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.