The following is an excerpt from a chapter of my yet-to-be-published book “White Fuckery.”
It’s a privilege that you don’t understand why it’s “such a big deal” when you use the n-word.
And your flimsy excuses add insult to the injury that word has already dealt:
“I didn’t mean it in a racist way.”
“I said it with an ‘a’ not an ‘er.’”
“How come you can say it but I can’t?”
That word will never lose its weight or its history, no matter how much you deny it, especially when it’s rolling off your white tongue.
That word was wielded by white people to dehumanize black people, after all.
There’s the debate as to whether that word should be used at all - a debate that I won’t get into here - but when we use it, we’re trying to take that power back. But you - you’ve already had your turn with the word and the scourge you created with it.
When I was younger, and I’d see whiteness arming itself with that word in any form - even for the sake of so-called historical accuracy in movies - it would sting. I’d falter. Immediately I could feel the weight of a racist legacy, the presence of the oppressive institutions that have always been mainstays in our society, that still continue to perpetuate its dangerous effect on the people with my skin color.
I felt uncomfortable. Unvalued. Speechless and awkward. Sometimes I’d call it out, but sometimes I’d be rendered too stunned by the centuries of pain embedded in that word as it washed over me at once, drowning me in its hateful rhetoric.
I could hear the echo of the past.
The echo of the red-necked, smug slave owner spitting in the face of the black person he owned as property, setting out to make him feel as low and worthless as the dirt he tilled daily, seeking to diminish all his worth, value and humanness with one word.
The echo of embittered southerners after The Civil War, who ushered in the Jim Crow era with lynch mobs marked by white-hooded menaces, whose burning crosses were as signature as their chants of that word.
The echo of the enemies of Civil Rights who threw vitriol and aggression against those who marched peacefully for the sake of an equality they had been denied for too long, as if the quest for integration, voting rights and a front seat on a damn bus were a personal attack on their ‘white freedoms’ as opposed to the evidence that even a century after the legal end of slavery, black people were still held captive in this supposed “land of the free.”
These echoes built to my present, and there I would be, two hundred year later and still in a face-off against that same word. I’d be left with the realization that it wasn’t just a word of the past, like they tried to teach us in a white-washed version of American history, because there it was, right in front of me and never losing a bit of its sting.
Hearing the n-word would always hurt. I hate that word with everything I have in me.
These days, it’s the fury that comes first. I’m enraged that someone could ever have such disregard for another person. That someone would willfully lack empathy and awareness just so they can exist fully in the privilege of not only being able to ignore the history, impact and vileness of that word, but to also use it as the weapon that it was always intended to be.
I seethe and I boil. I still hate that word with everything I have in me.
Yet still there are sometimes when I hear it, and everything inside of me freezes. I feel small and I let the moment pass. Then later I rue, because I realize that once again, that word was able to accomplish what it was always meant to:
Rendering people like me powerless.
It will never not sting, hearing a non-black person say any variation of it, in any context. I will always remember being nine years old, the only black student in a room of white, learning that the ancestors of the people who surrounded me owned my own as slaves. As property.
Treated us as less than human, made your mark with whips against our backs, all for your comfort and luxury, forever damning us in the eyes of this system, in this society as inferior, as people whose existence and peace and comfort and liberties never mattered, as long as you could stay comfortable.
It’s a legacy you continue when you use the n-word. To say a word whose very existence is hate, oppression and insult can be excusably used just because you want to, at the expense of the black people it has historically diminished, who cringe and rage at its very sound, is near the apex of white carelessness. It’s yet another way of you saying that we don’t matter, that what you want to do is more valuable than our desire to live away from the injustice that’s flourished since before this country’s inception.
It shows that you’ve never let go of your white supremacy.
Because that word has the dirtiest, most sordid past and just as visceral of a present, as it’s been continually used against my people by yours.
But sure, keep on saying nigga. Keep on saying nigger.
Just know what that says about you if you do.
Every time Kanye West’s Gold Digger comes on and I’m around white people, I tense up as the chorus comes around, especially if the “explicit” version is being played.
