I was called a nigger when I was 9 years old.
My family and I were standing outside of our hotel in Ocean City, Maryland. What we were doing, I’m not exactly sure because there is only one split second out of that weekend that I can remember. It was the split second when a complete stranger rolled down their car window, laughed, and produced the single most humiliating moment of my entire life
Now, as you guys know, I’m a writer. I get paid to piece sentences together because I can do it fairly well. Yet, I cannot come up with an arrangement of words in the English language that can accurately describe how that word made me feel. One doesn’t exist.
I can only describe it by saying this: Being called a nigger made me feel…well...like a nigger. Like the lowest, most despicably inconsequential life form on this planet.
I knew exactly how bad it was when I saw the reaction of my mother, the tongue-thrashing champion of the world. A woman, who I once witnessed cuss out a nun (who totally deserved it -- you guys just gotta believe me on that one), was rendered completely speechless. Partly out of shock, partly out of anger, but mostly because she had no earthly idea what to say.
But unlike my mother, I wasn’t angry. I was hurt. Literally. It was the kind of hurt that supercedes emotional, mental, and spiritual pain and goes straight to your gut. I felt the word nigger in the pit of my stomach and it literally made me sick.
Because, at that very moment, I became acutely aware that I was different. I was less than. And no amount of straight As, Student of the Month awards, or “You can be anything you want to be” pep talks would change that.
And I understand that most people won’t get what I’m saying because the potency of the word has been lost among the people who use it casually. I get that. But I’m pretty sure that’s only because not many people of my generation have experienced the horror of being called that word out of hate.
But would it really be horror, Shayla? It’s 2013 in allegedly post racial America. Your president is Black for crying out loud. Wouldn’t that word just roll right off your back?
Quite the contrary. All that is precisely the reason why it doesn’t. A complete stranger has the ability to come along and remind you that, still, after all this time and all the progress you think you’ve made, people still hate you just because your skin is brown. And in an instance, with little more effort than it takes to breathe, can reduce you to absolutely nothing.
In a way, that word has more power now than it ever has.
Because, despite what anyone may try to tell you, no subtle alterations to its second syllable will change the fact that the word can devalue a human being in a way that little else can.
And, regardless of what anyone may try to tell you, White people who use the word when they know they shouldn’t, may not always be malicious, but they’re always provoking.
Despite all the tirelessly disingenuous attempts to "remove the hate," the n-word, in all of its variations, is still smothered in it. White people who use it are provoking because by refusing Black people the exclusive rights to that word, they’re denying us what little privilege we have. And that’s just insulting.
In fact, that’s just as insulting as the word itself.
Just ask that 9-year-old girl relaxing with her family on her summer vacation. She could probably explain it a little better than I can.