By Guest Contributor Renee; originally published at Womanist Musings
As much as I love my children, I was absolutely giddy to see them get on the school bus last week. The unhusband and I were singing and dancing, as the children pouted and whined. For as much as they complained about our joy, they were actually ready to leave 45 minutes early, which tells me that they were ready to get back on routine. We went outside to wait for the bus on our porch and it was raining causing Destruction to quip, “You see that, even God is crying for us today.” I have to admit that this cracked me up.
I spent that first day reveling in the silence and hanging out with the unhusband. When the school bus pulled up at the end of the day, the dog barked loudly and ran in circles, but I was excited to hear about their first day. The moment Destruction walked in the house, he told me he had yet another incident involving the word “nigger” and my heart just sank. They shouldn’t have to deal with this ever, but the first day of school?
My kids have had problems with the [this kid] before and so this time he got smart. Instead of directly calling either of them “nigger,” he decided to very loudly sing, or rather rap, a song that had the word in it, of course emphasizing the word every time. This, I assume, was his way of thwarting the rules, having already been spoken to about why it’s not appropriate to call my sons “niggers”.
Once again, I got on the phone with the school and the bus company and I had to fight to be heard. We supposedly agree that this word is hurtful and racist, but apparently, in this context, it is supposedly not as serious. Clearly a kid who has a history of using this word as a weapon should not be given the benefit of the doubt. Clearly his intent was to harm my children but convincing others of that was a problem. Throughout the conversation, the bus company struggled to get me off the phone and I steadfastly refused to just let this go. In the end, through my complaints, I managed to get the [child] suspended from the bus for two days. As sad as that is, this is actually a massive achievement because this is the first time I have managed to get some kind of consequence for the racial insults my children have had to live with.
Discussing this with a friend, she claimed that at least part of the blame belongs to black rap and hip hop artists who continue to write lyrics, which not include the word but variations like “niggas”. In many ways this argument suggests that it is appropriate to blame the marginalized for their own marginalization. I will never ever use the word or any of its manifestations casually because I believe that all slurs amount to verbal violence. That is my personal feeling; however, I think it’s a form of arrogance to suggest that others who share my marginalization must negotiate our shared oppression the same way. ”Nigger” has the power to wound all black people, but since we do not exist with a hive mind, we must allow people the right to negotiate their experiences as they see fit.
The truth of the matter is that white people were calling blacks “nigger” long before the first rap or hip hop song was even an idea, let alone created. They don’t need encouragement or our permission to keep this word active because they are capable of keeping it part of our social lexicon without any help. We have made it clear repeatedly that there is never a time in which it is acceptable for white people to use this word. No matter the person’s intent. Because of the history of the word, it cannot be divorced from racism, bondage and violence when it is said by a white person. Even if one black person may be comfortable with their white friends or acquaintances using the word, it does not remove their privilege or give them to right to say this word in public spaces where it may offend or trigger other blacks.
White people cannot say “nigger”, “nigaz”, “niggas” on a bus, train, plane, boat or any other public gathering space. In short, just don’t say it or whine about how it’s okay for blacks and not for you. Rap music or hip hop are not now or ever will be to blame for white people using this slur. That’s just a clever little excuse people lean upon when they feel their right to be offensive is being impinged upon. ”Black people made me use a racist slur” is never, ever going to be acceptable justification. The thing is, this [kid] knew he couldn’t call my children this word and so he did his best to circumvent the ruling by rapping the slur. My children are not fools and knew exactly what he was doing and why. It’s no secret that this word is taboo no matter who uses it but particularly so for white people.
His excuse didn’t work this time, largely because, as a parent, I was absolutely determined to hold him accountable for his choices, but I am quite sure that he has already begun searching for a new way to use racist language around my children. The truth of the matter is that though most white people will be wary of using the word “nigger” in mixed company, many are quite comfortable using coded language to get their racist beliefs across. This kid just hasn’t learned how to do so yet, but is well on his way. Coded language is just as harmful as a slur because the intent is to wound or diminish; people just don’t get as much flak for it. We all know what these coded phrases mean, they are just seldom identified as racist.
Each year that I send my kids to school, I hope that we can go through a year without having one racist incident. This year, we didn’t even make it through the first day. It never gets any easier to deal with their pain or to fight with the school and school bus administration, but I do it because I have to. I was recently asked if I am teaching my kids to hate white people, because of the anger that I have regarding whiteness and racism. What this person didn’t realise is that I don’t have to teach my kids this lesson because white people teach them all on their own. My job instead is to keep their self esteem high, while teaching them to differentiate between whiteness and white people. The truth is, if racist white people were really so worried about being hated by blacks, they would stop being racist, but that would mean giving up privilege and that is not about to happen anytime soon.