The “N” Word

MLK

I was working the evening shift at a store in a mall a million years ago and I was ringing up a customer at the front desk.  She was an older white woman….sweet as pie….but she appeared uncomfortable as she stood there looking all around her.  She pulled her purse close to her and leaned in over it as if to tell me a secret and asked, “Aren’t you afraid to work here with all these N….uh….(pause because she was searching for the best term to use)……COLOREDS?”

Oh my……

This blog is about the “N” word.  Okay and it’s about white privilege too.  But let’s start with the “N” word…

I will assume the majority of my readers know what I’m talking about and no I am not going to type the word.  Why?  Because as a white woman (and a human being) it is not a part of my vocabulary or thought process.  I don’t secretly say that word to my white friends in private, I don’t “think” that word in any context and especially not in regards to someone else and as a matter of fact I cringe when ANYONE says it.

Over the past month I have either overheard or have been a part of conversations about race including the use of the N word.  Some were mentioning that there really is no racism anymore and we are all equal so why are black people so “sensitive”.   Some conversations were about how white folks sometimes think they can say the N Word because of the crew they hang with, friends they have, etc.  All of this is bullshit.  (Sorry for the language)

I don’t know, maybe the most recent racial commentary started with Paula Deen…. and then the George Zimmerman trial/verdict really got folks talking about race and the lack of fairness and justice that occurs when anyone who isn’t black is on trial for killing a black man.  I have zero to say about Paula and her dumb ass.  And I’m not going to go into great detail about the Zimmerman verdict and I have a whole separate blog on the murder of Trayvon Martin.  I will say I think it’s an outrage that this man is “not guilty” of anything.  As I’ve stated before…Neighborhood Watch reports suspicious activity to the police.  DONE.  When you get out of your car with a gun and pursue a teenager and shoot him that is your choice.  That is intent.  There is no need to defend yourself if you are in a locked car watching a teenager walk down the street. Clearly they would never have picked me for the jury!

Anyway, let’s tackle the use of the N word first, shall we?

WHITE PEOPLE….I am talking primarily to you.  When is it okay for you to use the N word?  Write this down…..

NEVER

It is NEVER okay for you to use the N word.  NEVER.   Actually go ahead and consider “NEVER” to be your new N word.

“But Janice, you don’t understand.  I have a lot of black friends, listen to hip hop, grew up in the hood, have a platinum pass, work for a black owned business and my coworkers say it, that’s how it was back in the day,  people used to call me names too, have a black boyfriend/girlfriend, blah blah blah.”   I do understand that you think its okay.  But it is still NEVER okay for you to say it.  NEVER.   I know there are groups of white teens who think because they are into hip hop and dress the roll and talk the talk, that they are somehow allowed to use the word they hear so often in the music they love.  And maybe your little circle of “brothas” accepts you saying it…..but please believe that it will NOT be accepted outside of your circle.  In the real world you will get your ass kicked.  This is white people 101.  I’m sorry you missed the class but hear me now….it’s not okay for you to say the N word.

It is an offensive racial slur to MOST people.  Yes black folks say it to each other sometimes.  That doesn’t give you any kind of permission to say it.  And no it does not matter if there is an “a” instead of an “er” on the end.  I realize this can be considered a term of “endearment” to some but trust me that there are a lot of black people who still find that offensive as well.

