sticks and stones

How does the rhyme go..?

sticks and stones will break your bones, but your words will never hurt me

Well if this isn’t an all out lie, I don’t know what is! I can’t believe we tell our children this! They sell all kinds of insurance for things that can be easily put back together, like cars, houses, and bones! Yet, there isn’t any insurance out there for the proverbial crisis, like when someone breaks your heart or worse, your spirit. Words are powerful! Powerful people like the president and Beyonce have people carefully choose the words they use, because they understand their power. Words can slice right to the core of you, have you questioning your entire existence, and leave you balled up on the bathroom floor. Words can fill you with pride, overwhelm you with love and joy, or even motivate you to push a baby out of your vagina with out drugs. Words are powerful! It’s why people read, because the power of words can change your life. Words have changed my life. I will not sell my children this lie; I will prepare them for words.

As I sat in my Defensive Driving course today, I was slapped in the face with the power of a word.  Since the 6-hour requirement wasn’t punishment enough, we were also subjected to Tim, the 70yr old instructor, telling us a variety of stories to pass the time. It was an official FML moment. In what had to be his 15th story, he began to tell us about a man, “a black fella” to be exact, who blah blah blah, “was the craziest nigga in town!” Yep. Tim just dropped the N-word in my court-ordered, by the state of Georgia, Defensive Driving course (I was in there for speeding & of course I am innocent;) I jerked back, appalled that this was happening, and began to look around for who was with me!! Who was going to make the signs? Who was going create the chant? Who was going to map the march route? No one. No one even flinched. Why weren’t these people appalled???!!! In a room full six students, I was the only one who felt the weight of that word punch me in the chest, cement me to the chair, and flush my cheeks. It immediately took me back to one of the most pivotal times that a word made me feel the unjust of this world.

I was a freshman in high school, and I was 13 years old.  Like me, my high school was small and in 1994, two of these kids were not like the others! Derek and I were both were both mixed, black and white. We were the first kids of any African-American descent to come through our tiny school; we were integrating in the 1990’s!  And having said that, I rarely thought about my race in high school. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of instances growing up where I was made aware that I was NOT like them! That I was “pepper” and they were “salt,” we can tell that story later! But in high school, I was around the same people everyday, in my small town bubble, which my good friend likes to refer to as “the farm!”  It was nothing like the world I’m in today where I meet new people everyday that want to play the guessing game. “What are you?” The kids, teachers, and parents all knew me. They knew I was mixed, my mom was white, and my assumed black father, was not around. I was figured out, end of curiosity. So as a happy and stable freshman, I was called into the office. I was Never in trouble, well one time I pushed this girl into a locker, but like in the hood, there were no witnesses, so it doesn’t count. Turns out, I was being called into the guidance counselor’s office, he needed my help, which makes way more sense than me being in trouble. He explained that there was a new student and she was also mulatto and he thought it would be a good idea if I showed her around and helped her adjust. OMG!!! He was asking me to be an ambassador, finally a taste of the prestige I knew I was destined for! But, wait, what was a “mulatto?”

After I accepted my role as ambassador, my mind began reeling about this word…..mulatto. Did it mean she was equally beautiful? Why would he do that? Set me up to be my arch nemesis’ tour guide?! Maybe it meant she too was a genius, brimming with creativity, and the two of us combined would be unstoppable! Maybe she was also destined for stardom! I could not wait to get home and look this word up! When I got home that night, I asked my mother about this word, mulatto, she had no idea what it meant. This was going to be way better than I even dreamed…it was a word, so elusive and exotic, that not even my mother had heard it! Back then, the Internet was NOT what it is today. We had dial-up, it took years to even get on the World Wide Web. But, finally, there it was, the definition: it had origins in Creole…very exotic indeed!…generally denoting a person of one white parent and one black parent…oh, she’s mixed too, this is Not glamorous, at all…deriving from the word mula, meaning mule, hybrid offspring of a horse and donkey, sterile…WTF!!

