Life as a Black Girl

My First Time Hearing the N-Word

By:Tiffany Allen

We always speak about what we will do and won’t do if we ever hear someone call us or say the word “nigger”. But you never really know until that moment hits you right in the gut like an unsuspecting blow.

It’s my second year of college and I picked up waitressing at Denny’s. Now just imagine me, a young black woman, being one of the only black people waitressing in a small Texas town, in an area of Texas that is notably the second most republican place in the United States. You imagined it? Good.

So here I am wiping down a counter in front of a few familiar patrons. A couple we call Grandma and Grandpa, an elderly Caucasian couple of a frail woman and a heavy set man who’s third leg is a cane. An older white man by the name of Mr. Lynn with a long wispy white beard and oversized cowboy hat, and Mr. Castle, and old senile white man who doesn’t mind telling you why he’s atheist and what’s wrong with the world. This is the normal list of patrons that line the bar early in the day, with nothing better to do than go on and on with first world problems.

Like any other day, the topic of their discussion is typical, politics, religion, maybe family and love. On this particular day in November, it was splattered in the news that Barack Obama had won the primary again, and by the looks of it, would be entering for a second term. The usual talk of politics turned into quick irritation with Mr. Lynn, as the words “I don’t understand why they would let that damn nigger back in office!!”, came out of his mouth.

The world or at least the world at Denny’s stood still. Everybody’s face was horrified, even the customers who never join in on the daily rants. And there standing at the counter with a damp discolored cloth in hand was me. I could not produce feelings to what had just happened.

I always had a speech or an action ready on hand for the moment someone stepped out of line and slung that word carelessly out of their mouths. But in that moment, I experienced so many emotions of being disgusted, disappointed, mad, hurt, angered, and shocked, to a point that I calmly gave a slight smirk, put the cloth down, and walked toward the back.

I couldn’t even think “oh why would he say that”, I just understood where I was at, not just at work, but the type of town, the type of environment I walked into when coming to this town for school. I was so confused on what to do so I called my mama, not even angry, just confused on how to handle this.

Taking advice from my mother, I stepped from the back, held high, spirit calm, and just continued to clean tables. When walking from the back, the regulars had look of guilt and disappointment and words of “I’m sorry” and “he didn’t mean it” sliding from their lips. I wholeheartedly accepted apologies and brushed it off.

It wasn’t until a couple of minutes of getting his foot out of his mouth and untucking his tail from between his legs that Mr. Lynn walked to where I was cleaning and powered through an “I’m sorry” “I was an asshole” “I need to watch what I say” speech.

I barely attempted to channel what he was saying to my brain because I was stuck on the fact that if he thought that that our current president was nothing but a “nigger”, what could he possibly think of me? Or of other black people that he has caught glimpses of or conversed with in his time?

We haven’t done enough in this life time to have that curse of being more than niggers lifted from our record? I guess not, not even for the highest authority in the United States, who had to been reduced to nothing more than a nigger.

I’ve always heard stories from my older family members about what they had experienced in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. I always felt I was disconnected from those time periods and that we have taken steps closer to shedding a word we are so cursed by. But that day, at that time, at that moment, I didn’t feel so disconnected anymore.

Have you ever been called the “N-Word’? If so how did you react and how did you feel. Please share your experience in the comment section below.

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5 Comments on "My First Time Hearing the N-Word"

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5 years 6 days ago

I don’t remember the first time, but one that I remember vividly was when I was 16 and it was by two white girls who were joking with me. I’m still annoyed with myself that I laughed along with them instead of calling them out on it

4 years 11 months ago

I’m still struggling with the word because I’m a rapper and I know people that embrace the hip-hop culture use it all the time. First time I ever had a stranger repeatedly use the word in front of me (with no shame) was working at a Domino’s at the time. He was my “manager” and would blast his Tech N9ne and scream the word as loudly as he wanted. I always felt this seething anger at him (and myself for not saying anything). Eventually he looked over and noticed it wasn’t cool, but enough was enough. I gave my two… Read more »

4 years 8 months ago

Yes, this just happened to me and a relative on Sunday. We were both stunned, angry, but frozen in the moment. Had to just walk away. I felt very confused and upset at first, but then just pitied the individual for having that much hatred in them.

4 years 8 months ago

Your story hit close to home for me. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee which is actually majority black. I work in the suburbs, however, which is majority white. I basically grew up around white people, and honestly I never thought that racism was a real thing. I considered it to be more of a joke. One day this older lady comes in and starts giving me trouble on the cash register for things that I had no control over. With patience and respect I took care of her order while taking her old age into account. Her frustration with me was… Read more »

4 years 7 months ago

I first heard the N word used against me when I was 13 years old. I live in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and it is the most diverse part of West Virginia so I had little experience with prejudice up until that time. I have always been very athletic and soccer was my passion. It was time for the state tournament and my team made it to the final, which was in Beckley, WV (one of the most racists towns in WV). I was the only little black girl on my team and I was really good so… Read more »