Another important factor is that even if you don’t understand WHY it’s offensive to someone, just the fact that it IS should be enough for you to never say it.  And please, when someone tells you it is offensive to them do not go on and on with a litany of reasons why it shouldn’t be.  Just respect that it is and stop.  I personally don’t want to hear ANY racial slurs.  And I actually find people who feel they have some privilege to say it even more offensive than those who are just plain ole ignorant.  I know I’m probably going to upset people.  And I know that they will look to my pictures on Facebook, my creative circle, friends and family, and tell me that it’s not the same for me because I have “a lot of black friends”, etc.  I hear that craziness all of the time.  All I can tell you is that as accepted as I am in most circles I enter, I would like to think that it’s because I am true to who I am and never try to be something I’m not.  This is me.  It’s not a charade.  I’m not trying to be anything to fit in with any particular group.  I fit in because I am me.  I am considered family by a lot of people who don’t look like me.   And maybe I also fit in because I understand what white privilege is.  I didn’t earn this privilege but no matter how cool or “down” I am to folks, at the end of the day my white skinned, Welsh/Scottish ass has privileges in this world that other people including my closest friends and some family members don’t.  I didn’t earn this.  I was born with it.  It’s not fair.  I am highly aware of it.  So let’s move on to that topic…..

I heard someone say that racism doesn’t really exist anymore.  And quite honestly in my opinion THAT is one of the biggest problems we have as human beings right now.  The fact that people cannot understand that racism exists, that we are not really “equal”, and that we have so much personal and interpersonal work to do.  Hell we can’t even talk about it on Facebook without people attacking each other.  We keep taking steps backwards.  We aren’t learning from our mistakes.  We are idiots.  We aren’t teaching our kids about respect for everyone and how can we when as adults we don’t even respect each other.  This is how we create George Zimmermans.  This is how we create people who view any black guy in a hoodie at night as a threat or suspicious.  This is how we maintain the “Us and Them” mindset that is keeping us from getting anywhere close to peace.

Let me try to explain white privilege.  I KNOW that because I am a white female I can get away with pretty much anything in this world.  I can drive fast, I can forget to renew my tags on time, I never have to get out of my car if I get pulled over, I never worry about a police officer driving behind me,  I can walk out of stores with merchandise by accident, I can dress however I want and never be followed around a store, it is assumed I speak “well”, I never get stopped at customs or by security, no one labels me a thief or suspect without even knowing me, etc., etc.,…the list goes on and on.  THIS is white privilege.  Because my skin is white I never have to experience what my African American friends, colleagues, and family deal with every day in this country.  Yes…MAYBE if I am up in the midst of a situation with them I might be treated as they are.  But the difference is I don’t have to be there.  I can turn around and go on about my white way and for the most part not ever have to worry about being treated with disrespect, unfairness, injustice ever again.  I have that choice.  I have that privilege.  It’s real.  If your skin is white you need to realize and own this.  THIS is white privilege.

Because of this, you really should be much more sensitive to the fact that people of other races do not experience this freedom that you do.  I think this is difficult for a lot of white people to grasp because in doing so they feel that they personally are being blamed for whatever situation is on the table at the moment and they get defensive.  And in a sense it is partially our fault if we don’t SEE that there is a difference in the way people are treated.  Once you see it happening, accept it is real, and change YOUR actions and perceptions, then there is a ripple in the water…a movement toward change.  It’s not an “overnight, let’s sign an official document, make a law,” kind of change.  It’s a change that comes from inside of all of us.  It’s a shift in the culture that won’t happen easily if it can happen at all.

My friend Ellen Gee* posted a photo on her Facebook page of a T-shirt that Adidas was selling.  It was displayed on a black faceless mannequin and it said “Run Like You Took Something”.  (By the way this was right after Adidas had those sneakers out with the shackles around the ankles and everyone was outraged.)

adidas shirt

There were a million comments on the thread under this picture, some amazed, some confused, some not surprised a bit, but one white man was going off on my friend.  “Why is everything about race?  “Why are we still having these conversations?” “I’m a white man who once lost a job to affirmative action” “I’ve been discriminated against just like you have” “We have bigger problems in the world than a black mannequin” “Quit playing the race card”…on and on and on.

This was my friend’s page. She is black.  She was offended by the shirt and the choice of color of the mannequin.   Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion.  But instead of TELLING her why it shouldn’t be offensive to her and even ridiculing her…maybe we should LISTEN to why she (and everyone else commenting) feels offended if it isn’t already clear to you.  Try for a second to put yourself in that person’s place.  How did it feel to you sir, the ONE time you lost a job to an African American because of race?  Were you feeling angry, sad, helpless, less valuable, etc??  Did you feel isolated and not accepted?  Can you imagine feeling that way on the regular?

