I have lived for nearly 37 years, with nearly 30 of those being in the South and I have never once even considered using the “n” word. Ever. I know that there are other people that don’t feel as strongly about it as I do and that the stereotype is that we all just walk around saying it down here. It's not true, but for some reason if you have a Southern accent, or you like some Skynyrd or country music - well, you must use the "n" word, right?
The entire time that I was growing up, while my father tried to knock me down with his fists and his words he would scream at me, “you are as bad as a…”, “as ugly as a…”, “as lazy as a…”, “as stupid as a…” “as sorry as a …” Even at 6 or 7 years old, I knew that I would never say that word. I didn’t know who or what he was referring to, but, in my heart I knew that if it was as bad or ugly as me then I had never, ever met someone like that.
I have still never met a single person on this Earth that is deserving of that moniker. I have never once encountered someone that deserved the venom and hatred that that one word possesses. I have never in my life been so angry that I would dare to curse someone with that kind of evil.
My daughter brought home that word from preschool. Preschool. Riding home from Grandma’s house in the silence of the backseat, I hear her ask, “Momma, what does n____ mean?” She even said it wrong (not that there is a correct way to say it), sounding more like mega, which is what her father mistook it for until she interrupted him. “No, N, Nah, Nah. N______, Daddy.”
His face fell. A piece of my heart broke off and shattered. The tone of my voice in reply shocked me, turning icy and hard. My words felt like tiny shards of glass cutting through the air.
“It is a very, very bad word. It is a very hurtful word. You should never, ever use it. Where did you hear it?”
“Ti-Ti at school was singing a song-” She breaks away into a lyric of a song that I have never heard, but that the Hubs apparently knows. He nods at me.
I take off my seatbelt (I know, I am setting such a great example here, but I really needed to deal with this moment in the moment, intentionally). “Supergirl, I need you to listen to me, I need you to understand, okay?” She nods, suddenly recognizing the seriousness based on the fact that I am now breaking the law as we travel down the road.
“Not very long ago, there were people that were not very smart. They didn’t think that brown people were the same as pink people.” She stared at me in disbelief. I nodded at her and continued, “They thought that brown people were bad and stupid. They treated them very badly, like they were animals. These people used to call the brown people the N-word. It’s an insult. It hurts people and it makes them cry. It makes people that say that word look ignorant. Worst of all, some of the people that use that word, don’t even understand how bad of a word it is. I do not ever want to hear you say that word again, do you understand?”
“Yes, momma. But why would they put that word in a song if it was so bad?”
“I am not sure, baby, but that is not a word or a song for you. Have you ever heard that word in any of the songs that we listen to?”
“Supergirl? If anyone ever calls you that word, you will come and tell me about it, right?”
“Momma! Why would anyone ever call me that? I am not brown – I am an Indian. Duh!”