This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

October 13, 2009

My Nigger Story

Filed under: Riddle, Poem, Tale, or Joke — Tags: , — pprscribe @ 9:48 am

Almost every Black person has one. Or, at least almost every Black person of a certain generation (or older). A N***** Story. That first time they were called the n-word…or the most memorable time…or the most surprising, hurtful time. For one freind of mine, it was when one of her (White) friends said during recess, “Hey, I know! Let’s play keep away from the nigger” and she (the only Black kid on the playground) said “Yeah!” because she did not know that she was the nigger. For another friend it was the time when he was mowing the front lawn of his house when a car full of White teenagers drove by and yelled, “Go back to Africa, nigger!” while one of them displayed their pale white backside to him from an open car window. One of my stories involves a little girl who was my student in a preschool classroom, informing me that her father told her she could invite everyone in her classroom to her 4th birthday party—“‘Cept he said no niggers.” 

But that one is not The Story for me. This one is.

I have told this one before—maybe not here…maybe at my Old Blog—so just stop reading if you know the punchline. I actually do not dwell on it that often. In the long list of slights against me—racial or otherwise—this just does not figure that prominently. But I have been thinking of this story in light of a discussion I have been having at Anti-Racist Parent about the merits of teaching Huckleberry Finn in school classrooms. So, here is my N***** Story.

I was in junior high school, the only Black kid in the class. In English class our teacher did what was called “round-robin” reading, where every child took turns reading a section of a book aloud. We’d go around the classroom, each of us taking our turn—the slower readers struggling to keep up and embarassed when their turn came, and the more able readers reading ahead while trying to keep place so that they’d come in at the right point when it was their turn.

Well, in my N***** Story a slow reader was struggling through his section and I was (discretely) a page or two ahead, into the story and not paying much attention to the painful attempts by my classmate.

But the words of my English teacher caught my consciousness. “You have to learn how to use the context of the story to help you figure out what the word is,” she was saying.  “If you are reading along and the sentence doesn’t make sense to you, you should stop yourself and, like my father would always say, think to yourself, Hmmm, there’s a nigger in the woodpile.”

Probably what fully snapped my attention back to the there and then was the sound of all of my classmates’ heads rotating on their necks so their eyes could focus on me.

Seeing this reaction, my English teacher, too, looked directly at me and quickly added, “Oh, and by ‘nigger,’ [PPR_Scribe], I do not mean you. A nigger is any bad person.”

11 Comments »

  1. LMAO!!!

    I know that stung for a minute. I must’ve gotten the PC-version when a jr high teacher, who was in her 70’s was telling a story to the class about “a negro” she encountered during her childhood…and yeah, I couldn’t stand reading Huck Finn during those high school years as the only black face in the class!

    Comment by CDF — October 13, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  2. Good story…. I mean, your story, not Huck Finn. I couldn’t stand reading Huck Finn out loud. See, I too was a lone “negro” in my class. Well, aside from the obvious, some of those white kids sure knew how to say nigger….. Reeeeeal good :-)

    It was like the way some blacks have mastered the word Mfer. Yep, those kids put a litle soul in their “nigger”.

    Comment by careycarey — October 13, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  3. Wow! Wow. When did this happen? Funny thing is, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said 1970, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you said 2003 either. Sigh.

    Thanks for sharing your story,

    Libby

    Comment by Liberty Hultberg — October 13, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  4. Thanks, all, for your comments.

    @CDF: I do not think many educators think about the lone (or 2 or 3) Black kids in the class when they decide to assign this book. My opinion is that the teachers need to do a lot of groundwork around their own racial issues before tackling material like this.

    @CareyCarey: I do not know how the teaching of the book goes down today. But I got a similar sense in school as you did: This kind of thing was probably not the first time many of my White peers had heard/used the word, and it almost gave them a kind of freedom or permission to utter it.

    @Liberty: This would have been in the mid 70s. As I said, I do not know how this kind of thing pans out these days. Perhaps most teachers are better prepared and trained now. But that is not my sense from the anecdotal reports I have heard and read. While many/most teachers may know that it is not OK to spout the n-word, they still are likely no better able to deal with race and racism in any deep or sustained fashion.

