Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Inside Voice


I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality


(Note: I first wrote this after watching an episode of the Boondocks in which a white teacher calls Riley the N-word, the expresses confusion about his use of the word.  When he faces a disciplinary committee, he describes how Riley constantly uses the word, and that it has embedded itself into his subconscious mind. He concludes his speech with “My inside voice didn’t talk like that before!”)
Now, let me make this abundantly clear. A white person should NEVER use the N-word. I do not care who they are, who they hang out with, or who they fuck. It is just not appropriate. So, I HATE when I hear white folks using the N-word. But, that is NOT what I am going to talk about today.
Today, I am going to talk about why I don't like when Black people use the N-word. Now, I am the first to admit, I have NO RIGHT to tell a Black person whether or not he can use this word or any other to express himself. And, that is NOT my intent. I understand the premise behind using the word. I understand the concept of taking the power of the word back. I get all that, I really do. But, I REALLY do not like when my friends use the N-word word around me.

Now, I am NOT coming at this from the same perspective as Dr. Laura or Elizabeth Hasselbeck. I am NOT uncomfortable with Black people's use of the N-word because I feel like it is UNFAIR that I can't use the word myself. I have NO DESIRE to use the N-word. Never have, never will. The reason I don't like hearing Black people use the N-word is because I DON'T want to say it. I don't even want to THINK it.
See, about 11 years ago I met a man who I dated for four years. The N-word has got to be his FAVORITE WORD. He uses it in just about every sentence he speaks. He uses it to refer to his Black friends. He uses it to refer to his white coworkers. He uses it to refer to the Chinese delivery man. He even uses it to refer to my cat. And, since I speak to this man EVERY DAY, and have for the past 11 years, I find the N-word creeping into my thoughts.
I do not remember ever saying or even thinking the N-word before I started hanging out with this man. But now, once in a while, I will be waiting for this man to call me and think "I hope this (N-word) calls soon" Or, I will be waiting for my father to come over and think "This (N-word) better not forget to pick up my prescription!!" or, I will be looking for the cat and thinking "Where did this little (N-word) go?" My inside voice never talked like this before I met this man.
Now, granted, I am NOT using the word in the context of a racist epithet (which, does not really make much of a difference anyway, in my opinion, it is just as disturbing and unwelcome). In my thoughts, when it DOES pop up, it is in the same context as my ex man uses it, the same way I typically use the word "Dude". And I NEVER say it out loud, not even if I am singing a song, or reading a book. But it is still REALLY disturbing to me. It causes me to question myself.
I remember when I first starting hanging out with this man and his friends. I asked him to please not use that word in front of me. He looked at me and laughed. Now, since I have expressed to him my concerns about his use of the word and its influence on my thought process, he makes it a point to use the word even more than usual. In fact, just today, we had this discussion, and when I told him how I felt, he decided to repeat the word 20 times in a row, just for a laugh.
So, no, it is not my place to tell a Black person whether or not to use the N-word. All I can say is that it makes me feel REALLY uncomfortable. But you know what, come to think of it, it is really not a Black person’s job to make white folks feel comfortable anyway, is it?