For all you haters of the infamous “N-word”, you have my apologies for the garish title to this note. Somehow, a more polite title did not seem to do this note justice.
This week, my childhood best friend of 20 years was confronted with a situation a black person living in the South will surely face at one point or another. Her Facebook status read:
“So what do you do, as an accomplished educated black person, when you are called the n-word in traffic by a white man? Do you follow him, write down his tag number, pull in some favors from our friends in blue, and try to destroy his life after cussin him out…..or do you keep driving. I am so furious, I think my day is shot. Oh, and this was the first time I have EVER been called that.”
The reactions to her query ranged from typical to amusing.
“Pray for his ignorant soul”
“Ignore him and don’t waste your precious energy”
“You’re above him in so many ways”
My personal favorites were:
You say F*** YOU BIGOT!!!!!! As loud as you can, and waste no more time on ignorance…
You shoulda got out the car and kicked his bit** a**, and then prayed for him and ask the lord to forgive you for causing bodily harm to a fellow brother.
In short, your reaction depends on the stuff that you’re made of; what you’re core beliefs truly are. Some of the more “Christ-like” responses urged my friend to forgive, pray and move on. Others, like the ones referenced above, urged her to reach out and offer a verbal/physical smack down. Getting called a nigger in traffic (or anywhere else), really is like getting slapped in the face. What do you do when someone slaps you in the face? Do you reach out and smack the other person back, or do you turn the other cheek as the Bible instructs? It depends on if you’re a worm or a snake. A snake will strike back if it’s stepped on, and a worm will be crushed under the same pressure. Worms catch fish, snakes don’t. I’m not here to judge the merits of worms and snakes. As far as I’m concerned, they both serve a useful purpose in nature. People with a “worm mentality” can be used to draw people in, to win friends and allies. You can’t catch fish (or people for the purposes of this metaphor), with a “snake mentality”, but darn it if you won’t watch where you’re stepping next time you come across one!
For my part, I was surprised it took my friend this long to get called a nigger, living where we do. She’s been in Atlanta nearly as long as I have (9 years) and I was called a nigger within the first 3 months of living here.
Marshall and I were driving through Sandy Springs one sunny afternoon, when he happened to take a wrong turn on the word. Marshall held up his hand in apology to the driver behind us, and I mouthed a silent “sorry” as well. The guy sped up to our window and yelled:
“Yew niggers!!!” and sped off.
We were gobsmacked. We looked at each other and eventually had to laugh. Welcome to Atlanta!
The other thing I wonder about in my friend’s statement is her assertion that “this was the first time she had ever been called that”. I could be wrong, but I highly doubt that. She went to an HBCU, same as I did, and I am sure in the midst of one conversation or another, someone has uttered the phrase “nigger, please” in response to something she’s said. I am equally sure at some point in time she’s called someone else a nigger…or excuse me “nigga”, because you know, it makes a difference. Is it the word, or the source that’s the cause of all this bewilderment?
There’s some statistic out there that says when a black man is shot, 90% of the time another black man is on the other side of the gun. I’m almost certain that when a black man gets called a nigger, 98% of the time another black man is the one doing the calling. If we don’t want other races calling us “the n-word” maybe it should start with us.
In the meantime, I leave my friend with the comfort and assurance that this will not be the last time she gets called out her name, no matter how educated accomplished, or beautiful she may be. The ignorant, like the poor, will be with us always.