Balotelli, Smart, and Me: Racial Slurs Hurt (and they can also GET you hurt!)

I’m Black.  I haven’t shared my photo, but in case you had any doubts, I am a Black American woman.  Now I am very comfortable in my skin and I celebrate my identity.  I love being Black.  But my feelings about my identity have evolved over time.

I grew up in Washington, D.C., which is also known as Chocolate City.  But in the Maryland suburbs situated just outside of the city, which is where I grew up, there wasn’t much diversity in the 80s.  Often, I was the only black kid in my class.  It was never really an issue for me.  I always loved school and I thrived.  But I was also somewhat of a “mascot” at school.  I remember my mom commenting about how popular I was.  “When I walk into the school, everyone knows who I’m there to see.  They all know who you are,” she bragged.  Even as a child, I knew that I wasn’t popular because of my glowing personality (’cause it DID glow, even back then!).  When you’re the only black kid in the class and one of only a few in the entire school, you’re difficult to miss.  Of course everyone knew my name – I stuck out like a sore thumb.

It’s hard being the token black kid.  You wear the weight of the world on your shoulders.  You field ignorant questions, asked “innocently” and you’re not supposed to show anger or aggression in response; you’re just supposed to shrug it off and forgive the ignorance, pretending to be grateful that people want to learn more about what makes you different.  I’m sure some of the dumb sht*t people said was well intended, but as the old folk say: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, so… there’s that.

I was in the second grade when I was called a nigger for the first time.  I was involved in a fierce game of kickball during recess.  I wanted to pitch, and this little boy with white blonde hair who had designated himself the “captain” of our team looked me in the face and said, “We don’t let niggers pitch.”

I was floored.

The boy, Vernon, was popular.  My best friend, also white, was his “girlfriend”.  When Vernon spit the slur at me, I ran to tell his grandmother, who volunteered at our school, and she let him have it.  I felt somewhat vindicated, but then I told my best friend how embarrassed I was that he’d said it.  I expected her to side with me, but she didn’t.  My world was rocked.  In addition to my embarrassment, I felt betrayed.  It was a sad day.

My parents were fitful when I reported the incident to them.  My father was unsurprised, but nevertheless wanted to kill the kid; my mother was shocked and devastated that I was dealing with such a heavy incident at such a young age.  She had hoped I would be protected from that ugly word for a little while longer.  It came before she was ready.  My feelings were hurt.  I cried.  But, surprisingly, I didn’t hate Vernon.  I was just confused as to why someone would dislike me because I looked different from them.

It’s been almost 30 years since that incident happened, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  I vividly see Vernon’s round face, his pale skin, colorless hair, and ice blue eyes staring at me with contempt when he called me the n-word.  I’m not hurt by it now, but then… then, I was devastated.  I recall quite clearly the feeling I had when he said the word.  It was as though I’d been punched in the gut.  I couldn’t breathe, then I felt hot, and finally I, literally, saw red. I’ve been called a nigger a few times since then, unfortunately, but none of the other incidents hurt quite like the first time.  Vernon popped my n-word cherry, so to speak. Thanks, kid.  Hooray.

So, that’s why I immediately felt like a knife had been driven deep into my chest, opening an old wound, when I saw the story about soccer player Mario Balotelli yesterday.  Balotelli, a striker for AC Milan whose parents are Ghanaian, was taunted with racial slurs by the opposing team’s fans.  Apparently, the slurs were so hurtful, this man broke down and sobbed on the sidelines.

Balotelli, reduced to tears after being reminded, in the worst way, that he is black. (via SportingNews)

Balotelli, reduced to tears after being reminded, in the worst way, that he is black, and that black is somehow a “bad” thing. (via SportingNews)

Now, who knows whether this incident was Balotelli’s first experience with racial slurs (although I doubt that he’s managed to escape other incidents during 20+ years on this Earth), but what we do know is that he was hurt enough to be reduced to tears on the field, which is MAJOR for an athlete since sportsmen are typically known for their bravado and masculinity, making such an emotional spectacle extremely rare.  Sure, he’s European and maybe they’re more in touch with their feelings than American athletes (I’m aware that this is a stereotype and major generalization, but just go with it), but this is obviously a big deal since it’s reached us across the pond.

