He learned the word in elementary school, when a child was being bullied by a classmate. We used it as a teachable moment and I explained that to me, it was such a horrible word I could never even say it. And that I didn’t want him or his brother saying it, either.
I explained how it would make Black people feel, and how other people would feel just hearing it – and how we didn’t do that to people. And I thought that was going to be enough.
A few years later, we heard a song on the radio that used the word, and my son asked me about it. Why were they saying that word, he wanted to know? Weren’t the singers Black? He was confused.
I told him I guessed it was different when the singers said it about themselves, but I don’t think I believed that myself, and I’m not sure it made an impact on him.
But then came Middle School and kids who said the word. They used it to describe themselves and their friends. It wasn’t an insult, they said. And my son was there, hearing it and seeing it, and he didn’t believe me anymore when I said it was wrong.
His friends told him that I was talking for an older generation and was out of touch with theirs. My son wanted to embrace the word in the way his friends do, to be a part of their world.
And I couldn’t imagine anything worse.
I have tried to explain to him that his friends are not the only ones who would be hurt by the word. That there are plenty of people in my generation who would never understand hearing it from a boy, a white boy at that.
I’ve also shared with him how kids his age don’t all agree that the word has changed its meaning. I’ve shared blog posts from friends whose kids have been hurt by the word – and he’s seen their hurt.
The problem is, when he can hear it on the radio, on Youtube, and on the playground, how can I break through that noise?
This is the second in my series of posts about Race, inspired by the upcoming documentary Race 2012: A Conversation About Race & Politics in America, which can be seen on PBS October 16, 2012 (Check Local Listings). To follow along with this conversation, please Like Race 2012 PBS on Facebook and Follow @PBSRace2012 on Twitter. You can read about all the other bloggers participating in the series on Monica’s Tangled Web.
Sarah Auerswald is the co-Founder of MomsLA, a Community of the Top Mom Bloggers in Los Angeles and Orange County.