In all my years on the farm, I was only called a nigger once, that I know of, and it was behind my back…and well once by my sister, like she had room to talk and no she did not use it with the “a” on the end, for solidarity! So how could it be, that this beautiful word with this ugly meaning was being allowed to describe me, to group me, to label me, by someone who was supposed to be guiding me? How did this word make it this far without being whispered and used only behind my back? The truth is: I liked the guidance counselor; I like him to this day. I believe he is a good person with a good heart; and he never had intentions to harm me, disrespect me, label me, or negatively change me, but he did, with his word. This word has stuck with me my whole life; I shudder at its existence. When I was younger and people called me mulatto, I went all Malcolm X on their ass but now I use it as way to spread the halfie-gospel: you do not have the right to use your words to group me, label me, understand me, to deal with me. I rebuke your words!

And so today, as I sat in my chair, paralyzed with the humiliation that this word, in any variation: nigger or nigga, is still being used and I couldn’t help but feel just like that young “mulatto” girl. Sad and Alone…no one but me was silently wounded by a word; I was Sad and Alone. I didn’t organize a march or contact Nancy Grace about Tim, the N-word dropping, DDS instructor. I silently sat through the rest of the class, aced my exam, and addressed his lack of home-training in the evaluation. I have grown to pick my battles and past the evaluation, Tim was not my battle. I am my battle. I have been meaning to blog. I have something to say, about everything! And despite my reputation of always saying what’s on my mind, I keep so much inside. This blog is going to be my way of battling myself. I will use my words as tools, not weapons.

So, this time, the words that affected me were racial: Mulatto. Nigga. But all words carry weight. Love. Fat. Hate. Worthless. Pride. Family. Home. Mother. Daughter. Independent. Bitch. The list is infinite. The moral of the story is that there are consequences to words. They create feelings that cannot be taken back. They hold memories that will not fade. They quietly shape who we become as humans. Just as words can encourage and fuel a spirit, they can tear it down even quicker. In addition to nursery rhymes, I will teach my children: how to be responsible for words, how to be resilient from words, how to use words as tools not weapons, to mean it when they say I Love you, to understand that Family is what you make of it, and how to fear their Mother, who can be a crazy Bitch, if they ever act like they don’t have home-training.

Thanks for reading my words.

xok

Posted by

Kenya Raymer is a writer, blogger, dancer and the hostess of the natural-hair meet up Curls & Cocktails. She is a self-love enthusiast who uses her natural-hair platform as a space to discuss hair and all things beautiful & real. She is loving in Nashville, TN, where she promotes the local eats, animal rescue, self-awareness, personal growth, happiness and finding comfort in your own skin.

27 thoughts on “sticks and stones

  1. Kenya! I was filled so much emotion reading this. I was literally hanging on every word. It was a great post. I can’t wait to read more 👏

  2. I love you, Kin. Thank you for acknowledging your words as power. Unfortunately, couth, class and tact did not come as a party favor when we exit the womb. You have a faithful blog reader in me. xoxo

  3. Truth, whether coming from a halfie or not is what counts in words. If our words are anything less than the truth their meanings are lost. What you said was from the real-you, the you that cannot be labeled. Only the truth hurts because something is a stake, reality, and the ability to connect with others. Our humanness-failures and triumphs are what make us real. You will do well using your words as tools, the person you’ll help the most is you.

    Welcome to the rawness that comes with peeling, and pulling off layers you picked up along the way.

    You don’t need to wear anything someone else gives you, you can rip that foulness off at any time. We design our own skin, it’s where we live, better make it cozy and nice.

    Thank you for sharing and for defining mulatto. As with most people, I had no idea about the origin of the word.

    I’m proud of you, and love you. XO, Shannon, Miss Jackson is you’re nasty.

  4. Kenya…just amazing! You know as a fellow swirlgirl…I can so relate. But so much more important is how fearless you are with these words. And yes, words can build or break and you’ve built something amazing here and I look forward to where you will take it 🙂 I remember the first time someone called me the M word…the repeated times I’ve been asked to define what I am, like some weird form of fruit in the produce aisle and the first time I was called the N word. Each one of those experiences still lives inside me people must understand that for good or bad, they are what make or break us…oh yes…the stones.

