I have never written that word before. I have never spoken it. What was your first reaction when you saw it? How do you feel when you hear it? How do you feel when you hear it from a black person? What does it feel like to say it? If someone you know says it, how does it affect the way you perceive them? How about if it is someone you like? What do you think about people avoiding the use of it by saying, “n-word?”
When I was born, the term used for a person of African descent was Negro. Then it became Afro-American, black, and now the unwieldy and unmanageable African-American. I am too lazy to be that PC, so I use black. I was brought up to believe that the color of a person’s skin had nothing to do with their worth as a person. I had black friends because my parents had black friends and they had children. I had Hispanic friends because my dad worked with the United Farm Workers and had Hispanic friends. I had Jewish friends because my parents had Jewish friends and they had kids. I never thought anything of it. I never saw racism, except on TV. The reason I never saw it in real life was that I went to a lily-white grade school. Montclair, NJ was and is an extremely segregated town when it comes to neighborhoods. Busing didn’t start until junior high school. Even there, I wasn’t conscious of racism, per se. Whites and blacks simply didn’t hang out together, mostly because they didn’t know each other from grade school. I went away to boarding school for high school. There were 200 students in the school. About 1/3 of them were wealthy, about 1/3, like me, were middle class kids of alumni on partial scholarship, and about 1/3 were inner city and rural kids on full scholarship. 5 or 6 were black. Everyone knew everyone, and we all pretty much got along. I didn’t have any black friends, but that wasn’t odd, since there were none my age, and I was part of the stoner crowd. By this time, I had completely lost touch with my black friends from childhood, but that wasn’t odd either, since I drifted away from most of my early friends when I went away to school. I got into smoking pot, and they didn’t. In my senior year, I went back to public school. I vaguely remember some tension between blacks and whites there, but I was outside of that world. I still went home to my very white side of town. But I was still around people, who, intellectually at least, weren’t racists. I went to one year of college at the University of Vermont, again very white, no black friends. Then I spent a couple of years working bullshit jobs and partying back in Montclair, this time with one new black friend. I never thought anything of it. Racism simply wasn’t a factor in my reality. Then I moved to Brooklyn, NY for three years to go to art school. I became the minority in a largely black community. No problem, I got along just fine. This was probably when I first noticed the subtle racism of my white friends, subconscious and largely innocent, but still there. Comments like “aren’t you scared to live there?” and “you walk around at night?” assumptions that because the neighborhood was black, it was unsafe. Granted, there was crime in my neighborhood, but it was associated with poverty, not skin color. This level of racism is everywhere. I think a lot of it is due to television. All through the 60’s and 70’s, black people on television were pimps, drug dealers, and criminals of other varieties being manipulated, used, or arrested by white cops. Yes, there were the all black comedy shows, and the occasional token “good” black, but the image was almost universally negative. I never really thought about this as I watched all those 70’s cop and detective shows, but it worked its way into my unconscious. When I moved to Tucson, AZ in 1983, one of the things that struck me about the state was how few black people lived here. I also encountered some of my first malicious and hateful racism, this directed towards “Mexicans”, which is what most arizonans call anyone of Hispanic descent, regardless of where their family came from, or whether they have lived here since before it was part of the united states. This was also when I first started hearing nigger jokes. Don’t get me wrong, jokes involving stereotypes of any kind can be funny, but a joke that has nothing to do with a particular group and purports to be funny just by denigrating them, is not. Blonde jokes are a good example. Some of them are clever, linguistic exercises. Others are one size fits all, insert minority slur here jokes. When you combine one of these with the word nigger, it gets ugly. The connotations of the word cannot be denied. It brings back memories of slavery and oppression. Images of the Ku Klux Klan, and George Wallace. I always react strongly and verbally when someone tells me one of these jokes. Usually they don’t do it again, but my opinion of them is forever lessened. Sometimes they give me the line about how not all blacks are niggers. Bullshit! Calling someone a nigger is not like calling someone an asshole. It is a direct derogatory reference to their color, and carries the implication that they are less than human, just as they were treated in the days when the term was coined. Phoenix is far more racist than Tucson. I have found that the more conservative and right wing a community, the more racist it is. Republicans may get a rash over this, but you know what? KKK members don’t vote democrat. Aryan Nations members don’t vote democrat. I hear more racist crap here than I have ever heard. When I see someone pulled over by the side of the road, 9 times out 0f 10 it is a black or Hispanic person. Everyone speeds here, and drives like an idiot. But you almost never see a BMW or Mercedes pulled over, and if you do, I bet the driver isn’t white. Ok, I guess you know where I stand now. So why do I feel uncomfortable with most black people instinctively? Why do I make some of the same assumptions about both blacks and Hispanics that I find so abhorrent? Why do I have to fight these thoughts back? Why does the cultural divide between the races seem to be widening?