‘Nigger’ Moments.

I wanted to lighten the mood a little bit, and open up the floor to talk about personal experiences with naked, unvarnished racism. (Like Chappelle said, shit you can’t even be mad at because you’re so stunned.) Fun stuff, right?

I’ll go first. I was maybe 12 or 13, in my church’s sacristy. I was helping this white kid (let’s call him Tommy) who was maybe 8 or 9 find the little rope thing we used to cinch the cassocks we altar boys had to wear. Tommy hailed from the pocket of working-class Italian/Irish families who lived just across from us on Grays Ferry Avenue. We lived maybe a few hundred yards apart, but they never came to our side of Grays Ferry, and we never ventured to theirs.

“Maybe there are extras in the cabinet,” I said absentmindedly.

There was a pause, as he stared at me for a second.

“You’re a nigger,” he said, flatly.

Damn, I thought. Where did that come from?

“What?” I asked.

“You’re a… nigger!” he said. This time, he seemed to be using the type of inflection  a kid uses when he figures out the math problem on the chalkboard and just has to shout it out. He was having an epiphany, which I suppose was appropriate since we were in church.

“Um, what the hell?” I said.  I was looking at this tiny kid like he’d just shat himself. It was quiet for awhile. And then we served Mass.

I dunno why that’s so funny to me now. In retrospect, I guess it was kind of beautiful watching him take his first, awkward baby steps toward bigotry and I really appreciate how special it is that I got to be a part of that.

(There was another time when I went to their side on the way to Taney Playground, which was a schlep but it had the best courts near our section of South Philly. I was with my boy, when this car full of older white boys rolled up. “Hey! Go home, cottonpicker!” Then they all started laughing before they drove off. This time, I was actually shook. That encounter never became funny to me.)

Add your own.

14 thoughts on “‘Nigger’ Moments.

  1. shani-o February 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm Reply

    Well, I’ve never had a ‘nigger’ moment. I was always ready for one… it just never happened.

  2. G.D. February 19, 2009 at 2:20 pm Reply

    Oh, you’ll have one, too. You just have to have faith.

  3. shani-o February 19, 2009 at 3:11 pm Reply

    LOL. One can only hope!

  4. Buster February 19, 2009 at 3:25 pm Reply

    Not sure if this qualifies, you let me know.

    It happened in the summer between sixth and seventh grade in late 1980s southern California. I was biking from my house to Thrifty’s to get an ice cream cone. I had to cross a little footbridge over a creek. Said bridge was being “guarded” by a couple of white teenage heshers (as we called them). As I came to the bridge, they stepped in my way.

    “Are you a beaner?”

    “What?”

    “You a BEANER?”

    “No.”

    “Are you a gook?”

    “Umm, I’m Indian.”

    “Like [starts whelping while slapping his pouted mouth]?”

    “No, like my dad’s from India.”

    “Well, fuck you, whatever you are!”

    Then they let me by. The joys of racial ambiguity.

  5. webdiva February 19, 2009 at 3:33 pm Reply

    Well, my “nigger” moment was during my college years (1992). I went to a school 40 miles outside of London (where I’m from). I was minding my own business, listening to my Walkman, walking to college. The pathway narrowed, so pedestrians had to wait their turn and go one at a time. It was my time to walk and this little old man, may have been about 60/65, saw me coming, and pinned his back to the wall, turning is head to side so would not have to look at me, with his eyes closed, holding his breath, quivering lips. I looked at him with the, “What’s the matter with you?!” and as I looked at him, I realised he was literally afraid of me. Please note, he may have been about 5ft 9’/10″ and I’m a mere 5ft 2″. I shook my head and laughed as I walked off. Amazing!

    In the same town, my college friend was doing the same thing as I one morning, walking to school and a man in his 30s, with his wife and child, walked passed her, leaned over, and said, “You spear chucker.” Wow!

  6. G.D. February 19, 2009 at 3:39 pm Reply

    LOL. i love it.

  7. ladyfresshh February 19, 2009 at 5:04 pm Reply

    i was in a yellow cab taking me home. the cab driver was apparently egyptian and quite proud. he asked my name i tell him my first name and he goes you know you look like you are from egypt. i’m like no i’m not from egypt but at the time that was new to me.
    it kept niggling him apparently cause he asks for my last name as well, which i supply readily thinking this may be the end of the matter. little did i know my name is actually a bit like jane smith in egypt.

    this just left an opening for more delving into my heritage (which oddly enough when i want to dissuade conversation i just say my father is black, african american from south carolina …it’s the strangest thing how that becomes a conversation stopper…?)
    i tell him i’m black which give him more impetus… to my surprise (i usually get this much insistence from latinos or people from the carrib) and then i tell him my mother is colombian

    i thought we would be done…but he goes on for another 20 mins how i can pass (*raise eyebrow* meh maybe it’s a cultural thing and does know the US history of passing) for egyptians, how there are alot of egyptians in my area (i had no idea) and i should tell people i’m egyptian (er…wha…)

    cabbie: no really you should just tell them you are egyptian
    me: why would i want to do that?
    cabbie: well, no one wants to be black right?

