The N Word
The first time I asked someone to stop using the n-word, I was 12.
I was asking my dad to not use that word anymore. He’d been speaking it with spit ever since I could remember.
My parents and I had left a minor-league baseball game early in Tulsa, OK (where we lived at the time). Walking through a dark parking lot mostly alone.
A black man was also walking in the parking lot behind us. I was trailing behind my parents making footprints in the dirt.
My dad told me to catch up to them, but I lingered.
When we got in the car, the explosion happened. The downpour of words about why I need to be afraid of black men in the dark.
That they kill white women and girls as part of gang initiations, and I needed to stay close to him so he can protect me.
When we finally got home, the berating didn’t stop.
The n-word fell out of his mouth like firecrackers being dropped out of a window on the top floor.
They flashed inside my room – his voice, those words, that fire.
I finally asked him to please stop saying it.
Which only blew air on the flames.
I was a victim of my whiteness who needed protection by a white man (him) from any and all black men.
I’ve struggled my whole life to find the courage to speak those words again. To not let them be choked out of me like they were then.
I’ve also spent a lifetime watching my body react around black men in public – unconsciously making space around them.
It’s taken a lot of work. A LOT of work. Hours and hours and hours of reading, talking, listening, exploring, therapy, EMDR, etc. You name it. I’ve done it.
I’ll keep looking for what I have to unlearn. Because there is so much.
What my dad taught me more than anything is that a rigid mind leads to a miserable life.
That compassion opens your world to more love than you could ever imagine.
Stay open. Make mistakes. Give as much compassion as you ask for.