On Teaching White Sons Why They Can’t Say The N Word

On Teaching White Sons Why They Can’t Say The N Word July 23, 2018


Explaining to a 7-year-old white boy why his Black neighbor friends can use the N word but he can’t because the word they now use as a term of endearment and kinship has been laboriously re-appropriated after centuries of the word being used by white people to humiliate and dehumanize Blackness, and why that word therefore must never ever pass his lips

And it feels unfair to his 7-year-old self that they get to say a word we can’t. Or that, for example, women can call each other the B or C word in love and friendship, having re-appropriated them from the clutches of misogyny and patriarchy, but men shouldn’t. “Why do they get to say a word but I can’t!?” he asks.

Explaining to a 7-year-old white boy that what feels unfair to him is just a tiny sliver of Justice after hundreds and hundreds of years of injustice. And that any and every time he ever hears that word used by a white person, he must stand up against it because it is abusive and hurtful…

Explaining to a 7-year-old why and how and that a word of love on their lips is always and only a weapon on ours

Explaining that a word of friendship between them is always a word of hatred from us…

It’s a difficult and nuanced conversation we’ve been and will keep having over and over, no doubt. Because to my 7-year-old’s mind, none of this makes any sense. Not slavery, not hatred based on skin color, not words meaning different things depending who’s saying them.

But raising a white son who will only ever know the privileges inherent to his white maleness and training him to use his power to empower and uplift others is a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

And I will be damned if my son grows up to be like any number of middle-aged white dudes who still don’t get it, who still think it’s unfair that they don’t get to use that word while Black folks can.

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