The First Time I Heard the N-Word

The first time I heard that word, I will never forget it. I was hanging out with my boyfriend at the time, at his close friend’s house. His friend was older than both of us and someone that my boyfriend looked up to. He was about to get married and we were there for the wedding.

On this day, the fiancé came home and as she entered the room my boyfriend’s friend (the groom) said, “Did you go tanning again? If you keep it up your going to look like a **&%.”

Boom! And there it was the n-word.

But he didn’t edit himself, he said the whole word while laughing, and she laughed too as if it was all a joke.

I was appalled and looked at my boyfriend like, “What the fu*k? Did you hear that?”. And he did that weird, uncomfortable laugh, that we all know too well.

The fiancé left the room but my boyfriend’s friend could tell I was uncomfortable. That’s an understatement. I was embarrassed, shocked, and mad. He proceeded with the litany of defensive responses, trying to justify his reason for saying such a terrible thing. I responded with a very simple “I just don’t think it’s OK to use a word like that.”

That was the best my 20 year old self could muster. And I’m ashamed.

Later in my life, when confronted with similar situations, where someone says or does something that I disagree with, I am way more vocal with my response. But this was my first time – first time thinking that that word was only used in music, movies or old white folks from the south.

When I heard him say the N-word, I knew were going to have a heated discussion later on.

My boyfriend at the time was a wonderful person,very kind, very caring, very respectful, very thoughtful. So, I was shocked when he tried to defend his friend! And, I was even more shocked because it sounded like my boyfriend was embarrassed by my response and not his friend’s words!

We talked and I struggled to get past his defense of his friend’s comments. From my perspective, words are powerful and words like that are hateful and never OK. They are never something to be pushed aside or laughed off.

My boyfriend and I never resolved that “discussion” it was just kind of dropped. In the end, we went our separate ways for various reasons.

Casual Racism

Looking back on that experience many years later, I’m still ashamed that I didn’t say more. But I also have a new view of that situation.

My visible reaction and meek comments were more than most people do in those situations.

How many stay silent when they hear racist, sexist, or bigoted comments?

We can talk all we want about equality. And we can use all the hashtags we want but what are we doing in our individual lives?

Too often, we worry about “ruffling feathers” or violating the social norms of “niceness” and “politeness.”

Well, forget that.

To fight any “ism” – racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc, it’s not enough to spout off on social media to our carefully curated followers about equality. It’s not enough to use the latest hashtag. 

We have to stand up to the casual racism that we see around us. That means calling people out in person, even if it’s uncomfortable. To tolerate racism means you are part of the problem.

Dr. King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”