Last year I wrote about a teacher who was suspended for telling his student to “Sit Down Nigga!” I made a brief reference to the Michael Richard’s racial tirade in a blog entry about Cross cultural discourse on Black Culture and the Black Family . Even though the NAACP staged the funeral of the N-word, it appears that the N-word is alive and well and exploited by all sorts of people.
Let me tell you my most recent experience. I met a friend at a random franchise Mexican restaurant for a bite to eat. We haven’t been able to catch up in a long time. She’s from the East Coast and spent several years in New York. Anyone coming to Palo Alto from a major East Coast city often experiences a major culture shock. This is especially the case for African Americans who move from areas where there is a significant African American population. I know of a very WASPy guy whose father moved to Idaho because he felt like the Mexicans and Asians were taking over. One has to wonder how do some of the old timers feel when they see brown faces walking in their multi-million dollar neighborhoods and local spots . You see Palo Alto is an affluent suburb of San Francisco that is predominately white. Rarely do I experience racial hostility, except for the one time when my brother and I were seated next to a skinhead couple at another more trendy franchise restuarant. He had a Black jacket that said “White boy” and “Fuck all yall!” his girlfriend wore a hat that said “Skin.” I am sure they felt like us two Black people invaided their white space of Palo Alto. They didn’t say anything to us, but then again there were only two of them. The issue was that they wore their white supremacist ideology as accessories in order to let people like me and my brother, and the dozen or so Somoans who would have destroyed them in an altercation, that this was their town and Fuck all of us.
While this was a rare occasion, I do get other instances when I am very much aware of my outsider status. Normally, I get stared at a lot. Last Monday, one of my friends who is racially ambiguous but clearly not white noticed how all these white people stared at us. Some with mouths agape. I assured her it could not all be just because I am black or they are staring at my hair. On occassion someone will pay me a compliment. So, I just assume they are staring for more positive reasons. Not that I should let that get to my head. But last Friday, an old white man at a cafe just stared at me with one of those stone cold stares. I swear it had to last about 20 minutes. There was no friendliness involved, just one of those stares that made me quite uncomfortable. But I tried to act like everything was normal and not let it phase me.
Maybe something was in the air this past week. But it wasn’t just me. I’m not hyper-sensitive or something, and it was more than just stares. That Thursday evening my friend and I ate outside at that franchise Mexican restaurant. After I got up to take wrap up my leftovers my friend informed me that a young hispanic/latina/Chicana used the N-word. She was talking to her Asian and White friends who sat at the table. From what I recall, she said “Oh he’s using that nigger talk.” Immediately I got pissed. My friend, who has dreads, just experienced a child commenting on her hair. This was the last straw. So, my friend went up to the girl and checked her. My friend’s point was that if this teenager felt comfortable saying the N-word in front of her, then what else does the girl have on her mind. The thing that was so disturbing was how comfortable she felt saying it. The girl defended herself by saying that her boyfriend was Black, so she’s not racist. So my friend said, “Would you use that language in front of his mother or grandmother?” The girl said that his mother wasn’t black, he was mixed. That logic amazed me. My friend tried to tell the girl how disrespectful that was and that as a young woman she needs to think about what she says. I am sure in that girl’s mind we were two Black women with attitudes, so I wonder how much did it sink it. We did not appreciate hearing the N-word appropriated by some teeny-boppers who don’t know the gravity of that word. We did not appreciate having to be confronted with that type of issue when all we wanted to do was relax and catch up. But somehow this young woman felt that it was okay to use the N-word within ear shot of two Black women. Who said it was okay? Was it her boyfriend or some of their Black female friends that gave them a pass? Did one of their friends tell them, “Hey you’re one of us, so you can use the N-word around us.” Guess what my friends, none of us are authorized to give out that pass. We ned to think about the gravity of our words when we say them. We need to hold ourselves and others accountable for what they say and how it can affect others.