I posted a reply to the thread comments going back and forth that day.  This is what I said….

“I personally don’t think ANY white person gets to say what is offensive to a black person. Just like anyone with a penis doesn’t get to tell me about whether or not I’ve been “legitimately raped” or what to do about the child I am carrying. It’s not about white folks. I can get followed around in stores every day for the rest of my life and it will never equal the racism, prejudice, and racial profiling that black people deal with 24/7. I’ve seen it. My friends live it. Yeah I’ve been discriminated against in my life. But when the police pull me over 98% of the time it’s friendly and I drive away with a warning. I never have to get out of the car. I could walk out of a store accidently carrying an unpaid for item and the clerk would probably run out after me and I could laugh it off as a mistake. No security need be called to follow me around the mall. No one ever comments that I “speak really well” for a white person. No one ever says “there goes the neighborhood” when I move in. People don’t cross the street when a few of my white friends and I are walking in a group towards them. Old ladies don’t clutch their purses close to them when I get on the elevator. It’s a privilege that I was born with….I didn’t earn it. It’s not fair but it is the truth. Yes there are bigggg problems going on in this world. The economy, the school systems, health care, etc. But that doesn’t change or minimize racism. That’s a whole different thing. And unless you live it every day with a skin color that for a lot of folks has branded you a thief, guilty, suspect, etc. then you can’t truly ever understand.”

Obviously I don’t have a brilliant solution for any of this.  As artists we write…we sing…we try to reach people to create some positive movement. Every time I think we are making a difference and opening minds through art and music, something happens that sets us all back again.  It makes me sick.  I don’t know what we can do other than LISTEN to each other without being defensive and TALK about what we can change in our own hearts and lives to create the shift that is needed to move a little closer to peace.

All we have is each other.  What affects one of us will ultimately in turn affect all of us.  Have you been affected enough yet?

Love and Light,

Janice B.

https://http://www.janicebmusic.com

*More About Ellen Gee: https://www.facebook.com/Ellengee.Evolves

Ellen Gee, Janice B., and Romel Moralez during the shoot of “Feeling Fine”

ellenjb

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Aiming the Gun, Taking a Life (My thoughts on the Trayvon Martin case)

I used to keep a gun in my house.  A revolver. 

I knew how to use it even though I hoped I would never have to.   Even if someone was breaking the door down I would hopefully be able to escape without having to shoot someone.  But the fact of the matter is when you own a gun you have to also own the fact that you might be responsible for taking someone’s life.  Some people think that sounds easy given the right circumstances.  But most people who think it is easy, people who think that they could easily shoot someone who was trying to harm them or their child, for example, have most likely never even held a gun.   They have no idea what the decision to point a gun and shoot someone brings with it.  It should never be easy.  

I am familiar with and have respect for guns because I grew up with them.  My father was a DC police officer and later homicide detective.  He also used to hunt for food.   We had guns in the house.  I knew where they were.  I knew how to use them.   My father instilled in me that guns are dangerous weapons and that thankfully he had never had to take someone’s life as a police officer.  He said that a good police officer should go their entire career praying they never have to take someone’s life.  And that it was a burden that no one should ever have to carry.   But he also said that you never ever pick up a gun and aim it at someone, human or animal, unless you are ready to accept that burden.  If the possible harm to you is greater than the burden of taking that life then you will have to live with that choice even if you feel justified in making it. 

