When I was even younger than that, probably seven or eight, I remember asking my dad if anyone would ever call me the “N-word.” I said anyone, but we both know I meant someone white. I honestly can’t remember why I asked, but I knew what the word meant and what it specifically meant to black people. We were sitting in the living room at our old house watching a documentary on something when I asked. I still remember his answer.
“Maybe,” he said.
I didn’t know what to do with that. That was not the answer I was looking for. I learned in school that Rosa Parks sat on the bus and Martin Luther King Jr. died so I could drink from the same water fountain as my best friend Kaylee and so my parents could get married, but those problems weren’t problems anymore. They definitely were not supposed to be my problems.
He went on to make sure I understood the history of the word and what it meant. Then he asked me a question.
“Are you?” he said.
“Am I what?” I’m sure I asked. He was asking if I was any of those things he said when told me what the word meant. Was I any of those awful, negative, derogatory things that are implied or meant when using that word?
Of course not, I wasn’t those things then, I’m not those things now and I’m never going to be those things. Then he explained that it wouldn’t matter if someone called me that word because it wasn’t true. As long as I knew who and what I was and who I wasn’t then it wouldn’t matter what names I was called. This lesson has extended to many areas of my life and it’s something I will strive to pass on some day.