One does not have to be Nostradamus to predict that every person of color will encounter a slur in their lifetime. Lord knows I have. I was in the fourth grade, and the teacher let us out of the building in the afternoon to enjoy recess the same way an owner lets their cooped-up dog outside so the pet can remember what sunshine feels like. There was a classmate I had named Ray. He was the new kid. He seemed to have had contempt for the entire world. I can’t remember for the life of me exactly what I did or said to piss him off when we got outside, but he held vicious scorn in his gaze toward me once we reached the playground. He, in a moment of rage and anger, fired out of his mouth: NIGGER. Now, I don’t think he knew how bad the word was, he just knew it was an insult. I suffered from the same mindset. I knew he insulted me, but I didn’t know how lethal the severity of the word was. We both knew he had a weapon, but we both didn’t know the full extent of his artillery. As soon as he blasted the word, my soul instantly felt the bullet. My soul fell, bled out, and slowly suffocated. Right after he fired the gun, Abby, a classmate of ours, swiftly shielded him from me. She looked at me and spat out, “He’s just being stupid.”
I look back on this event and reflect upon this and other racist incidents that have occurred since Ray. During this painful reminiscence, I realize something: racism, at its core, makes the recipient feel less than. Feel unworthy. Feel like a nigger. Ray may have called me a nigger, but Abby made me feel like one. She saw how he assaulted me with the deadly word, yet she walked over me whilst I attempted to recover from my wound in her pursuit to shield Ray (from… I don’t even know what she suspected I’d do). Shield him as if his safety was more important than mine. Shield him as if retribution was not warranted. Shield him as if learning was not a necessary tool. Her defense screamed louder than Ray’s declaration. She said without words that I, as a black man, was not guaranteed protection. Protection is guaranteed only for those who unwittingly use the word for its purpose to humiliate and insult black people because “they were being stupid” and didn’t know any better. The lack of protection does more damage than the slur itself. If it was eighteen-year-old me instead of Abby, I would have picked Ray up by his little dirty ears and flung his little angry behind into the direction of the principal’s office. And I would’ve also gone to the little injured black boy, wrapped my arms around him. Barricaded him from the entire world and said, “You are not a nigger.” Hoping he’ll know the feeling of protection.