Friday, February 26, 2016

The N-word

     There's a reason we only sing it in songs and pronounce it a different way.
     Neither word gets space, here, but they are in my head, both spellings and pronunciations. I can see and hear them both. One with -er and the other with -ah.
     The second word comes out of my mouth sometimes when I'm singing with my boys. I hafta think about it first, and it still doesn't feel right.
     The boys sing it without missing a beat.
     Every once in a while, I hear it when I go home to North Carolina, but not in the way you are probably thinking.
     My friend says it the wrong way when she imitates racist white people. It feels naughty, listening to her make fun of them using their own words.
    We are two old ladies, laughing at the folks who are stuck in the past.
     Maybe she says it around me as a reminder of how bad we once were, that we shouldn't ever go back to that type of thinking. Perhaps, it brings back our guilt enough to keep us from ever saying it again the wrong way.
     We took it out of our mouths by the time we went to first grade. Even the kids who still said it on the playground knew not to in class or else get sent to the principal's office. My brother said he had a "hot seat" in there, but I later found out it was a made-up story.
     My cousins, Emily and Laura, told me to stop using it, that it was a bad word and their mom didn't like it. I went home and asked my own mother.
      Her answer let me know it hurt people's feelings, that it was a way of saying, "I"m better than you because of my white skin."
     She didn't say, "Don't every say it because it's a bad word," but instead explained its meaning and left the rest up to me.
     I began noticing how it was used by real people and on TV. I had to figure out how forbidden it was, whether it was as bad as the S-word or not.
     Before it slipped out of my mouth, I stopped for a teeny-tiny bit of a second to think about it. When I did say the word, I stopped again, noticing the way it made me feel to use it.
     I would like to report that I stopped right away and never said it again, but that isn't the way it happened.
     It's impossible to pinpoint when it stopped coming out at all or the day I suddenly felt dirty, like I was covered in the S-word, when the word showed up in its familiar spot in my head, but it was a big relief to find it gone.
     I'm glad my sons can sing the hip-hop version of that nasty old word without missing a beat. They would have a hard time even pronouncing it the old way because they don't really know how.
     When the N-word argument comes around for its annual show, they don't understand the point.
     I don't really like that new N-word, either, but it's palatable, for now.
     I'll keep trying to sing it once in a while...just to fit in.