The first time I rode a bike. And fell. My first kiss followed by my first heartbreak. Those are all staples you expect in life. Awaiting them like a child on December 24th, ready for Santa to slide through. But the first time I would be called a “nigger” never crossed my mind. It wasn’t a notch above the bedpost.
Sure, I’ve been a few “niggas” because that’s a term of endearment amongst my people. A right of passage establishing you in this elite community. But when that white man in the back of an Uber pool parted his lips to call me a “nigger,” I just wasn’t ready. Sort of one of those “that could never happen to me” moments. As if I were a unicorn, legendary and untouchable. I mean I am, but somehow this reached me and grabbed me up in a choke hold.
I’ve taken plenty of Uber rides, Uber pools to be exact. I attended a PWI, a predominantly white school for the white folks in the back who don’t have to differentiate (PWI vs HBCU). I went to a white dance school, most of my coworkers are white, and well I live in white America. But no one has ever called ME a nigger. Even when disagreeing in group projects or cutting someone off while driving, no one reached that level of anger or disdain for me as a person.
It’s safe to say the guy was drunk. Yes, he started off “nice” and trying to engage with me. But why is it that the moment I decided I did not want to engage, I became a rude cunt (oh, nigger came much later in this somewhat short ride). It was after 10 p.m., I worked hard, I celebrated a friend’s going away party. I was TIRED. I had that right. Instead he kept pressuring me to make chat it up. He had an entire woman next to him, they were chatting just fine before I entered the front seat. Why did he need me too?
As the car ride went on, he would attempt small talk despite my very visible headphones. I sneezed and I guess the “God bless you” he dished out meant I owed him more than the thank you my mom taught me to give. He pressed on. I’m certain by this point I had become a conquest so to speak. I politely informed him I still didn’t want to talk. And then he felt it was okay to grab my shoulder to get my attention. And that was IT!
I had a millisecond to decide to slap him or remain calm and suggest he not touch me. I went with the latter because what I won’t be is a #hashtag. I have a lot more living to do. Following my request to remain untouched his lips parted. “Cunt Nigger Bitch.” I was fine with the beginning and ending words. But something about the middle word stung.
The next thing I knew he was requesting to get out of the Uber ahead of his stop because he could not bear to ride with a “cunt nigger bitch” any longer. And I’m glad that he reached that level of discomfort because I’m not sure what might have happened if he didn’t excuse himself. I was shocked. I had enough. Why did my desire not to engage warrant such anger?
More importantly, why does anger push to use of that word? Clearly that feeling was there already. He obviously feels comfortable using the term. And there are so many others like him who feel the same. Who use that word to make black people feel weak and less empowered. Or that’s what they think. However, it made me stronger and ready for the next time. I am now waiting just like I wait for my Amazon packages, with great fervor.
To take a page from the late, great James Baldwin…I am not your nigger.