Also this week, Marcus Smart, who plays basketball for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, was criticized for pushing a fan who called him – surprise, surprise – a nigger.  I’ve got to say, I’m never one to encourage physical altercations, but “nigger” is a fighting word, plain and simple.  If you are Black, if and when you hear it, you WILL be taken to another level and all bets will be off.   So, I freely admit that I do not fault Marcus Smart for reacting the way that he did.  He will now have to face consequences and criticism for his actions, but at the time, he did what he felt needed to be done. *tsk tsk* me if you want, but I can respect that and I can relate to it, too.  Had I been strong enough to fight Vernon back in the day, we’d have tussled.  Trust and believe.

Hours after the Balotelli incident occurred, there is now some question about whether the taunts were really the driving force behind his emotional outburst.  But regardless of whether the whole situation really brought a grown man to tears, why would the Napoli fans think it was okay to hurl racial epithets at someone anyway?  People deriding your differences instead of celebrating them are hurtful, especially when your differences center on your identity.  One cannot change being black, nor hide it (in most cases), and it’s particularly frustrating when people hate you for things beyond your control.  As such, racial epithets can cut like a knife.  They can break you down, and frustrate you enough to make you cry… or fight.  I get it, and 7-year-old me gets it, and I need for you to get it, too.

Dear White People (and others):

If you don’t want to face any potential repercussions, physical or otherwise, that you may experience as a result of using then n-word, then simply remove it from your vocabulary.  It’s never okay to use it.  Not even as a “joke”, not even in the heat of the moment, not even amongst friends, not even ever.  The “why” is irrelevant, please just don’t use it because we said so.

Regards,

Black Folk

People: Black folk, White folk, and other folk, please remember that words hurt.  Use your mouth to speak LIFE to each other, not to kill, steal, or destroy the self-worth of another human being.  Know that a word – ONE WORD – can reduce a grown man to tears.  And also know that if you use a (certain) word with the wrong person, it can also get your ass beat.  Take heed and govern yourselves accordingly.  Please.  Life is just too short.  Let’s be nice to each other while we’re here.

Black History: Gabby Douglas – Not just another annoying teenager

Today is February 1, which marks the start of Black History Month. Even Google came to the party, kicking off the celebration with a Google Doodle of Harriet Tubman on its homepage.  Woot!

Now, in my opinion, Black history should be celebrated and acknowledged 24/7/365, but I’m also okay with paying special attention to the contributions of black folk during the month of February. Of course black folk would be relegated to the shortest month of the year, but, hey, I’m going to make the most of it.  This month, I’ll be highlighting black folk who have made us proud.  I can’t promise I’ll write about someone every day this month or anything, but I’ll def share my thoughts on a handful of special people as the month progresses.

And, without further ado, I’m starting with Gabrielle Douglas a.k.a “The Flying Squirrel”. She might seem like an unlikely choice, but she’s on my mind because, tonight, The Gabby Douglas Story aired on Lifetime, followed by a documentary-style special about her family life. I was at home on a Saturday night, engaged in the arduous process of washing, deep-conditioning, and then 3-strand twisting Sasha (my hair). I saw someone post about the movie on Facebook and I had nothing else to occupy my time while I detangled and twisted, so I tuned in.

The movie was very… Lifetime-y. (If you’ve ever watched a Lifetime movie, then you know exactly what I mean by this.) That said, I was impressed. Not that Lifetime thought enough to make a movie about her (they make movies about all sorts of randos), but that they made an entire night out of her life story. That’s pretty dope. And her accomplishments are worth fussing over. She’s a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, having been the first American to win both the team and individual all-around gold at the same Olympics. She’s also the first African American or woman of color of any nationality to win the all-around. That’s a pretty big deal for anybody, but is especially impressive because she did it all by the age of 17. I know what I was doing when I was 17 and… well… it wasn’t that.

