it causes them be somewhat naive with regards to the ugly and wrong things in the world.

     
  • At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Kvetch said…

    I have no advice, except that we must communicate with others in the language they understand and value. And it's hard to know whats right and wrong to say to each individual person, no matter their color or race or height or weight. So, when in doubt, I don't. Don't know if a heavy woman is pregnant? Don't ask when she's due. Don't know if an older man is a younger woman's father or her date? Don't ask. I would honestly say (and I have a lot to say for someone who said she had no advice) that there have to be some unrelated words that are off-limits, just so no one is offended.

     
  • At 12:29 PM, Anonymous reluctant housewife said…

    Wow, you handled this exceptionally well. Bravo.

    As far as your question...I think it's a bad word, and like you, I don't understand why people use it when referring to themselves. This whole, "we are taking back the word but no one else can use it" is bullshit if you ask me. It just creates more divisions and confusion.

     
  • At 1:25 PM, Blogger Ruth Dynamite said…

    My opinion? Bad word don't use it.

    I do admire your parenting and attempts to educate and enlighten your son, but that word is loaded - despite its current use within some circles.

     
  • At 1:30 PM, Blogger sunshine scribe said…

    I think you handled this as well as you could. Language is such a powerful thing and a good lesson for your son. I tend to be of the same persuasion as Kvetch on my own personal approach ... when i doubt, "don't".

    But to your point about oppressive language use ... Yes, there is a double standard and yes, it is confusing. But if we are not in the oppressed group then we can't begin to understand their reality even if we are their friend and the most open person in the world. My husband and I are of different races. He often makes what I would think are "oppressive" statements about his own community. It isn't right but it is a coping mechanism to poke fun at the oppression that he faces. I would/could/should never dream of chiming in on a conversation like that because it isn't my right. I have had the chance to be born into a majority group that comes with it unearned privledge. But also responsibility. Responsibility to know that language is powerful and that their are double standards and that it is complicated. Its tough for an adult to navigate ... so even tougher for a young boy.

    Your son is lucky to have a mother like you to help him along that very important road.

     
  • At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I had the privilege to work with a number of african americans where we, the non african, were the minority. I also found it very confusing that amongst themselves they constantly referred to each other as ' you nigger', 'fat nigger', ' dumb nigger' but if someone else no matter how good a friend, used the word innocently was penalized. I dont know what the answer is to your question. But I tell my kids that certain issues are too sensitive and no matter how close the friend is we have to be more careful. The word itself is just a word and young african kids on the street probably dont realize the implications of the word themselves until they are a little older. I do believe though that the adult african american sometime do get overly emotional when some other race uses the word specially when they themselves DO use it in many derogatory terms. I DO NOT mean to offend anyone. I apologize if I have with my answer.

     
  • At 3:07 PM, Blogger bubandpie said…

    I don't think that African Americans are asking too much if they choose to reclaim this word (a word that is still being used today in its originally derogatory meaning, though thankfully that is becoming rare). I think that adults can grasp the distinction - the word just doesn't mean the same thing when I say as it does when black people use it among themselves.

    The key word in the above paragraph, of course, is "adults." It sounds like you've done a great job of handling the situation sensitively with your son; I can only hope that the other boy's parents are being equally responsible and have done their best to show their son why he should give PPO the benefit of the doubt here.

     
  • At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Flybunny said…

    Wow that is a toughie and I think you handled it admirably.

    We ran into a similar situation when Abby was in preschool and told a little girl that she couldn't play something because her skin was brown. Little girl went home and told her parents and her parents raised holy hell and come to find out the little girl had first told Abby that she couldn't play because her skin was white.

    I was appalled that someone would even suggest that we were racist and the fact that this happened when Abby was only 4 and she honest to goodness didn't know what she was saying and to this day, the parents of that other little girl will not speak to us nor will they even look at us even though we called and apologized. I think adults tend to make things like this worse.

    Did the other child get punished and have to apologize for his actions? Even though he "thinks" he has good reason, he still made a choice to use his fist.

    Sorry to turn this into a long comment, I am sorry that your son had to learn this lesson.