“Now I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger,
but she ain’t messing with no…”
Are they gonna say it?
Are they gonna say it?
“But she ain’t messing with no broke broke.”
Okay, whew, they didn’t say it.
(For those not in the know, the uncensored version of the song’s lyrics are “but she ain’t messing with no broke niggas.”)
The vast majority of the time, they honestly don’t say it - whether it’s because of common sense or because they’ve noticed me, I’m not sure, but I undoubtedly am left relieved either way.
But though I currently hold a winning record when it comes to “white people not loudly chanting ‘broke niggas!’ with Kanye when Gold Digger is on”, I am unfortunately not undefeated.
I was at Christian party near the end of my tenure with The Church and specifically one church - a Hollywood hipster breeding ground, markedly white and deceptively conservative that I had attended for far too long. Christians tend to be the kings and queens of the double-standard as they outwardly appear to love their neighbor while condemning their neighbors’ every action behind their backs and not letting them fully integrate into their midst if they aren’t up to their arbitrary standards.
My favorite Christian double standard is their love of secular music, as they loudly blast and sing along to the music of artists whose lyrics talk of actions they otherwise wouldn’t hesitate to eagerly condemn (along with the people doing such actions).
But this book isn’t Christian Fuckery (though it’s easily a follow-up I’m experienced enough to write), but White Fuckery. In this case, however, the two intersect.
The party had waned down, leaving about fifteen people left to sink drunkenly into couches while a couple of us still danced to the last dregs of the surprisingly well-put together playlist that featured mostly hip hop and not-awful pop. Inevitably, as is the case at most dance parties put together by a millennial crowd, Kanye’s Gold Digger came on to everybody’s vocal approval.
I hadn’t quite noticed it yet, but since so many people had already left, I was one of two remaining black people at the party.
Which made it very awkward when an intoxicated man, who just so happened to also be the leader of the church media team I volunteered with twice a month, started loudly slurring “NIGGER” over and over and over and over again after Kanye rapped “broke nigga.”
Hard “r” and everything.
I had social anxiety to begin with and was already increasingly uncomfortable within the confines of this church, so my discomfort was only amplified as I was at a loss for what to do. I stood there, speechless, hoping that maybe I could tune it out and pretend that this wasn’t happening. If I acted like it didn’t exist, maybe it would disappear.
It didn’t. He kept blaring the that word relentlessly. No one did anything for a long moment, until someone - the other black woman there - finally got him to shut up.
I felt so powerless. I hated how that word could in an instance strip me of everything, leave me floundering, not knowing what to do or how to react.
They had always told me that the church, that Christians were supposed to be safe.
But that institution in so many cases was only safe for those who didn’t deviate outside of white. It feels particularly telling that none of his white peers tried to stop him, tried to hold him accountable in the moment but as it often is, that burden was placed on the shoulders of the already oppressed.
The next day, the guy texted me several paragraphs of a sincere and thorough apology, which is admittedly more than I was accustomed to when it came to instances of white people and the n-word. It was better than silence, but it left so much still to be desired.
He blamed personal issues he’d been struggling through for a while for his unsavory actions. He said that in his inebriation, he was shouting the n-word in an attempt at satire that didn’t land. He acknowledged this was wrong, that these weren’t justifiable excuses, but to me, the fact that there had been any attempt of attributing logical reason to his actions to begin with was frankly absurd.
Because his casual attempt at a “humorous” bit led me to a confrontation with a word meant to be the bane of my existence. It’s been years, yet its echoes still linger in my chest. He had a privilege that led him to an ignorance that allowed him to carelessly wield that word with no lasting effect on himself. Does that night ever haunt him? Does he truly feel guilty? Has he really ever thought about it since sending that apology?
Does he even remember what he did anymore?
It doesn’t haunt me, but it still comes up sometimes. My best friend was at that party with me, and she was maybe more appalled than I was. Not that I wasn’t appalled, but at times I feel like I’ve gotten to a point of stunned numbness when it comes to these instances, so it’s hard to feel anything anymore, whereas these sorts of things were still fresh to her, and she could fully feel the shock of the event in a way I had long stopped being able to.
