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.