In another thread, Satsuma commented:
White people haven’t changed, but white people fear massive public attack if they use the N-Word. Women don’t massively attack men if they use the B-word– kind of a small example here, but one I have noted. It’s ok to attack women openly, unless the intersection of race and gender comes together, which is why Don Imus temporarily got derailed. But then again, so called liberal women appeared on his show, because they wanted to be Washington insiders. A better tactic would have been to make it so hard on men for going on his show, that we showed power in this way.
Again very small tactical examples here.
Mostly it is not fear that stops people from using the “N” word but the recognizing of men that other men are human, where women are not. The “N” word hurts men. It’s acceptable to deride women. You can’t really hurt them. They’re not human.
These are insightful comments about complicated issues I’ve thought about for a long time.
I’ve written before about my biracial daughters’ struggles in the local white high school four of them have attended for varying amounts of time. When I moved out to the country it was with the idea that my kids would be homeschooled. But one by one, each of these four daughters told me they wanted to try going to public school, three of them beginning with high school, one beginning in junior high. The first graduated and received her bachelor’s of science in psychology last June and is working at Planned Parenthood. The second and third went on to a program we have here in Washington in which you can get your high school diploma and your first two years of college (free) at the local community college. One of these daughters has one quarter left of this program and will then go on to Spellman College to get her degree. The third has a year left in community college. The fourth is a junior in high school and was inducted into the National Honor Society last Thursday. I am saying all of this in order to provide context for what I am going to write about here.
My daughters have consistently, consistently, consistently been called names, the “N” word in particular, in the local high school by white students. I have pretty much created a path between my house and the school in an attempt to confront this ongoing, outrageous racism. This is a large public high school with nearly 2,000 students. Although it serves the rural peninsula where I live, it also serves nearby middle class and affluent suburban areas populated with highly educated white professionals who work in Seattle and Tacoma, major metropolitan areas, in other words.
Following is a letter I wrote about a year and a half ago to the school:
Dear [Principal, both Vice-Principals, and Counselor]
I write again about the ongoing displays of racism at [local] High School. Honestly, I am feeling at my wit’s end about this. Last night I held my daughter, N, a sophomore, for several hours as she poured out her feelings and sadness. She is an exceedingly conscientious young woman, always has been, grade point average consistently above 3.5 since she enrolled [at the local junior high] as a sixth grader. She is smart, disciplined, hardworking and kind, and consistently puts forth more effort than anyone ever asks of her.
As was true of her three older sisters, she, too, is encountering the same relentlessly racist behavior her sisters encountered [at school]. This behavior resulted in [two of my daughters] withdrawing from school. From their perspective, it was simply that bad and though we tried and did what we could, they had no real hope that anything would ever change. I had to agree– it really was that bad. (Both are enrolled in [the local community college]).
N says that a day does not go by that she is not subjected to the word “N*****.” She calls her fellow students out on this and asks that they not use that word, and she is ignored, laughed at and humiliated or students simply defend the use of the word and similar words. Yesterday in Ms. ________’s class, she got up to use a pencil sharpener. When she returned to her seat, H.O., a girl, said, loudly, “Sit down, blackie.” Students in the class laughed. Yesterday while N was in her ASL sign language class, someone outside the class yelled at the top of their lungs, “N****!” And again, students laughed.
My daughter additionally has concerns about Ms. R, her English teacher. N is a fine English student, always has been, is a great writer, and has always gotten along well with all of her teachers since sixth grade. She says the atmosphere in Ms. R’s classroom, because of what is allowed, and because of the way Ms. R treats her, is toxic to her. She says no matter what she contributes to discussion, Ms. R puts her down in ways which are often subtle but which she picks up on and other students do as well. Her friend, J, also biracial, is having this same experience in Ms. R’s class (not the same actual class; they are not in class together.) I frankly am tired of going to individual teachers to confront them about this kind of thing and so I am coming straight to you this time. In all the years my daughters have attended _HS, nothing good has come of my approaching individual teachers about their racism.
I am asking, you, begging you, honestly, for help with this! Oh, please! (And I am not given to emotional outbursts, but after dealing with this for the past eight years, I am so, so tired of it!) I do not want to see N beaten down emotionally and spiritually and mentally as her sisters were. Her sisters still struggle emotionally over the treatment they received at the high school. I think N has every right to as good a school experience as all other students have, particularly in that she is so hardworking and eager to participate. She is on the newspaper Staff, on the Diversity Committee, plays water polo, and leads in other ways.
Please help me in this. I am at my wit’s end. I cannot bear another year of hearing that my daughter must hear racial epithets no person of color should ever have to hear, day in and day out, with other students defending the behavior, and teachers as well at times. There is a minuscule number of students of color at the school and N is feeling very alone and embattled (although I thank God for her close friendship with J.)
