I remember the first time I said the “N-word” as a small child. I don’t recall exactly where I heard the word but based on my T.V. habits at the time I suspect I heard it on MTV or from a black comedian. Curious, I asked my mother what the word meant.
“Its a bad word that people call black people” she said
At that age I only knew one context of a “bad word” meaning curse words children weren’t allowed to say but adults were allowed to say. From previous experience I wasn’t allowed to say “bad words” without being punished.
“So I can’t say it?” I asked.
“No, you can’t say it. Only black people can say it” she said.
“Kids aren’t allowed to say it?” I asked.
“No, just white people aren’t allowed to say it” she said.
Now I was really confused. There were bad words I wasn’t allowed to say that adults could say. My young mind accepted the difference between grown up things and kid things. I knew there were different rules based on your age. But my mind was on the fritz with this new information.
“Why can black people say it and I can’t?” I asked.
“Because it is a mean word to say to a black person and it hurts their feelings” she said.
Growing up I don’t recall ever using the word because I associated it as a curse word and because saying it would hurt somebody’s feelings. But looking back I now realized I was also very confused about the word. My mother explained it the best she could but it never made sense to me as a kid.
As I grew up in the 1990’s I heard the word so much because of rap music and stand up comedy. I never really thought about the word because there was no point. If I had to say the word for context I could say the “N-word” the same way news broadcasters used it. But there is a contradiction with saying the “N-word” as Louis C. K. put it:
“I mean the “N” word, literally whenever a white lady on CNN with nice hair says: “The ‘N’ word.” That’s just white people getting away with saying nigger, that’s all that is. They found a way to say nigger. “N word.” It’s bullshit cause when you say the “N word” you put the word nigger in the listener’s head. That’s what saying a word is. You say the N word and I go ‘oh, she means nigger’’. You’re making me say it in my head. “
Because of the rise of political correctness during my upbringing there was limited discussion about race or diversity. There were just rules regarding race everybody had to follow because in the past some bad people did very bad things to other people. But I have found that questions that aren’t answered adequately don’t just go away.
In recent years I’ve seen the race debate come back into question but this time it is being initiated by Millennials. An entire generation, myself included, who had rules to follow regarding race that were implemented before we were part of the discussion.
The race rules are still confusing to me and it is getting more complicated. This week alone following the Charleston Shooting I’ve seen a called to remove the Confederate flag in South Carolina, a call to change the Mississippi state flag, and a call to remove a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Tennessee.
The new debate has turned towards a complete eradication of Civil War history in the South. I am concerned when lawmakers instantly cave to the whims of a sudden outcry to satisfy the issue of the month for political points. I fear that by next week the issue will have been forgotten as quickly as Baltimore or the Bring Back Our Girls hashtag.
Politicians never doing anything that will not benefit themselves directly. By destroying any reminders of history aren’t we passing on the race issue to future generations based on our rules without explanation? Are we setting up the future circumstances for a new generation to have less of voice than we had growing up but with more rules to obediently follow? Will this settle anything?