Archive for November 21st, 2009

What The Word “Nigger” Has Taught Me

Ever had the word “nigger” leveled at you?  How did it make you feel?  There is an old rhythm that goes like this;

I ain’t no nigger, I’m’, a negro.

When I become a nigger, you’ll

be the first to know”!

Now, doesn’t that sum things up?  Well, I remember the first time I was called a nigger.  I was three years old and was out trick or treating with my mother.  I was dressed as a calypso dancer.  When we came to this one door, a woman opened it, took one look at me(I was admittedly one of the cutest three-year old I ever saw), beckoned her husband to the door, and exclaimed, “Dear, come look at the cute little nigger”!  Needless to say my mother got pissed off and tore a strip off the heifer and left in a huff.  When I got home, I ran to my father and in all innocence exclaimed, “Dad, Mom got mad at some lady who called my an eagle.  You see, I had never heard the word it was alien to my ears.  Being a three-year, I thought she said ‘eagle’ as opposed to ‘nigger!

Now, that was the first but not the last time I was called this name.  In fact, while growing up, one would have thought that nigger was the name on my birth certificate as I was relentlessly called this.  You see, there is safety in numbers.  At the time in Toronto, the influx of racialized immigrants had not yet occurred, or at least there weren’t many in my neck of the woods.  In hind sight, I found it funny that these white Canadians were so conversant with all the racist name calling given the  dearth of Blacks in Canada at the time.  They ‘borrowed’ from the States!  So, in effect, someone taught these children these words.  I would hazard a guess and say that it was their parents or other adults around them.

My reaction?  Well, I have always been a contrarian!  Instead of succumbing to the name calling, I gave my head a shake.  In my child’s mind I said to myself, “What the fuck”!  Yes even then I had a Trooper’s command of explicative!  My repertoire wasn’t up to the ‘standards’ it is now(live and learn), but I was progressing nicely.  So in effect I resorted to that old standby, “If in doubt punch em out”!  Yep, I was somewhat of a bruiser!  Most kids who called me this learned the hard way that it wasn’t nice to call black children niggers.  Of course as I got older and learned the whys and wherefores behind racism I was able to deflect this type of behaviour by laughing it off.  I also considered the source of these racist tirades.

How did I feel when being called nigger.  As I said before, I was, am, a contrarian!  Instead of succumbing to feelings of self loathing or fear, I fought back as much as a kid could.  I took a look at the sources of this racist disdain.  Mostly snot nosed, pimply faced assholes!  In hindsight, they were probably miserable and had to find an easy target to take out their misery on.  Or they did this by rote as that is what everyone did back then, or at least most of them.  I became an adept kicker.  Some of the other names I was called are as followed:

  1. Spear chucker
  2. Jungle bunny(a particular favourite)
  3. Coon(another favourite)
  4. Jigaboo
  5. Chimp
  6. Hockey puck(The only name that white Canadians devised without borrowing from the States)
  7. Spook
  8. Shit face
  9. Chocolate face(funny that, as I became a chocolate fiend)
  10. Porch monkey
  11. ‘”Go back to Africa!(although not an actual name the intent was there)

“Things that don’t kill you, will make you stronger”(I got that from a Conan movie). Well this is true.  It didn’t kill me, it made me stronger.  Nigger taught me many things. It taught me that people will follow others so as not to ‘rock the boat’,even if they have sympathy for you plight.  This can be applied to other aspects of life not just with name calling.  That in these white kid’s minds, white is right.  Their thinking, “at least I’m not black” is , or maybe conscious or sub-conscious for the majority !  To deflect attention from their own shortcomings, yes, they think black is a shortcoming.   Mostly it taught me that words are wind.  If you believe the that you are indeed a ‘nigger’ and any other of the words leveled at you then it very well may affect your psyche.  Unfortunately it takes many black people years to figure this out.

I was angry when being called these names, but it wasn’t a case of “oh woe is me”! please don’t call me these names!  It was more along the lines of “Who the hell are you”!  I for one never ‘noticed’ their ‘superiority’ even if they thought themselves to be so.  Thinking oneself to be superior is a sign of deep-seated feelings of inferiority it manifests itself in these outpourings of racist vitriol, at least in my opinion. Whites invented racism and through centuries of abuse, coercion, and genocide, they have managed to imbue their hate of the ‘other’ on racialized people.  It is to the point that it has caused internalized racism within these racialized groups.  We all suffer, or have suffered from varying degrees of internalized racism at some juncture in our lives, some worse than others.  Anyone touched by this white racism who denies this is lying.  However, once one becomes conversant with the various forms from the blatant name calling to the covert modes of speech and behaviour, one can attempt to overcome the internalized racism.  Woe betide the negro who doesn’t!

Believe me I have met many a kerchief head in my time!  Kerchief heads whose mottoes are,” if you can’t beat em, join em”, but that’s for another post!  Blacks  who take on the ‘white’ viewpoint to the detriment of other blacks, that is what a ‘kerchief’ head.   Anyhow, my words of wisdom?   Learn the various(seemingly unlimited) forms of racism both covert and overt.  You see, ‘nigger, is not just a word but  manifestations of the inherent white supremacy in society as a whole.  If one word encompasses a plethora of thought, behaviour, and other complexities, the word ‘nigger’ is it.  A perfect word in that respect, succinct and to the point and utilitarian.  Hence, the word nigger is not just a ‘word’.  The next time you holler nigger, or hear someone else say this, in whatever context, remember,  ‘nigger’ is not just a word but carries a vast history and baggage.  Lastly, do not let it destroy you!  If you can’t do this, or at least strive to, then you are well and truly fucked!

Good day!


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