Dear Ms. Arlene Jones,
This is a response to your column in the Austin Weekly News, Feb. 24, “Recalling the first time someone called me the N-word.” You are a lovely writer, very talented. I was sorry to hear of how crushed you were as a child to be humiliated, terrorized by the hatred of bigoted persons, but saddened that you have allowed it to remain a controlling force in your life for some 40 years.
I thoroughly disagree with your advice that we prepare our children for the “hurt and pain” of being called “nigger.” What we need to do is fortify our children with pride in who they are in their true beauty, strength and intelligence?”to let them know that the hatred that may be directed toward them is pure ignorance, and these persons in reality hate themselves. That these persons do not call us names because we are black (for there is nothing wrong with us), but they call us names because they are “whyte” (and there is definitely something wrong with them). That if they (our children) allow these words to penetrate them, then whey will be painful. If they do not allow them to penetrate, then they boomerang back to the sender.
We must tell our children that their anger at these words, so hatefully flung, gives power to the person who flung them. A charming smile would do the flingers great damage, for it would force them to look at themselves. I am 64 years old and imagine I’ve been called “nigger” a few times. The only time I remember was on a Chicago beach (circa 1961, age 21). We were a group of young women, three black and about 10 white, looking for a space to play volleyball. A group of young “white” men (like the vicious dogs they were) yelled out: “NIGGER!” There was a moment of silence then we three black women looked at each other and burst into laughter, for it was so ridiculous. The purpose of those young men was completely defeated, and we continued on our way to enjoy our day. Somewhere along the line I learned not to allow that word to be a fighting (controlling) word, but a word that calls for dismissal of the caller.
I know full well the pain once associated with this word?”we must never, never forget the past?”but we must not allow it to immobilize us. Instead, it should propel us forward.
I travel the country, keeping the spirit of “Strong Black Women in American History” alive, through drama and song, teaching children and adults alike that slavery is a condition we survived?”and that very survival speaks to the profound greatness of our spirit.
We would do our children a great disservice to instill in them the belief that some people have so much power over them that they can cause great pain, by uttering the word “nigger.”
Some of the best wisdom we can instill in our children is that:
? We are the first inhabitants of this earth, and how great we are as a people, that our history did not begin with slavery (a condition we survived), but that our history is grand and glorious and began thousands and thousands of years before the “whyte” man was created.
? We can “fully prepare our children,” but not to be emotional victims of persons who are supremely ignorant, stupid, low-down and low-class?”that any such person is to be pitied, not raised to a level of power by allowing their words to penetrate us. We do our children a “great disservice” if we do not prepare them in this manner.
During the 1960s, Julian Bond wrote an article called “From Niger to nigger,” in which he explained that at one point during slavery, many slave holders called specifically for “Nigers,” i.e. Africans stolen from the Niger River area, as they appeared to be most strong, beautiful and intelligent. At one time, that word signified superiority.
I pray that you will find some wisdom in my words and release yourself from the trauma you have held onto for so long, and begin the healing.
With profound love, my daughter,
? Anna Johnson-Webb is also known as storyteller Momma Kemba.