Friday, October 23, 2009

The N Word Hurts

Is there an event in your life where, if given the opportunity, you'd go back and change or do differently?

There is one that stands out with me.

I was about 19. Working full time at Dress Barn, a retail clothing store. I liked this job. I mean, customer service came natural to me and I liked helping people find clothes and accessories that made them or their loved ones look beautiful.

Yeah YEAH sure SURE! It was a JOB! It was something to put a few dollars in my pocket so that I could pay my parents' water bill and put gas in my hooptie so that I could ride out with my girl to the Starlight Club on the weekends!

Anyway, there was one day that stands out above all the rest of the two years I worked there.

This place was right off the highway and was always filled with old people. There's something about an outlet that attracts old travelers. I think that once people get old, their trips take longer because they stop at every outlet they see off of the highway. It could be that when you get older, you just have more leisure time, or it could just be that you have to stop to pee more often and not rely on their Depends... I don't know.

An old couple was in the store. They had to be, I don't know, 70ish? The wife was a sweetheart and I just remember her taking a ton of clothes into the dressing room to try on. Good for me, because, although we didn't work on commission, our sales were tallied and we were recognized for what we were able to convince folks to buy.

WELL, while the wife was in the dressing room, this nice old man turns to me and says, "You know, my best friend is a nigger, too."

He must not have noticed the shocked, appalled looked on this young girls face because he didn't miss a beat as he continued, "And he was one of the nicest people you'd ever meet." He went on to talk about how this n-i-g-g-e-r was a good guy and blah blah blah. He lost me somewhere in there because all I could think about how insulted I was and how I just didn't know what to say or how to respond to such complete ignorance.

I mean, it was 1997! It wasn't 1935. It was obvious to all of the world that it wasn't okay and it was total disrespect to call a black person a NIGGER! And really, it shouldn't have mattered how old this old fart was. EVERYONE who had half of a brain knows that it's not okay and so absolutely offensive to use the N-word!

I couldn't say anything. I just stood there. Quiet and in disbelieve. I didn't defend myself in anyway. I simply smiled and continued to work.

In all do honesty, that is the one moment in my life that I wish I'd spoken up, the one time in my life when I wish I'd stood up and made it known what I was feeling. I didn't. I don't know why, but I was jut dumbfounded and bothered but did. not. say. a WORD.

What do I wish I woulda said?

I'm sorry, Sir, but I'm not a nigger. Nor do I know anyone who is. Nigger is quite derogatory and offensive to me and to any black person. We were called niggers in slavery, when white men owned us. This word is used by people who are deliberately intending to be offensive now. The definition of this hateful word is a person of any race or origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, that which I am neither. Do I look ignorant to you, sir? Do you feel me to be inferior? Your age is no excuse for your ignorance toward me or your so-called friend. With friends like you, sir, I'd hate to see what kind of enemies that poor man had. I, sir, am no nigger and I am deeply offended by being referred to as such!

If given a second go around I probably still wouldn't be able to think fast enought ot spit all of that out, but I would certainly saw something. Something to let him know that I was offended and hurt by his actions. Of course, I may have been fired for speaking out, but I would feel as though I defended myself and stood up for who I am!


Kristin said...

Wow, Diva Ma, I cannot even imagine how that must have felt, to be spoken to that way.

T.Allen-Mercado said...

*mouth open* Wow. Y'know growing up in NYC (not that NYC is without racism, it's just so progressive that you have to look a little harder for it) I can't even imagine such an encounter. It's one of those moments you can only sort out in hindsight. The blatant nature of the remark takes your breath away...really. I'm having difficulty putting together a cogent argument and I wasn't even there. Ugh. I'm sorry you had this encounter but I'm glad no matter how many years later you found the words to say.

Diva Ma @ Mommy Fabulous said...

Kristin - It was one of my most memorable moments!

T.Allen - Even though I've spent the majority of my life in Georgia, I never felt I'd encountered racist situations. I'm the main person preaching that we need to stop "looking" for racism and start changing ourselves. But that was the one time that I felt that HE KNEW he was saying something that wasn't right. I think I handled it the best way at the time. I was a child and sometimes it's better to turn the other cheek.