There is one word that I have the hardest time uttering. If you all know me, you are surely aware that I am not afraid of words. But, there is this one word that has not passed my lips since I was a child. If I have said it, it comes out with all of my breath leaving me weak. I know words only hold the power we give them. Someone may call me a cunt and I can laugh it off without any shame because I know that this is something the other person is working out for themselves. I do not believe myself to have earned that word, nor do I claim it. I will use the word myself in describing the body part it names, but I will not use it toward another person as I do not believe in calling other people names. Fuck is a word we hold in high esteem for its shock value, yet this word I can use when the need arises as it really is just that, a shocking word. But the “N” word is one I have a difficult relationship with. I used it the other day in describing what Paula Dean had done to earn her way into the news this week. I felt shame in using it even in that way. Why? Why is there so much power in it? Why do I feel anger toward those who disregard its power?
One explanation I have is that it is a word used against a group that has a history of abuse from my own group. Shame. But still I have German roots and do not feel such guilt at words against people who are Jewish. So, what is different?
I have not been hurt by this word. Or have I?
Growing up, my father was a police officer in Detroit during the riots. I remember him coming home to dinner and using this word. “Those people are tearing our city apart” “That “N” did this or that”. I was small… maybe 4 or 5 years old. Dad did not disparage Jews. He did not call out “Those Mexicans” as I hear often in this day and age. He used that word. The one I have trouble with. And he used it with such venom. I was confused. I saw people for who they are even back then and I could not make sense out of the hate that was encapsulated within that word. I also could not reconcile the fact that I loved and admired my father who had such hatred.
Today I understand what was behind that hatred. It was fear. His family was at risk because of the riots and because of the changes in his city. It was his war. The city was at war against itself and he had taken his side.I was party to the residue he brought home after a day’s work.
Still, that word burned into me as a tool to hurt others with. It was up close and personal, as if I had a view to the front lines. So, to me, this word is loaded. This word is more than difficult to utter. Does this mean that I need to get over my sensitivity to this word? No, not as long as it is used with hate. Does this mean that I am oblivious to other words that are used against others? Faggot, Slut, or whatever, if there is power used against another, it is wrong. This is just the word I feel personal shame over. But it is also a word many of us have reason to feel personal shame about. I have never used it against someone, however, I feel that the potential for hurt is there if I use it at all. So, stop all the defending of its use and let the word take its own course as we retire it in its historical context. Maybe some of these other words will be retired as well.