5.20.2015

You're Probably Sorta Racist, Too

Racial Bias. Prejudice. Racial Privilege. They go back to fear.

I want to wake up one day in a society where fear is not the norm. Where we are not fed fear morning, noon, and night by the industry that is supposed to be informing us of what's going on in the world. Or shown reasons to be afraid by the people that are supposed to protect and serve us. Or being explicitly told along party lines just what the fuck we should be afraid of if that other party makes it in to office.

Seriously. What the fuck?!

I was born in 1971. So, pretty much half of my childhood was spent in the 70's and the rest was spent in the 80's. And I grew up exposed to racism and prejudice in my every day life. And I knew it wasn't quite right. I spent my summers in the eastern Appalachian hills of Kentucky. I learned what a nigger was before I ever saw one (to be honest, I'm still not quite sure I've seen a nigger). My papaw was someone who would go out of his way to help anyone that needed help. Color or not. I can only recall him using the word nigger one time around me. And it wasn't in reference to anyone in particular. It was an expression about how hot it was. I didn't understand it. I didn't know what a nigger was. Based on his reference, I thought it was a person that was nervous about elections. Later when telling my parents how hot it was, I learned that it wasn't a word that we used. That it was a very hurtful word. That was enough for me as a child. I didn't want to hurt people. That word hurt people. I didn't use that word because I didn't want to hurt people.

There's a good chance that I've lost some of you by now because I've been typing out 'nigger' this whole time instead of saying 'the "N" word.'  I'd apologize for disturbing your sensibilities, but to be honest, we NEED to be uncomfortable by that word.

It's become OK to say 'the N word.' Like somehow saying that negates the fact that what you wanted to say and what you actually meant to say was 'nigger.'  It's not OK to say the phrase 'the N word.' It's not OK to say 'n*gger' because it's the same fucking thing.

Somewhere in my teens, homosexuals started taking the word 'faggot' and 'queer' and embracing it (queer more than faggot, I think). They said it was to take the power back. If they used it to talk about each other, then somehow it lost power when hateful people used it as a slur.

As I started listening to rap go from hip hop to the Gangster Rap to the gritty reality TV caricature that it is today, I have seen a similar trend.

And here's where being light in the melanin arena gets tricky. Racism is such a hot-button topic that there is no comfortable way to make a distinction even for the sake of argument or discussion. Can I say 'black people?'  That's not really accurate. Brown-skinned people? That sounds off too. African-Americans?  I don't fucking know.   So, I will stick to the genre. In rap music there is an acceptance for using the work nigger. Or is it?  I have heard that it's actually 'nigga' which is supposed to be a term of affection (as in 'What up, my nigga?'). Is it cultural? Quite likely.

The problem that I have with it is that it doesn't teach me, as a lighter skinned American of largely European heritage, the proper way to help bridge the racial divide.

I started listening to rap in high school. I took some shit for it. For listening to 'that nigger music.'  I always shrugged it off, because if you want to get right down to it, with the exception of blue grass, nearly every form of music popular in this country owes its roots to cultures that are not of largely European heritage.  But I made friends. Friends of differing skin tone. I made the mistake of giving a greeting along the lines of 'Nigga WASSUP?!' to one of my friends. I was quickly pulled to the side. He made sure that none of his friends heard. Not because he was embarrassed, but because he didn't want me to get my ass beat. "Look Skaggs. You and me cool. You're my brother and I love you. But if you call me 'nigga' in front of my boys, I'm a half to beat your ass."

I asked if it was ok for me to call him my brutha.  He smiled. Gave me daps and said, "fuck yeah, nigga, you ARE my brutha."

And I get it. It's not just the word (whether it's nigger or nigga), it's the person saying the word. And, it's not even the intent. I thought I was delivering a genuine greeting. Again, it's the person saying the word. I'm 'white' (or whatever passes for that these days).

You could call me 'cracker' a million times with as much hate as you could muster and I would not feel even one-millionth the pain felt by someone called a nigger out of hate.

And there's fear of the word.

That's our word, you honky. You can't use that word. If you use that word, you're as bad as the fucking slave owners that had my ancestors in chains.

And maybe that's true. There were slave owners in my family tree. I can't deny that. I have no desire myself to own slaves or subjugate an entire peoples.

I like to think that I'm not racist, but there's a part of me that knows that I am. When I stop for a beat too long to assess whether or not something I say or do might come off as racist, that's probably a good indicator that there is (or was) some racial bias in there somewhere.

I'm trying to get better about it. I honestly am.

I think what bothers me the most is that word, and it's a fucked up word, but the word nigger just really has no place in our vocabulary.  There's no reason to use it in any kind of conversation, even for irony or effect. At least not by me. And that includes 'nigga' and 'the N word.'   In fact, other than this blog or other writings I may do on how the race shit is fucked up, you'll not see nor hear me use the word in any of it's iteration.

But back to racial harmony.

It can happen. It has to happen.  I guess, for me, the biggest challenge is the whole 'white'/'non-white' thing.

It's really not a black and white thing. Or even a blacks and whites thing.

I don't have the answer. All I know is that we need to talk about it. We need to talk about the shit that makes us uncomfortable. We need to talk about the differences. We need to talk about what the fuck we're afraid of.

If you want to take the power away from something, don't take the power away from a word. Take the fucking power away from the fear.

Take the first step in facing it.

It has to begin with someone. Might as well be you. Might as well be me.

-AT

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