The Daily Reminder
The words that came out a total strangers mouth didn’t even startle me. It was just the daily reminder of being Black in the Southeast. Mind you, this will probably feature adult words. Look away if you can’t handle such things.
One chilly and windy morning in Uptown Charlotte while walking from my typical parking spot to the office, I was about to cross the street when from behind me one party of a similarly clad duo — read: business casual, just like me — just blurted out “Look at the big nigger move so quickly”.
I’m well aware that a 6 foot 2, 285 pound (1.87m, 129kg for the rest of the civilized world) Black male can be seen as an imposing figure, especially given the current man-child description given to the young man shot in Ferguson, Missouri. Heck, I knew that I was a potentially an imposing figure at the age of 8 thanks to my stern, yet informative parents and supporting community. Yet the strongest memory that I was on a different path and society would always see me differently comes from 4th grade when my teacher, who I honestly thought hated me, pulled me aside and said “You ever want to get ahead, you’ll have to work 8 times harder than your peers to just pull even. That’s the unfortunate position society has placed you in. Education, perseverance and discipline are your greatest allies”. I’ll never forget Taylors Elementary nor Mrs. Pearl Harris.
In 3rd grade, my “best friend” one day couldn’t win an argument with me. Out of frustration, he stuttered, stammered in front of his friends. He was utterly embarrassed. I personally thought it was funny because I took the opposing side of the argument… just because. Then he said it. “You… you… nigger”.
I’d like to think it shocked him more than it shocked me because he was in tears. I think later in life, I’d evaluate that he was frustrated and his pride was hurt and that made him want to strike me down to as low as he felt at the moment he felt defeated. And that’s what I’ve always attached to that word — defeat.
So back to the chilly morning in Charlotte. I’m dressed comfortably in a Rodd & Gunn knit, a matching scarf and knit cap, my favorite Cole Haan shoes and checking my pace to the office on my Motorola 360 smart watch. And the duo that were ahead of me now were behind me and said what was said. I made it safely across the street before I turn to address what was said only to be met with the more sensible of the two saying “I don’t know what got into my friend. I apologize for his behavior.”
Part of me wanted to just unleash rage upon this poor soul that interrupted my morning walk. The other part of me knew that’s exactly what he’s expected. Instead, I said the following almost verbatim.
“You really think that word has any power on me? I’ve heard that word almost daily since 3rd grade. Honestly, every socially inept troglodyte that has used that word has been compared to that 3rd grader that said it first. How does it feel to have your adulthood stripped down and revealed to be nothing more than a 3rd grader’s puerile attempt to unsettle me? Have a good day, know very well that I’ll not stoop to your level.”
It felt good to give a response that was unexpected but wholly honest yet not charged enough to be seen as a stereotypical angry Black guy response. But at the end of the day, it was just my daily reminder of what society tends to see before they take the moment to see past their myopic views and stereotypes.