So we’ll talk about it sometimes, because though we’re both no longer apart of The Church and certainly not that church, this man is still around in some of our other circles because it’s Hollywood, and we’re in the industry, and he’s kind of a big-ish deal.
He’s not a bad guy. He tries to advocate for civil rights. I’d like to believe it’s not performative, but I don’t know him well enough to judge that. Though generally when it comes to the “woke” white constituents of the Los Angeles industry scene, activism often comes off as performative to me, because these people know that in their liberal-leaning circles, certain displays of social media advocacy will make them look good. But I’m not sure they always feel it. I can’t help but suspect that when the lights go down and the show is over, the mask comes off and they’re back their overwhelmingly white words and thoughts and actions, because white privilege is being able to turn it on and off, instead of always living it, without a choice.
Maybe that’s not him. It’s been six years. I’m sure he’s not a bad guy.
But he will always be the guy who screamed the nigger, unabashedly, unashamedly, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
And just like I will never be able to shake that sound out of my head, he will never stop being that to me.
I forgave him. I really did.
But I will never forget his white fuckery.
Not that I’d ever dream this would stop happening, but I didn’t expect it to overtake me then and there, of all places.
Then as in five and a half years after I’d escaped Southern hell for a supposedly liberated Los Angeles.
There as in Universal Studios Hollywood, specifically The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which had become sort of a haven for me ever since I had acquired an annual pass.
A trip to my mechanic and a hours long wait time for my car gave me an unexpected weekday trip to the theme park that was just a mile away. My guard was entirely down as I roamed the grounds on that warm March day, enjoyed the perks of the “single rider line” then settled in Hogsmeade which - to the non-Harry Potter inducted readers - is a wizarding town from the series that a section of Universal Studios Hollywood is modeled after.
I had taken a detour into one of the gift shops, full of overpriced apparel bearing the Harry Potter mark. At the window, there were sets of robes on display - one for each Hogwarts house - and a group of white girls clamouring around them. A group which I left to my peripheral and hardly took note of until I heard what one of the girls speak as she pointed proudly at a Hufflepuff robe:
“That’s my house, my nigga!”
Feeling like someone had suddenly slammed the brakes on my heart, I outwardly kept my cool as I reflexively glanced at her. She noticed me immediately, and I watched the little color there was drain off her face as she suddenly had nothing left to say.
I wish I could say I gave her a colder look - a withering glare that left her cowering in remorse for her thoughtless choice of words. I wish I could say I called her out, right there in the middle of that replica of Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, causing her to babble apologetically as she turned a bright, embarrassed red.
But after all these years and all those times, that word still disarmed me. I immediately became aware of how alone I was, how I was the only black person in that tiny room, and in that moment, all I wanted to do was pretend that it had never happened.
Don’t you see what power that word still holds? Do you understand why we try to reclaim it for ourselves, and why you’re no longer allowed to have it in your arsenal?
What’s striking is how she clearly knew it was something inappropriate to say (hence her clear discomfort when she became aware of my presence), but had chosen to say it in anyway. It makes me think she doesn’t spend much time with people of color, because she clearly felt comfortable and safe in saying it, not considering that someone could possibly be present who would find it offensive. She had the security of her white bubble and never expected it burst. Except then it did.
Only briefly, though. Because once I walked away, she was back to her homogeneity, back to no accountability. With all the awkwardness of our half-second of eye contact, there is no doubt in my mind that she still doesn’t fully understand why that word wasn’t for her to say, regardless of if I would’ve been there to hear it or not. I’m sure she’s used it since then.
She was another white girl, who not only uses that word so casually with no care of the history from which it was derived, but also uses it as an appropriation of how she viewed black culture.
It was a classic case of white fuckery.
(Also, a true Hufflepuff would know better. ‘Puffs - go get your girl!)
If you’re tryna publish “White Fuckery”, hit me up at email@example.com.