In July of 2007, I participated in Rev. Al Sharpton’s movement to bury the n-word. Although the use and understanding of the n-word is complex, we made it simple...just don’t say it. My daughter Zoe was 3 years old at the time, and we simply said to her that the n-word was hurtful to many people and no one should use it. I thought it was responsible to teach her what the real word was, because we have had to ask other relatives and friends not to use the word around Zoe. In our home it was like using any other form of profanity. Like children do, Zoe remembered not to use the n-word, and she heard me say it one day.
The truth is, I had never stopped using the n-word. I just didn’t use it in public or around my
daughter. I used it often in my car, while navigating through the consistently horrendous traffic in Atlanta. Everyone who drove too slow, drove too fast, cut me off, or did anything I did not like, I called the n-word: gender, ethnic group, or age did not matter. One Friday after picking Zoe up from school, and hurrying through traffic (trying to make it to the West side of I-20 before traffic got too bad), someone cut me off. Then they slowed down and hit the brakes, like they were trying to cause an accident. I shouted, “Look at this n-word”, and I meant it!
As children do, Zoe quickly realized I said a bad word. She scolded me, and asked, “Mommy, why would you say an ugly word like that”? I explained to her that I was frustrated, but wrong, and should not have used that word. I also explained that people say things when they are upset, that they wouldn’t say if they weren’t upset. This example is an illustration of why we must be intentional about eliminating certain words from our verbal lexicon and our consciousness. In doing so, when we get upset, awful things will not come out of our mouths.
Since that time, I have made a conscious effort to replace the n-word with another n-
word...NUT! When I’m in traffic, whether I’m by myself or with others in the car, I try to keep
my cool. However, on the rare occasion that I lose it, other people are called “nuts”. As kids
do, Zoe shared this embarrassing moment often, and told people that mommy said the n-word. I’m still embarrassed when she tells the story, but I own my mistake, and share what we both learned. I am mindful to model good behavior with my words and deeds. I am also mindful of not minimizing other people’s pain and experiences based on my biases.