I’m talking about guns because I wonder what was going through the mind of George Zimmerman the night he chose to aim his gun and shoot Trayvon Martin.  Like pretty much everyone I know, this case is weighing heavily on my heart these days.   It seems the details of that evening keep changing as more witnesses emerge, so even as I type this there may be new developments.   But going from what I know now I’m curious about the mental state of a grown man out in his car, carrying a gun, looking for “suspicious” people.   I’m curious as to why a 17 year old child of any color walking down the street in his neighborhood would appear suspect.  And like everyone else I wonder what in Zimmerman’s soul made him believe that he could go out that night with a gun, cruise the neighborhood, stalk this boy, antagonize him, and take his life?  Who gave him that right?  Did he understand the weight of that choice? 

I know we are all outraged about the actions of the Sanford police department that night.  Even if Zimmerman was being attacked and beaten when he decided to shoot that gun he should have still been detained for questioning until the facts emerged.  “Stand your ground” law or not….basic common sense procedures were ignored.  And given the fact that they KNEW he was following the boy.  They KNEW he was going after Trayvon.  It was clearly premeditated.  If he had stayed in his car and reported the “suspect” this would have never happened.  A child would not have been shot and killed.  Black, white, asian, whatever.  The police failed us.  I know people are pointing to the racial aspects of this injustice making it a black vs. white issue.  I don’t know if the police were racist and I’m not even sure that Zimmerman is white.  But quite honestly I’m saddened that this is becoming a race issue.   Because even though there could be a racist motive here, WE as human beings need to be united in this.  

This is about humanity.  This is about valuing another’s life like you value your own.  The truth is, Trayvon is my son.  He’s my brother, my child, my friend, my coworker, my neighbor.   How many times have I gone out in the rain or cold to get the mail wearing my husband’s hoodie pulled tightly around my face?  You can’t tell my race or my gender.  You can’t tell if I’m “on drugs” or planning to commit a crime.  And what if my neighbor is not mentally stable and decides to shoot me because I appear suspicious?  What if it’s my son as a teenager walking home from school?  What if it was my producer MoRece who walked down Calvert Street in the rain wearing a hoodie just to come to my show at the Baltimore Book Fair to support me?   Truth is it could be any of us.  Yes Trayvon is OUR family.  

But here’s the difficult part.  Zimmerman is our family too.  He’s someone’s child.  We may be sickened by his actions and feel hatred in our hearts for what he did, but he is still a human being.   Since his actions were handled improperly and he wasn’t detained by the police we don’t know yet what his story is.  We don’t know if he is sick or what his state of mind is.  But whether we like it or not he is one of us.   He’s that person who clutches their purse closer when a group of young black men walk by.  He’s those people who hate the Korean ladies in the nail shop because they just know they are talking about them.  He’s just like that uncle who doesn’t trust white people or that cousin who says “there goes the neighborhood” when a black family moves in.  He’s just like those of us who judge by the exterior or by the prejudice we have formed in our hearts instead of looking at each person as a unique individual.  He’s those of us who still don’t see that we are all in this life together.  There is no black or white or asian to that.  We were created by the same force.  We were put here for a reason.   This is who we have become.  And only WE can change it.  I know this blog won’t change much.  But this is so heavy on my heart that I felt the need to say something.  I continue to see the racial division on social networks over the Trayvon case and others like it.  I continue to see the black vs. white and “us vs. them” mindset and it makes me sad.  For whatever it’s worth, I pray we can rise out of this together.     

I no longer own a gun.  Before we adopted my son in 2009 I removed it from my house and gave it back to my father.  I know that while I AM able to shoot someone to protect myself or my family, I also know that as a mother I am NOT able to carry the burden of taking the life of another mother’s child.  I’m a different person now.  I know I don’t want to ever have to make that decision.  I live with peace in my life and in my heart.  My father taught me well.  

As for my father, the retired police officer and former hunter…..he now feeds the deer from his back deck.  He is 83 now.  He has names for them and saves up old bread so that he and my son can feed them when we visit.  He no longer hunts.  He told me he doesn’t think he has it in him anymore.  He has changed.  

Me too Daddy.  Me too. 

Love and light….

Janice B.