     
  • At 4:16 PM, Blogger Natalie said…

    As an African-American I will agree that there is a double standard. I agree that it is stupid. I still know that Black people will continue to use Nigga' as a term of endearment. They will not use Nigger. Black people will fight other black people over improper inflection. I know, stupid, but that's the way it is. I think too often people outside the culture think of the words as the same thing, that the “er” is just not annunciated because of the “black accent”. I am also Jewish. There are many jokes that we tell about other Jews that may get funny looks from someone outside the culture. I think most groups do that to a certain extent. Look at the use of Queer in the gay community. As with "the n word" there are some people in the community that see it as a reclamation and some that see it as a disgrace and think it should never be used. Personally, I only use Nigga' and Nigger in a historical or sociological sense (maybe it's partly because I don't look Black and would probably get beat up in circles where my parentage isn't known). I discussed some of our country's strange racial history in my post A Moment of Surprise I'll email you the link and if you are interested in any further discussion I welcome it. The movie CSA that I talk about in the post may be useful. You may want to watch if first for content, because I can't remember how old your son is, but if you are considering Rosewood this film isn't anywhere near as disturbing. I do want to say you handled it well. Unfortunately, race and racism isn’t going anywhere in this country and I think it is better to fully educate our children on the entire subject than to only tell them about how to teach people. Best of luck. Sorry this got long.

     
  • At 4:17 PM, Blogger Natalie said…

    oops i meant treat people not teach people in the last line.

     
  • At 5:05 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chicken said…

    I feel strongly that this is always a bad word, even if the African-American community uses it with affection. My husband taught elementary school in a very urban district for nine years and some of his strictest discipline was reserved for the use of this word. This was a district whose population was 99.9% African-American.

    It spreads ugliness, plain and simple.

    Ach, this must've been a real tough one.

     
  • At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Izzy said…

    I don't envy you. This is a hard situation and particularly when dealing with an ugly word that comes complete with it's own double-standard. I don't like it or approve of it but I'm certain the blame doesn't lie with you or your son. It sounds like you've done everything you can to raise your kids as non-racist, colorblind people. If he hears black people or "African Americans" using it in a non-malicious way in person or in a song, movie etc, what is he supposed to think? If people don't want to be called "nigger" they shouldn't ever USE the word "nigger" in any capacity. It's a word that simply needs to be retired from the English language because no good comes from using it. I know that doesn't help but it's my 2¢, FWIW.

     
  • At 7:34 AM, Blogger Chrissy said…

    You handled that Beautifully!

     
  • At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Beanie Baby said…

    No, I think you're wrong.

    It's like the difference between a girlfriend of yours calling you a 'bitch' in a joking way, vs. a man calling you a bitch. The meaning is completely different, because one person is saying it with full knowledge of the history and context of the word--in a "we're in this together" way--and the other person is not.

    It is a bad word. But it is a word that can be used by certain members of certian communities in certain situations *because* they know how bad it is, they know its history, and they are collectively thumbing their noses at it. You can think of it as saying, "Yes, we've been through slavery, and segregation, and apartheid; we've been spit on and locked up and beaten and lynched; and we're still hated; but here we are, still standing, and we know all that but it hasn't knocked us down yet."

    Your son is not a part of that 'we,' and no matter how innocent his intentions were, it's not the same coming from his mouth.

    It's a tragic situation, and I'm sorry he and his friend went through that. I hope they're able to be friends again. Hopefully he can do a better job of explaining to him why it's not the same.

     
  • At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Tina said…

    Here's my take...it's all about the tone and timing. I'm sorry, I don't buy that at 11 he has never heard the word nigger used in a negative tone...I'm sure he was pissed and hurt and wanted to hurt back, a natural reaction. I get what you've taught him, we teach ours the same way...but, kids are kids and going to make stupid decisions on occasion.

    Had they all been in a friendly situation, cool and your son said 'waz up nigger?' in a 'we're cool and equals/friends sort of tone'...I doubt that would have gotten him punched. Again, it's not about who uses it, from what I've witnessed and learned from my black (see, it's even okay to say black, lol...) friends is it's the meaning behind it at the time.

    If you want to truly teach and guide your child true...don't sugarcoat his errors. Are you acknowledging it...yes, to a degree...but then you spin it with 'he has never heard it used in a disparaging way' sort of deal...face it, he's normal. With normal comes mistakes...keep on doing what you're doing about walking the walk and instilling in him the import of 'equality'.

