by Vanessa Rivers
“Would you please stop saying that, please”? “NO, it’s not ok, NO, it’s not just a word”. This is an experience that I had on the first day of a discussion group held at the University that I had joined. The leader told us about a movie, where this Army Drill Sergeant was berating new recruits by referring to them using racial slurs. The movie that he was referring to is “Full Metal Jacket” a movie which I have seen myself. As he is telling us about what was said in the movie, he chose to pass up the opportunity by referring to the totality of the berating as “racial slurs” as I’ve just done, no, he repeated the slur for Jews, the slur for Mexicans and the slur for Black people. This guy didn’t feel the need to use the colloquial term, the “N-word”, no he said “Nigger”, yes, you heard me “Nigger”, in a room full of white people. Hearing this was like a bolt of lightning deep in the pit of my stomach, but I told myself that he was repeating what was said in this movie. My first thoughts were, “ok, you can’t go “ham” on him, he was repeating the dialogue in this movie”, so I didn’t say anything. Then he says, “People get so worked up over words these days, like the word, “Nigger”, “Nigger”, is just a word”. At this point I guess I had an out-of-body experience, because I was speaking in protest, way before my brain realized that my mouth was moving, and when I came back to myself, I was surprised hearing that it was me speaking.
I tell you this because this man thinks of himself as somewhat of a “liberal progressive”, particularly someone who is enlightened about “race” and the struggles of the ‘black man in America”. This white man in a room full of other whites felt so free to say that and was shocked that I objected. It seems like today, if a white person isn’t a “Trumpster”, then they consider themselves #woke, #down, aka, not a racist, and that is the furthest from the truth. They think that they know what it’s like to be a black person in America, that racism isn’t as bad as it once was, and that if black people just remain patient then things will get better for us, one day. As much as they think, that they are enlightened, it’s equally true that they fail to recognize and comprehend the bigotry and racism that their coworkers, friends and families, still inflict upon black people and the impact it has upon us.
I think that whites should stop trying to prove to us how much they empathize, and spend more time calling out other whites who openly embrace and act upon stereotypes and biases. On these cable shows I keep hearing people say, “we all need to start talking and listening to each other”, nope, “WE”, don’t need to do nothin’. Black people have been expressing our desire to be treated like, I, don’t know, “a human being”, from the start and nothing has changed. Just look at the NFL protest that Colin Kaepernick started, black people are “talking” and white people aren’t “listening”. It’s common knowledge among us that when we say something it isn’t believed or counted as truth until someone white says it. So, the ball’s in their court, it’s up to them to call each other out, to stop standing by silently when the racist joke is told, stop turning a blind eye to police brutality with the assumption that the “black guy did something to deserve it”, and to stop assuming we all live in poverty, on public assistance “wasting their tax dollars”, just to name a few. We need for them to stop patting themselves on the back for being such “good people”, and begin the long needed fight against the engrained racism that has infected whites from the very beginning.