    Comment by pprscribe — October 15, 2009 @ 10:03 am

  5. Let me start by saying the only time I really remember hearing the word as a child was pressing my ear to the door to hear the Redd Foxx and Richard Pyor albums my parents would play during those rare late night parties (and what was up with those blue light bulbs?).

    I share that story, because even though I only heard the word in the context of entertainment, I knew it was wrong even before “Roots”.

    On to your post:

    We had just moved from the South Bronx to Yonkers. My new high school was right out of the Brady Bunch (from cheerleaders to school plays). One lunch period I decided to leave campus for lunch. The classic carload of white teens story followed.

    My reaction was first shock because I had felt so comfortable in my new environment, then fear because I realized how empty the street was and far from campus I had walked.

    For me, being called the “n” word for the first time wasn’t the big issue as much as the reaction from my mother. When I told her the story, I felt her reaction was “what’s the big deal?”. Was that actually what she said, after all these years who knows, but at that time I needed more discussion, more concern than I felt I got. I edited what I shared with my mother for many, many years after that.

    Comment by Larry — October 16, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

  6. Larry: Perhaps your mother was dealing with n-word issues of her own? I agree, though. I think often some parents may brush some things off, try not to “make a big deal” out of it, when what is required is true discussion. Even if the discussion is painful and the adult does not have all the answers.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Comment by pprscribe — October 17, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  7. WaHaaaa! That’s the painful sound of LMAO because it is really off, and I’m finding it difficult to walk and not fall down after envisioning that moment. It’s one of those woefully humorous moments. Woeful because we see a glimpse of this woman’s absolute ignorance of self and the world around her and humorous because pain and humor are linked sometimes like slipping on a banana peel. I feel for you as the child. I feel for her because she apparently doesn’t own a mirror or lacks the ability to hear herself. I feel for us because such folks are still among us. And I feel for myself because on some level I’ve developed a callous over the part of my heart that should be outraged.

    Comment by Nordette — October 19, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  8. Wait, Nordette–Lemme tell the rest of the story:

    I told my parents about the incident and my father marched up to the school and talked to the principal. To this day I do not know the details of what he said, but the next year the teacher retired from the school.

    But it is as you say—those folks are still among us. Years later as an adult I was talking to a Black parent with a child in that same school. She had to go up to the school to complain following some racist nonsense from one of the teachers—a repeat offense, apparently.

    That is why I do not put much stock in the sentiment expressed by some that racism will “die off” once some generation or another dies. Racism seems to always be able to keep keepin on…

    Comment by pprscribe — October 20, 2009 @ 10:37 am

  9. Why would any minority like myself, want to have the n word thrown up in their face in the name of classic literature. I’ve read the darn book and it didnt change my life in any meaningful way. Not enough to make the book truly neccessary in elementary school. My stories as the token black in my circle during highschool were subtle and varied. The incidence came in the weirdest forms like “friends” using terms like “N**ger rigging” to explain creative mechanical solutions, or “N**ger lipping” a ciggarette or other smoking paraphernalia to indicate there was extra unwanted saliva on it. The kids used these terms around me and hardly batted an eye, or at times straight up used the word and then looked at me and said “not you, your different”. I cant tell you how many times I wanted to slap a dude but having friends was more important at that time in life. I would not allow such things as an adult and in retrospect I sold out during those instances. No child of color should have to accept that crap and be forced to hear this word repeatedly in a story where your white classmates can snicker at it. Oh yeah, how about “your cute…for a black guy”! I make sure that my kids understand what is disrespectful to them so that they wont have to choose friendship over dignity.

    Comment by dymond — October 21, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  10. so that they wont have to choose friendship over dignity

    That is so key. Thank you, dymond.

    Comment by pprscribe — October 23, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  11. [...] lived in a majority White suburb (the setting for my “n***** story” that I related here), and I was turning 13 years old. I was going to have a birthday party—a real party in our [...]

    Pingback by Round Up All the Black Boys in the Neighborhood « This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life — November 10, 2009 @ 9:55 am


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.