  8. Ms Tek February 19, 2009 at 10:45 pm Reply

  9. G.D. February 19, 2009 at 10:53 pm Reply

    Ms Tek: I’m starting to think you have issues with reading comprehension.

  10. Adrienne February 20, 2009 at 5:06 pm Reply

    I’ve been lurking around this blog probably for a good five months now and I absolutely love it (the blog, not the lurking). This is my first time commenting here, this is also my first time sharing this story. I was in the 5th grade. Me and several other (white) girls had been relentlessly teasing this (white) boy called Wick one day at recess. Eventually he got so pissed he turned around and screamed, “niggers, you’re all a bunch of niggers.” About five seconds after his outburst I get ambushed by “concerned” young faces asking, “oh my god did you hear what he just called you!” My first thought was, “what do you mean what he called me? He was screaming at all of us.” But alas, once the word nigger enters a conversation it’s every black girl for herself. I had never heard the word nigger before so that’s not what really bothered me. What was so hurtful and upsetting was that all the white kids on that play ground had a secret code word that allowed them to instantaneously separate themselves from me. We had all been making fun of him, he screamed at all of us, but some how his insult was solely meant for me. I went back to the classroom crying, the teacher asked me out into the hallway (I’m sure some of the “concerned” young faces that had questioned my hearing earlier made sure to inform him of what had gone down). Out in the hall my teacher explained to me that Wick didn’t know what he was saying and that I shouldn’t take it personally. I couldn’t find the words to tell him it was being singled out by the other girls that had hurt me the most. Up until that day we were all just girls. On that day I realized I was the black girl, something everyone else had known all the long but no one had ever bothered to share with me. I tattled to my parents the moment I got home which led to a conference with me, my dad, my 5th grade teacher, the principle, Wick and his mother. Shock of all shocks, the boy and his mom never showed. That meeting is a blur to me now but I remember the fact that Wick’s family lived in a trailer home being mentioned at some point (I’m still not sure what that had to do with anything). So, that’s my story and as far as I know it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been called a nigger. Well, to my face at least.

  11. G.D. February 20, 2009 at 5:10 pm Reply

    Yikes, Adrienne. That’s rough.

    Awww. Bonding through traumatic racist experiences! Ain’t the internet grand?

  12. shani-o February 20, 2009 at 5:22 pm Reply

    @ Adrienne: damn.

    And welcome! Comment more often! 🙂

  13. Midnight Raver February 20, 2009 at 8:35 pm Reply

    My Nigger moment came over the course of one weekend when I was a freshman in high school. I went to a high school that was 50-50 half black half white, with a few Asians, east Indians, and a hand full of Latins. Steve, who I had been cool with since 7th grade gave invited to his sleepover birthday bash. His neighbor and our classmate Toni had the same birthday and was having a sleepover bash with the girls like he was with the boys. It was going to be a weekend long bash BBQ & swimming friday night, amusement park during the day and party on the beach at night for sat. & Sunday we were going to this real fancy steakhouse in suit and tie for the guys and dresses for the girls. So during the friday night bash I was having a good time but then it dawned on me “I’m the only black person here.” Saturday when we were having lunch at the amusement park Toni’s dad sat beside me and we started talking and he said, “So do you live in the projects?” I look at him like he was out of his damn mind and said “No I live on Falcon Stone Drive.” He said “Falcon Stone Drive? Your folks work for anybody on Falcon Stone drive?”
    I said “No, My mom is a professor, and my dad is a senior VP for for a mass comm. firm.” Dude got through with his lunch and says, “Wow amazing, I never knew their was any nigg.. I mean coloreds living on Falcon Stone Drive.”

    Sunday before the Steakhouse some of us went to this little shopping area across the street and while we all were walking back to the steakhouse I forgot my bag in one of the stores and went back to get it. just when I was about to leave the shopping area a cop came up to me and said “I need to check you bag, a lady reported that some black kid snatched her bags.” My pops had always said if you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to hide, so i let him check my bag and showed him receipt. He asked “Where are you going?” I told him and he laughs and says “Yeah right soul train, like somebody like you could ever afford to eat there.” By this time Steven’s dad came looking for me and the cop changed his tune when Steven’s dad start asking him questions. The cop said that he was just helping me find my way and that I was a good kid and this fool even patted me on the head.

    After that weekend I started seeing things different.

    • G.D. February 20, 2009 at 9:10 pm Reply

      Yo, Raver…WTF???

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