Gabby is a tiny little thing with a huge smile. When I watched her talking after she’d won the medal, it became very clear that she’s just a typical American teenager – she clearly had no media training in preparation for her instant celebrity. But that’s what was so refreshing about her. She’s just a regular kid who worked hard and her work ethic combined with her raw talent made her better than everyone else. In. The. World. Not too many people have had that kind of success. And that’s why I was stunned when the public started criticizing her for her hair. At the time, I found it unbelievable that anyone allow her hair to overshadow her performance at the Olympics. But people are dumb. And very, very superficial. I mean, here we go back to the politics of black hair.  This child was working her ass off on balance beams and bars and stuff and she was also expected to maintain a flawless hairdo in the process?  I mean, yes, her hair looked cray cray.

(No, actually, it doesn’t. *side eye*)

BUT… I know what my hair looks like after one of my halfhearted workouts, so I can only imagine how busted I’d look if I was working as hard as she did to win a gold medal at the freaking Olympics.  She showed them all, though, when she got herself a good (and expensive) weave.

Then she slayed in this:

Yassss! Gabby slays. Do you hear me?! SLAYS!

And, then, well… then, there wasn’t anything left to discuss other than her ability and she got the attention she deserved.  Like hanging with Barry and Shelly (the Obamas, duh!), and Mama Oprah.  Yes, lawd!

In the end, I’m proud of Gabby and what she’s accomplished. I regularly complain about how much I hate teenagers, but — would you look at that?! — here’s one I actually admire. His wonders never cease.  Bottom line, Gabby Douglas deserves shine.  She didn’t only make Black history, she made American history.  She actually seems like a reasonable role model for the next generation, and I’m excited to see what she does next.  Whatever it is, I pray that it won’t involve drugs, erratic behavior, or sex tapes.  *fingers crossed*

#message!

So, Kim Kardashian got a divorce from Kris Humphries. *clutching my pearls* I’m shocked! I just knew that they married for love! And the money they made on their televised wedding was just a perk that came along with marrying the person of your dreams!

… Okay, so, if you  relate to anything I wrote above, just stop reading now ’cause you’re an idiot! Kim is a dimwitted “celebrity” clearly being pimped by her mom/madame! Poor thing, she didn’t stand a chance. The second her mom realized that she, or her sisters, were remotely interesting to an audience, she started to put in work to ensure that the whole family could get fed off their shenanigans.

Apparently, Kim’s fans are in an uproar about her short-lived marriage to Humphries, saying that they “cheapened” the institution of marriage. But are they really surprised? I mean, this IS the same woman who got famous ’cause she recorded her seksi times with Brandy’s Brother, no? And you’re surprised that her actions might cast a negative light on marriage? Seriously?

C’mon, son.

Lemme put you on to something – the new synonym for “cheap” is “Kardashian”.

On the same day Kimmy Kakes filed for divorce, Jessica Simpson announced she was preggers by some NFL player she’s been dating. I remember the Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson reality show. They were the “Newlyweds” and they were in love. Part of their schtick was that Jess had saved her goodies for her wedding night. And Nick’s excuse for trading-in his bachelor card was that he gets to “bleep” Jessica Simpson every night. But, then, Nick and Jess went to Splitsville, population: 2. And Nick was linked to Vanessa Minillo and Jess was alone. Then, Jess started banging Romo and eventually ended up with some NFL bench-rider. Purportedly, they got engaged and now she’s preggers.

Soooo, lemme get this straight, girl. You skipped sex til you were mid-20s so your hubby would be the first to sex you. Then, you get a divorce, bang a couple pros only to end up fertilized out of wedlock?!

Mmmkay. Makes total sense, boo!

You should’ve just given it up to the first dude that set your loins ablaze — like the rest of us! ;)

I’d like to believe that Jess is just a victim and that nobody gets married intending to get a divorce. Unless, of course, your name is Kardashian. :)

Moral of the story: reality stars live in an alternate reality! And, as such, they should NOT be considered role models. I hope we all had this message memorized prior to Kim and Jessica’s shenanigans. But, in case we didn’t memorize the lesson prior to all this nonsense, take note… #MESSAGE!