Sunday, January 22, 2012

Conversation about the Vocabulary of Racism with the Younger Generation

An interesting conversation recently took place between some of us older folks in my generation and some of the 20-somethings on Facebook. Last week my daughter posted a joke on FB that had the N-word in it. I try not to meddle in my children’s FB conversations for the most part, but I spoke up about this. I want young people to think long and hard before they use that word. I have a lot of trouble with people, any people, of any color, using that word; any form of that word, any spelling of that word, in any context. I don’t get why the younger generation thinks it’s OK to use it. My daughter took my comment in stride gracefully. Then, this week, my nephew in Chicago used the N-word in a joke on his FB page and his mom (my Black sister-in-law) did the same thing I had done. She called him out for it. He and his friends started to argue the point with her. I chose to jump in and lend her some support. The youngsters weren’t disrespectful to us, but they were eager to disagree. They said things like “we’ve changed the meaning” and “it doesn’t mean what it used to” and “you’re letting it have those racist meanings, giving it those meanings by allowing it to have those meanings” and “you’re so old-fashioned.”

My sister-in-law and I were very clear with the young people about the fact that there are centuries of racism, oppression, torture, and murder inherent in that word and they are not going to make that go away with wishful thinking about how they have “changed” the meaning. The word has the meaning it has built over centuries. My nephew said that once the older generation dies off, then the younger generation won’t be oppressed by the meaning of the word because they have transformed it, but I don’t buy that. And my sister-in-law was quick to point out that racism is still rampant in this country. She even mentioned the ongoing racist attacks Obama suffers despite the fact that he’s the president (most recently this week in relation to the clip of him singing an Al Green song that was posted on YouTube).

My sister-in-law told the youngsters that she wished they would have more respect for themselves than to use the N-word and the youngsters basically told her that she was giving the oppressor permission to continue oppressing her by allowing the word to get to her. My Black husband and I feel strongly that we would like to see the word disappear, but it keeps rearing its ugly head. You can see how much it affects me because I can’t even say it or write it. It’s my least favorite word. I think if I could choose one word in the English language to abolish, that would probably be the one. On the other hand, I have been thinking all day about which word is my favorite. Hard choice. Which word would you choose as your favorite? Which word would you abolish?

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