     
  • At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Tina said…

    I just wanted to add that like Natalie said, I've learned that within the black community besides how it is used...there is completely different 'meaning' behind both 'nigga and nigger'. I said Nigger in my previou post only because I was typing and didn't really think about it...but, she's right, one is used disparagingly and one is used in a more 'friendly' meaning.

    Also, if you want to educate rather than penalize....an apology letter written from your son to the other boy, IMO, would be a good lesson. Goes along with the whole...two wrongs don't make a right, he hurt someone and even if you truly believe he didn't intend to...he did it none-the-less. He needs to learn to take responsibility for his actions. Do we as adults always intend to hurt others...no...but it still happens on occasion and part of being an empathetic individual is being able to place ourselves in the others shoes and feel badly that another hurt, regardless of intent or not. Don't get me wrong, the other child should do the same...but, we only have control over our own.

     
  • At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Andrea said…

    I think you handled the situation in a respectful manner. Sometimes, it surprises me the things I've overlooked for their simplicity when trying to teach my son (who is only 2 so I haven't had much practice yet) how to interact with other kids. So many things are learned "the hard way". Remembering to introduce your child to what once was as a basis to show what racism is and why it's wrong makes so much sense, but I can see how such a beginning can be almost an afterthought because it's not around anymore. But it does provide good context. I don't know about the N word though. I know I never use it and I'm shocked when I hear it. But my husband was reprimanded at his work several years ago because someone overheard (but didn't see) one Black gentleman say, "Nigga, please," to another Black coworker and thought it was my husband who said it. My husband, being white, was immediately dragged into his supervisor's office for a discussion on the matter and that's when the truth came out. When they learned who really said the phrase, they didn't pull the guy who said it into the offices because the connotation of the phrase changed and it was no longer as offensive. My hubs learned then and there that no matter how blind we hope to be about color, there are still differences and even his being in the wrong place at the wrong time can have consequences.

     
  • At 11:43 AM, Blogger Blog Antagonist said…

    Thanks to everyone for the very thoughtful and insightful comments. I appreciate all the opinions you've offered, even those that differ from mine.

    I do want to clarify that though we chose not to punish him, we did express to my son that his use of the word was very, very wrong. We did not sugarcoat or gloss over the seriousness of what he did.

    He got a very long and stern lecture and he did get marched over to that child's home to apologize. I did not convey to *him* any of what I have written here, about how I feel that mixed messages and double standards are to blame for him feeling it's okay to use the word.

    He knows it was wrong...now. To the person who doesn't believe he has never heard the word used deragatorily...It's true that I can't know what things he has heard outside of my supervision. All of our kids see and hear a lot more than we realize. But I honestly don't believe he has heard that word spoken in a negative way by a white person. Yes, he was hurt and upset and lashed out, but if he had really intended to use the word in it's fully demeaning definition, I think the context in which he used it would have been different.

    That's just my opinion of course, and everyone is free to form their own. I don't think I'll ever agree that the double standard is acceptable, but I have enjoyed reading all of the opinions offered here, and I appreciate the very civil manner in which they have been expressed.

     
  • At 1:16 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chicky said…

    That's a tough one to handle. I hate the word and it's not even an insult that will ever be hurled towards me. But I can understand where your son was coming from. I also hope he doesn't get beaten up on the bus!

     
  • At 2:26 PM, Blogger Lisa said…

    Wow. That's tough. I think you did the right thing...

     
  • At 1:26 AM, Blogger FrancesM said…

    I remember being a freshman in high school and was studying with a peer at her house. One of her little brothers came up to me & called me a nigger. Though I was 8-10 years older than this child his ignorance pained me to the bone. 2 years ago I was helping a set of parents at my place of work. Their daughter all of 5 or 6 stared at me (I'm mixed & one cannot always tell what I am racially) and then looked at her mom & dad and asked "do Indians have boobs?" Even as an adult of 31 it still stings.

    Black culture is vast and varied. It concerns me you said your kid is "emamored" with it. What aspect? The way it's shown on MTV or when people of color are working together for eqality. I'm sure you're well meaning, but I have dealt with more annoying ignorance from "well meaning" white folks then outright racists. I wish you luck. Check out Tim Wise. http://www.zmag.org/bios/homepage.cfm?authorID=96
    Peace!

     

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