I used to have a best friend in elementary school and for the sake of protecting the innocent, let’s call her Cammy (hey girl!). She was a beautiful Nigerian goddess with a brilliant smile, she could run faster than all the boys in the class, she had great taste in music, and she could make me laugh like no one else could.
My first memory of Cammy was a stupid fight in the schoolyard during the fifth grade. I can’t remember the details, and I can only recall that we were shouting names at each other:
“You’re so stupid!”
“Your clothes are ugly!”
“No one likes you!”
And then, hastily, without any thought, these words shat out of my mouth:
“You’re a black nigger!”
“I’m telling Miss you said that.”
In my defence, I had no idea what I was saying. I was an eight year old kid and childhood was truly naive back then. I had been in Canada for a little over nine months, and I was ignorant to everything associated with that word. All I knew was that it would inexplicably hurt her. Even as I type this, there’s a cold dread in my body because I remember thinking, “I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but I am in so much trouble right now.
Of course there was punishment. There were detentions, essays, and a meeting between my parents and Mrs. Spitznagle. My parents grounded me and it was the best grounding ever because they were immigrants and had no idea what grounding meant, so I could still watch TV and play outside. The entire fifth grade of Holy Name Elementary School also had to endure 2 weeks of multiculturalism lessons because of my verbal pooping.
The details of my melting pot epiphany are fuzzy, yet I can clearly remember that I was wrong. Even though I didn’t know why that word would hurt Cammy, I recognized that I shouldn’t have used it. We all know now that words are powerful. Some of them can uplift, and some just give you that visceral, gut-wrenching feeling that you can’t really explain and all you know is that it hurts like hell.
That’s why I cannot get on board when people tell me that it’s “just words”, and we should take them back and feel empowered and show those who would oppress us that we will not be enslaved! And that’s why I can’t get onboard when idiot celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Azaleia Banks and Madonna think it’s okay to use certain “terms of endearment” and act shocked when people get upset.
No. Some words are terrible we shouldn’t take them back. We should be moving toward eradicating them from our lexicon altogether.
Anyway, back to Cammy. In grade eight, after we’d been very good friends for years, this little chick named Janice Wong tried to get all up in our vibe and asked:
“How did you guys get to be best friends?”
“I dunno. We got into a fight and I called her the N-Word”.
“*gasp* NO WAY! YOU DIDN’T SAY THAT!”
“Yeah, he did. Let’s go get some fries”.