Call Me By My Name

Nigger.

As the reader, you may question the kind of person I am simply because of the word above.

What if I said, "What up my nigga'?" Would your opinion of me change?

I am a black woman, with half black children, and as a human being, I find any use of this word, offensive, derogatory and its use, unnecessary no matter the skin color of the person who uses it or circumstance.

The historical use of this word has always been meant to degrade and belittle someone, usually a black person. Just this week, it was used to intimidate my wife, who is Sri Lankan, her skin color is far less than black. Her hair is full of loose curls. Her soul is as precious as the next but another human being found it necessary to call her a n*. Why? There is not a good reason and any reason I can come up with to answer why is not good enough. The very use of this word evokes an immediate feeling in those who hear it, are called it and say it: anger.

To generalize, most black people have experienced some form of racism. And as someone who lives in America, I will venture to say, most people of color have experienced some form of racism. For me, it began when I was young and I was followed around a store, suspected by the sales clerk of stealing something from the store. The sales clerk not only followed me out of the store but flagged me down, as I walked the mall and asked me to open my purse and at the age of thirteen, I did not know I had any other choice but to obey her request. She found nothing in my bag.

Then there was my neighbor, who at the age of 6, thought that we were so different, that my blood was blue and hers was red. It wasn't until my grandmother joined the conversation, and said "If I cut your arm, little girl, you would bleed red. If I then cut Nikkya's arm, she too would bleed red. Why? At the end of the day we are all the same." My grandmother was right then and is still today.

We are all the same, even if at our core, our actions may be different. How we treat one another, our neighbor, our friend, defines us as a human race. I can't help but think that our current political climate has something to do with those who are so bold and unapologetic to "speak their mind." I can't help but think, this election period, has brought out those who have felt silenced to keep their preconceived notions quiet. I think they now feel free enough to share their beliefs, no matter how archaic or hurtful. With that perceived freedom come repercussions, ones which may not be seen right away but scar someone for eternity.

As a child, I was called an Oreo. Use of the word, depicts someone who acts white on the inside but is black on the outside, for my peers, my will to educate myself and articulate myself in an intelligent way, made me "act" white. I term and a depiction I disagree with, I hope it goes without saying.

I have also been followed by the cops while driving in wealthier neighborhoods, assumed to be lost. And even in poor neighborhoods, cops creep up behind me, assuming I am up to no good all while I drive my minivan. As an adult, I've not been able to stop the assumptions people have of me or will have of me. I know I can't stop the assumptions they'll make of my Afro Lankan (half African American & half Sri Lankan) family, or my son, or my wife. But we can educate them.

We bleed red just like any other human.
We laugh, we cry, we love with the best of them.
We get up and out of bed every day and treat others with dignity and respect.
We put one foot in front of the other and push forward in hopes to help make this world a better place.

The only way any of this: the racism, the use of the word nigger, the hatred which is spewed, can end is if we all take a stance. We commit to stopping the use of the word in its tracks: when teenage girls and boys use it as a term of endearment, when our family members think they can use it because they themselves are black, when we stand by and watch a stranger hurt another by calling them a nigger, we must stand up, use our voice for the good of all and not be silenced to protect the ignorance of one.

One day, my son will grow into a man and I want nothing more than for him to never hear the word outside of a classroom in reference to its historical context. I want him to not know the stings of racism. I want racial profiling to end. I want racism to end. I want my daughters to never need to worry about if they'll be questioned about their ethnicity because their hair doesn't "look" black. What does that even mean? I fear my dreams are too lofty.

I pray my children will mature into a world where they will understand the rights they have as human beings. I hope, my daughters like their brother, will know only of the struggles their parents faced to protect their futures.

We may not be able to change someone's assumption of whom and what we are but we can change what they call us, at least, to our face.

Ask yourself, what would you do if someone, today, called you a nigger? How would you respond?

I hope this is something you never have to experience, today or tomorrow, but if you do, I trust your response will be clear, honest and not fueled by anger. You are just as valuable a person as the next. Who you are and what you stand for are just as important as what we do to help one another. So be a teacher and embody the characteristics you would like to teach your child, your brother, your sister, your mother, your father - care enough about others, family or not, to give them the respect they deserve.

They are worth it and so are you.