I ask that you please not go to Ms. R with this information yet, as N is afraid that will just make things worse for her.
I work in Seattle Mon-Fri, regular business hours. Perhaps we could set up some sort of meeting. You can reach me at _____ or on my cell _______.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for any help you might be able to provide.
Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff
School officials responded quickly, we spoke, met, and ultimately they urged my daughter to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission because they, too, feel they need help, including from the federal government, to combat racism at the school. It is an avalanche. It is a tidal wave. School staff is completely outnumbered and overwhelmed.
N did write the complaint and read it aloud to the entire assembled school. It was so quiet in the auditorium as she read, you could have heard a pin drop. It was powerful and empowering to her, and vindicating. She hasn’t yet filed the complaint; it’s big and scary to her for many reasons. Maybe I will ask her if she minds if I post it here.
N had an experience later on in the year which was heartbreaking, particularly in light of these many difficulties she’s had with white students. N’s good friend since junior high, black, male, together with his friend, a young Latino man, began teasing N, as though they were going to call her the “N” word. She became angry and threw down. A crowd of white students gathered. In the end, both the young black man and the Latino man had cornered my daughter, battering her with the “N****” word, as she cried out, shook with humiliation and rage, and ultimately broke down and cried. They laughed.
She went to school officials and both of these young men were suspended for three days. Their parents were aghast and deeply grieved. We are talking about smart and capable young men here from caring families, young men who had been friends to my daughter.
There is so much to unpack in this particular event, it’s hard to know where to begin. But these are a few of my thoughts. I do not mean this as a thorough analysis; these are fragments, things I’ve been thinking about.
- Although my daughters have been called the “N” word for years by white boys and sometimes girls, on only one other occasion was a student suspended, a white boy, who was suspended for one day. The most serious consequences for racist behaviors were dealt out by school administrators to young men of color who were friends of my daughter, not to the many white students who have tormented all of my daughters.
- Then again, the most egregious of the experiences my daughters have had was this one, involving young men of color.
- I do not know how often the “N” word has been used against young men of color at the school. My hunch is that it might have been used often, and that these young men accepted it and used the word themselves (the one young man has defended the use of the word to my daughter; they have argued about it many times) out of survival.
- This means that white male students and male students of color united in their use of racial epithets against my daughter, a young woman of color.
- A young black man in an almost-all-white school is going to find it difficult to challenge and defend himself on each occasion the N word is used against him and to physically survive it. He is also probably going to be subjected to increasing and deepening — and probably more violent — racism if he goes to school officials.
- These young men felt at liberty to abuse my daughter in a way they would not and could not have abused white female friends (There are no words equivalent to the N-word for a man of color to use against a white woman.)
- In an almost-all-white environment, for black or Latino male students to openly use sexist slurs (like the B-word or the H-word) against female students, white or black or of color, would be risky. There is a good chance of physical attacks by white male students and/or discipline by school staff.
- There are no words equivalent to the N-word, and there are no sexist (homophobic) words, which young men of color could safely use as a weapon against young white men in an overwhelmingly white school. When they are targeted with hate speech, they are left rhetorically, verbally defenseless.
- In this instance, these young men of color abused the only student they felt they might likely get away with abusing: a young women of color (who had been their friend).
- I suspect that my complaints to school officials were taken more seriously than the complaints of a mother of color might have been.
Thinking about Kiuku’s and Satsuma’s comments, what are we to make of so little attention comparatively paid to the New Jersey 4 — young black women harrassed and attacked by a black man — compared with the Jena 6? What are we to make of the comparably little attention paid to the brutal gang rape of a Haitian immigrant and her son by young black male teenagers? Why did Don Imus think he could get away with publicly battering accomplished young women of color, athletes and scholars?
OJ Simpson got away with murdering Nicole Simpson, but he has suffered some consequences, whereas visible men of color have avoided, almost completely, any consequences at all for having battered and abused women of color in their lives. (Miles Davis, James Brown, and Louis Armstrong come to mind immediately.) (Of course, white men continue to batter and murder both white women and women of color and they get away with it.)
These young men of color abused my daughter — their good friend (they have, to some degree, reconciled) — in an outrageous and humiliating incident, believing they could get away with it, but would not (and could not) have abused a young white woman similarly without paying for it far more severely.
I think some white people avoid using the N word out of fear of the consequences of doing so (but use the word freely when they believe they can get away with it. You should see the comments to this blog that never see the light of day). I think others, as Kiuku said, avoid using the word because they do view men of color as human in a way they don’t view women of color as human.
It is a tragedy of epic proportions when men of color use racist words to batter women of color, and when they do, they vividly illuminate the deep abyss at the intersection of race and sex.