When Somebody You Love Says The ‘N’-Word

I’ve been away at college for three years now, and while I’m at school, I’m surrounded by a group of likeminded (admittedly very liberal) people, who are constantly thinking about and discussing racism, feminism, classism, and anything in between. In these three short years, I’ve learned so much about the world beyond the predominantly white, middle-class microcosm I was raised in, by simply talking to and really listening to people from diverse backgrounds, and I know I’m a better person for it.

The longer I spend away from my hometown, the more I assume all people feel the way my friends and I do about these issues. It’s literally just equality! We believe all people should be equal. It is that simple. There are serious issues in this country that stem from the systematic oppression of African Americans and centuries of racism, and my friends do not see the existence of these problems as an argument or issue that is up for debate; its existence is real, and that is a fact. It’s not until I go home and spend some time with my family and their friends that I remember the scary, often ignorant world outside of college campuses, and that so many people I love are living in it.

Recently, I was at a close family friend’s graduation party with my parents. It was well after the majority of party guests had left and the only people still there were very close friends of the family, all of whom were definitely intoxicated. At that time, I was one of two “kids” left at the party, and we were teaching the drunken mess of parents how to play Ring of Fire. I can’t remember the exact context, but at some point during the game, my dad’s best friend dropped the “n” word. More specifically, he dropped the “n” word with a hard “r,” and my stomach dropped.

As is my typical impulse when somebody uses the most vulgar word in the English language, I immediately snapped at him. “Hey do me a favor and say the ‘n’-word, like never, ever in your entire life please, okay?” I thought that would be the end of it. I thought he’d apologize, blame it on his drunken state (not a valid excuse but better than nothing), and we’d continue with our game like nothing had happened. I was ready to forgive him.

Instead, he said it again. And again. And then his 18-year-old daughter said it and he high-fived her and laughed.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt like I was in a different world, and honestly, I was. A few weeks before, I was drunk at a party and said the word while rapping along to a song, and then it got silent. I looked around and saw all my friends staring at me in shock at what had just come from my mouth. I felt horrible, and that was just after drunkenly saying it without the hard “r” in a song. It wasn’t okay, and I realized that instantly and apologized profusely.

But there I was, in a world I didn’t even know anymore, still in shock that this man, a person who I considered extended family, could even make his mouth say that word, let alone continue to say it after he knew I was clearly upset. He didn’t apologize; instead he took me out to his car and played me a Kanye track to prove a point. “Listen Aubrey, he’s saying that word,” he remarked to me while bobbing his head and rapping along, not failing to emphasize that disgusting word each time. “If he can say it, why can’t I?” It took every once of my strength to not shake him and tell him everything wrong with what he was doing. Instead, my parents found me and we left before the situation escalated.

But then it got worse. On the car ride home, my parents not only expressed their lack of support for me in calling out their friend for saying the word, but also proceeded to yell at me for getting so upset and embarrassing them in front of their friends. They defended him, saying it was his freedom of speech, and called me a hypocrite for being a writer but being so wildly against the usage of any word in the English language. They screamed at me and I screamed back, until finally I was crying so hard that I couldn’t articulate anything. As soon as we got home, I retreated to my room and group texted my friends about what had happened, in desperate need of support.

My mom came to see me eventually, in an attempt to make up with me. However, her first objective was to get me to admit that she was right and I was wrong, a routine I became very familiar with during the more trivial fights we had during my adolescence. But I wasn’t going to budge this time. This time it was different and I knew I was right. This wasn’t me being an unreasonable, moody teenager. This wasn’t a rebellion against some rule I’d deemed unfair rule or a curfew. This was me fighting for my beliefs, fighting so desperately for my parents to see a perspective other than their own, knowing at this point I was the only one who could show it to them.

I realized something incredibly important that night: adults are not always right just because they’re adults, and my age does not invalidate my viewpoints. The older I get, the stronger my opinions become, and the more equipped I am to defend them against my parents’ generation. I truly believe in the millennial generation and our ability to affect change, even within the minds of the people who raised us.

My upbringing, despite the certain negative aspects I’ve just begun to realize, was overwhelmingly positive. My parents raised me to be intelligent, to hold myself to a high standard, and above all else they taught me how to be a good person. But even good people can be problematic, but it is the goodness in these people that will allow for them to eventually understand the error of their ways and grow into more socially aware individuals. We cannot, nor should we stop loving these people. We just have to know when to call them on their shit. TC mark

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