Dear Elderly White People: Dropping the N-Bomb Is Always a Bad Idea
People who aren’t Black must leave the slur alone — full stop — from the cradle to the casket
One of my mom’s friends is an elderly White woman in her eighties; they met at a Southern Baptist church we attended in the late ’90s. Let’s call her Ms. Rose.
A couple of years ago, Ms. Rose came over for Thanksgiving dinner, as she occasionally did. She was politically aware, and we didn’t shy away from talking about politics and racism at the dinner table. But during this particular dinner, our octogenarian guest got a little too comfortable. At one point, she told me her parents were racist. Although she didn’t use the word “racist” outright, perhaps struggling the way some White people do to describe their relatives that way, her point was clear.
Another White person who thought they were different from the rest and incapable of making racist statements; I’d heard that narrative time and time again.
Ms. Rose told me when she was young, she had a budding friendship with a Black child; her parents didn’t approve. At that moment, my mother’s guest didn’t realize she was committing one of my biggest pet peeves — a White person rehashing accounts of racism to me — but I allowed her to continue. Despite this childhood ordeal with her parents, Ms. Rose assured me that she wasn’t like them at all. Another White person who thought they were different from the rest and incapable of making racist statements; I’d heard that narrative time and time again.
But then Ms. Rose added more gasoline to the fire: She said she had never used the N-word in her life. And used the actual N-word entirely, with every inglorious letter. My mom missed the entire exchange because she was in the kitchen — but I heard our guest clearly, as did my partner, who is White.
I know that Ms. Rose didn’t say the N-word to harm me intentionally. She didn’t necessarily realize that using the N-word in any way, shape, form, or context counts as offensive to me. Despite that, I couldn’t let it go. I don’t want the word spoken in my presence — and especially by an…