On Being Called a C#nt and a N!gger
The virtual conversation started because I was offended. The sender of the message above was himself offended when I asked him to refrain from calling Hillary Clinton a “c#nt” after the first presidential debate. He’d made an effort, I guess, to be polite by dropping the “t” and referring to Candidate Clinton as a “cun*”. “Politics aside,” I wrote in a reply, “I don’t think any woman deserves to be insulted that way, even if you drop a letter.”
He obviously disagreed with my opinion and targeted me with his next venomous post. Now I was the “c#nt”. I was, in fact, a “F -ing, n!gger c#nt.” This time he included every letter for every word. I immediately reported the content of this particular message and it quickly disappeared. What remains of our exchange is a private message I found the next morning-a portion of which I’ve shared in the screenshot above.
My offender could have chosen so many other words to express his dissatisfaction with me. But he chose “c#nt” and “n!gger”, the gold standards of hate speech. They are words packed with historic abuse. One word evokes black bodies being tortured and mangled by evil so dark that we barely acknowledge it in our history books. The other word denies the humanity of women, designating female bodies as mere receptacles, useful only for male invasion and abuse.
An apology came the next morning via Facebook messenger, to my husband’s account. I want to believe that the offender thought better of trying to contact me again. But I’m convinced that, having dismissed me as nothing more than a vulgarity, he mistakenly thought of himself as demonstrating maturity by seeking forgiveness from my husband.
In the face of his offensive and threatening communication we were asked to forgive and offered “blessings”. There’s so much I want to say about this absurd moment in my life, thoughts that run deep about being a woman and an African American targeted by such a hateful person. In a separate post I will reflect on the word “c#nt” but here I offer some thoughts about the impact of the word “n!gger”:
#1 The pain of racism is generational. Apologies that don’t acknowledge what is really wrong don’t help.
The word n!gger has both historic and emotional power for those of us descended from African slaves. The pain wrapped up in the “N” word and unleashed on a black soul cannot be alleviated by social pleasantries. It’s an historic wound African Americans carry. The word “n!gger” flows out of a river of generational pain. A RIVER. And every day I swim in it.
Some days I succumb to the pain but mostly I fight on-making everyday life happen for my family. Once in a while (more frequently these days), a viral video, a racist rant or a vitriolic social media exchange reminds me of a truth I keep hidden at the edge of my awareness: I will never be able to step out of this river.
It’s different for white people. What insult can bring the entire white community to an immediate awareness of their most vulnerable state? What name can be called out to white males to evoke the powerlessness of seeing wives raped and children sold? There isn’t an answer to these questions and I’m glad. I wouldn’t wish the trauma of chattel slavery on the psyche of any other people group. I only asked the questions to highlight the ineffectiveness of white apologies for singular incidents like the one I experienced. In this case, the apology was clearly insufficient. Regardless, even if actual remorse had been eloquently articulated, I would still be nursing another wound to my soul.
#2 Racism is in the air.
Because white people don’t stand in the river of pain tied to the African American experience, they develop a tendency to dismiss incidents like mine as an anomaly. Some who listen to my story react as if, unprovoked by the dark side of our shared American story, a man woke up and decided to attack me with racial insults. Even the offender offers his struggle with bi-polar disorder as the primary culprit. For white people observing this situation, the hate seems to have originated within the hater.
But the hate in this man’s heart is in the water we drink; it’s in the air we breathe. We are all poisoned. Some of us can’t avoid experiencing the pain caused by this cultural poison; while others of us pretend that we are not affected at all. “I’d never use that word,” some say. But we are steeped in a history of hate, unable to escape its influence on the way we see and react to each other. When it comes to understanding the origin of racial bias, individual ignorance breeds danger for all of us, but particularly for those of us who are targets of this hate. The only way to weaken this potent cultural toxin is to expose it; to speak up and risk offending the unaware in order to set us all free.
#3 Silence is the real danger.
I’m glad my name calling racist has come out of the shadows. I’m glad I can bring him to your attention. I’m also glad that his influence in our world is quite limited. He doesn’t have the power to hire and fire as some racists do. He doesn’t have the law on his side requiring some of us to obey him or risk justifiable death.
But what are we to do when people with economic and political power feel free to practice their racial hatred? For example, what will happen next in Maine where the Governor has declared black people the reason for the state’s drug problem? Like an old slave master he fears that dark bodies are invading his state and impregnating white women. What about North Carolina where a congressman dismissed the collective pain of the black community as petty material jealousy?: “They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” This elected official sits at the table of power in his state, nursing his fear-infused opinion about black people while making decisions that affect the quality of black lives.
When racial hatred is an influence in policy making, the threat “watch your back N!gger” becomes more than just a traumatic social media exchange. It’s clear in this day of empowered haters that your vote matters. But what also matters is your silence at your next family gathering or office party when someone tells a joke borne of our shared racist history. The only antidote for this poison is the act of speaking the truth.
Most white people reading this post will find themselves personally offended that I experienced such abusive behavior. But changing our cultural conversation on race requires all of us to think and act beyond a single, personal incident. We must work together to counteract this poison. Together our individual voices can combine to add new and powerful truth to our collective story.
Speak up. Share this post or write your own. Whatever you do don’t stay in the comfort of your personal safety zone. Your silence threatens to keep us all captive to a culture of hate. I told my story to expose this darkness to the light. This is my contribution to a better American story. What contribution will you make?