Sometimes I have to stare at my son Jason Jr. to make sure he hasn’t morphed into the 3-year-old version of me.
He takes pride in saying things he has heard me say.
“I hope nobody is making Thanksgiving food,” JJ, as we call him, said in response to Christmas and New Year meal suggestions. Just a few weeks before he said that, he heard me complaining about people cooking turkey and dressing – Thanksgiving staples – for other holidays.
A few weeks ago, we were riding in the car and listening to hip hop music, and he did it again. But this time his word choice was off-putting.
“Nigger,”JJ whispered under his breath. “Mama, did you hear what I said?”
“What did you say?” I asked him sternly.
JJ burst into tears. He must have cried in that backseat for 10 minutes before I was able to calm him.
My son is black, but it sure didn’t seem like it when I heard that word roll off his tongue after hearing it on the stereo. It felt wrong and disrespectful – the equivalent of a white person saying it.
Then I sank into the passenger’s seat embarrassed, as I thought back to the number of times my husband and I have said that word. Honestly, it probably comes up in conversation way more than I’d like. But never did I expect the word to be uttered from my 3-year-old’s lips.
Ending the word in “’er” is derogatory. Ending it with an “a” is slang — I grew up hearing it just about everywhere I went from basketball courts to grocery stores. Everywhere except church — that is. I associated nothing but good things from it, a term of endearment. It was a proper noun. It replaced people’s names.
And it has never really bothered me. Somewhere along the way, I fooled myself into believing that it was a word blacks could say and other people could not.
Maybe it’s how my son pronounced it with an “er” rather than an “a” that was jarring. Maybe it didn’t really make a difference.
Debating whether or not to use the word is a struggle many black families face.
I decided to stop using the N-word.
I know many of my friends won’t agree, and neither will my husband.
After reflecting on the word, I don’t want to be one. And I don’t want JJ to be one, either.
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A tidbit to think about:
That day in the car, I found it ironic that the song — rapper Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” — we listened to began with the lyrics “Martin had a dream.” Then it was littered with curse words, and followed by a bunch of N-words. And while I like Kendrick Lamar, I cannot help but to believe that his song was Martin Luther King Jr.’s nightmare. And I am a part of that nightmare.
As we observe Martin Luther King’s birthday, I challenge those of us in the black community to stop using it and really consider the message we’re sending by glorifying such a hateful word.
Tunette Powell is married with two children. You can read her every Tuesday on momaha.com
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