    Thank you for sharing this part of yourself…and thank you for sharing with me. It’s a safe place. 🙂


    L

  5. Kenya,
    It always hurts me so much to hear what my American sisters have gone through. As a child I was never hurt by the words that have caused so much pain. Being Jamaican I have always been looked upon as exotic, I have always been asked what I am and never taken offense because I am sooooo mixed. It never crossed my mind as a child to be insulted and it wasn’t until I was educated that i realized how harsh certain words were. In Jamaica I was referred to as a “brownin” almost implying that I was in the process of baking when I was removed from the oven. This always made me feel so good to be considered brown when my skin is so light. In Jamaica there wasn’t a race problem of course because we are the majority, and because we are so mixed it can be quite commical to compare races… we have probably invented quite a few new ones. I have at least 4 mixes of white (Irish, Swedish, Scottish and French) black of course which we know is west African and also Syrian. I’m so mixed that I’ve never categorized myself with the mixes. I just thought of myself as black. Once a little girl called me a nigger and I laughed so hard and so long that she felt ashamed and tried to walk away. I followed her and taunted her and told her that she was the nigger because she was so stupid and that was what the word meant. I was just a child, but I had only recently been told that that word meant a stupid person.I was also told that white people were usually refering to black people when using this word. This was confusing to me because being Jamaican every high powered official and clergyman and anyone of a respectful status that I knew was BLACK! They were also very intelligent. Also it was so utterly stupid to me to judge a person by their color, so the people who TRIED to do this to me were Neanderthals as far a s I was concerned. To me it was like arguing with a person who was crazy or mentally challenged it was more pitiful than anything, and to try to hurt me with a word!!! Laughable! It wasn’t until I went to Howard University that I truly understood the history behind the words and saw the images of lynchings that I could then grasp the power that those words wielded.
    I am so sorry for the pain that still resides in us from those past hurts and injustices. I wish you nothing but love my little halfie sister, and the consulation that…. Mixed children are taking over the world!! LOL we are the majority now and we are all a part of some mix and some melting pot. Soon we won’t have to worry about such foolishness anymore, heck… even the Pres. is a halfie!! smooches girlie 😉

  6. Thanx for sharing, Kenya 🙂 GREAT read! Definitely looking forward to more of your thoughts & your words… Keep doin your thang!!

  7. You truly have a gift! I can relate to this story & you — being Multi-Racial (or as a former boss once stated to me “Wow! You’re a MULTI-MULTI-MULTI-Racial creation, oh, who is also very pretty!!!”) I completely understand the questions & “label group names” that we are placed in. Or better yet the borderline arguments that I’ve gotten in because I will not settle for just saying I am black or African-American. I was once told that if I have 1% of black in me, then I am black and need to stop saying I am multi-racial!!

    Thank you so much for expressing your powerful words of expression, experience, and feelings! Like I said before, I learned more from you than those great dance moves of yours.

    You have a reader/blog follower, and supporter in me! Can’t wait for the next blog and many more blogs from you!

    Thank you again!

  8. Your words carry lots of weight, ma’am. I appreciate the way you articulate yourself, and the messages that you deliver. Reading this almost a year after you posted it, I am still connecting with it. As a child of a mixed background, with my mother white and father black, this hits home, because I still see this situation happening, even at my school. One would think that, at the well-known Morehouse College, MLK Jr’s alma mater, people would understand the power of words and the need to selectively choose them, but they do not. I want to thank you for writing this, and, if I ever get the opportunity, I’d like to talk to you directly. Your mind seems to be an intriguing place, and I would love to explore it.

    With many thanks,
    Alexander

  9. Thank you for writing this. I am 17 and I recently went through a situation like this. I was searching for a way to combat, go off or stay sane. I tried to wrapped my mind around why someone would say something about, was it my fault? Then I realized that people are going to try and hurt you and I can’t let what they say define who I am. I am going to CHOOSE HAPPY.

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