No Tolerance For “Nigger”: Calling A Spade A Spade At A Coffee Shop

nigger

 

*A few months ago, I wrote an editorial about the use of “the N word” and why I think it has no place in modern, civilized society. That said, I also think that use of the phrase “the N word” diminishes the impact of the word in media reports of its use.

Pardon the pun, but the media should just call a spade a spade. It’s kinda like writers who use the spelling “f**ck,” or worse “phuck.” We know what you’re saying, so just say it for fuck’s sake — or better yet, find another, more articulate and less abrasive way to express your thoughts and feelings.

So back to “nigger.” I believe the word has no place, and its prevalence in what’s now popular music and public vernacular (especially with younger people) has desensitized us. Even the media’s use of the phrase “the N word” obscures “nigger”’s vile history and current power.

After I published that original story, most of the readers I heard from agreed with me. However, a small minority argued that the younger generation had reclaimed the word and that the newly-branded “nigga” didn’t hold the same meaning.

I stick to my original thesis, especially after the conversation I had last week with a white fellow coffee-lover in a quaint little bistro in California’s Bay area.

2013-08-21-niggerstop-thumb

I was sitting at my favorite table in the window, tapping away on a story, searching for inspiration and facing a looming deadline, when an adjacent table began to fill up with middle-aged, business-suited white men. Soon, four of them had assembled and were casually chatting while sipping their beverages, when a fifth friend walked up.

As one of the men pulled a chair over to their table, another commented on the newest addition’s haircut.

“New hairstyle!” he bellowed, drawing the attention of the other friends along with that of a good third of the people in the coffee shop, including that of this writer. His hair was combed up oddly in the front of his head. I was later told that the younger, whiter generation sometimes refers to it as a “pineapple.”

“Yeah,” the man remarked. “It’s just like the kind that niggers wear!”

My head bolted up from my MacBook’s monitor. Could I have heard what I thought I’d heard?? Slowly, I turned my head to the right, in a cloud of disbelief and shock. At my ever-advancing age, my ears HAD to be going.

“Oh, yeah! Kinda!” one of his friends affirmed.

“Yeah, you know, niggers take a comb and comb it right up and it stays up there!,” Mr. Pineapple laughed.

Now, at this point, I really DID think that my hearing was leaving me. The continued torrent of words began to swirl around me, forming a bit of a jumble that resembled the “wah wah wah” from the Charlie Brown TV specials. Could this middle-aged, salt & pepper, shirt and tied gentlemen actually have used the word “nigger” in public at 11:17am in the middle of a work week and a crowded coffee shop?

And if he actually had, what was I to do about it? Wasn’t it a free country, and didn’t the gentlemen’s freedom of speech allow him the right to…

Then, my heart sharply shoved my brain out of the way.

“Excuse me, sir. What did you just say?” I asked Mr. Pineapple, as calmly as I could.

Five white heads turned, and five white faces looked at me. For a split second, I was taken back to the first time I was called a “nigger” by one of a handful of faces in Davenport, Iowa decades ago. This time around, one of the faces seemed amused, while the other four, including the one attached to the guy who’d uttered the word “nigger” — twice — appeared shocked. I don’t think they’d seen me tapping away at my table in the window, just across the aisle from them.

“Oh,” Mr. Pineapple exclaimed. “I was just telling them how you black guys comb your hair up…”

“Sir, you didn’t refer to us “black guys” as “black guys,” I countered, in a tone that was slightly cooler than my initial question had been. A part of me was proud that I’d been able to choke out the word “sir.”

“You said ‘nigger,’”, I countered, “and that is very offensive.”

To Mr. Pineapple’s credit, he apologized to me. (He also introduced himself, but I’m using “Mr. Pineapple” to protect the not-so-innocent.). But either my question or Mr. Pineapple’s apology had clearly ruined the group’s outing, as the five men quickly packed up and left…maybe to go to another location where their racist rhetoric could continue unchecked. The conversation also left me with a severe case of writer’s block, so I closed my MacBook and headed out for lunch.

I’d planned to push the entire conversation to the furthermost recesses of my mind, and had done a pretty good job of it until later that night, as I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed. I glanced at my hair, a still-dense thatch of tight black curls accented by the ever so slightest of gray. (Self-esteem has never been an issue for me.). Even without the help of the comb that Mr. Pineapple had referenced, I couldn’t help but notice that my hair DID stand up, and it DID stay just where I placed it.

Just like the hair on the heads of the rest of the niggers that Mr. Pineapple spoke of, and the ones he sees every day.

I stick to my original thesis. No tolerance for “nigger.” That’s where we as a society need to be headed — no, where we need to be! If a middle-aged businessman can effortlessly toss the word out to a group of his white friends at a coffee shop, the use of the word “nigger” needs to be abolished — for good.

What do you think? No tolerance for “nigger?” Or would you have just told yourself that Mr. Pineapple may have said “nigga,” that the words are different and the world’s different now, and just walked away? What would you have done? Let us know in the comments.

MPCBatman2015

This blog was written by freelancer Michael P Coleman. Connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com or on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP

2 thoughts on “No Tolerance For “Nigger”: Calling A Spade A Spade At A Coffee Shop”

  1. You were way more polite than I would have been, but so glad you spoke up! People like this HAVE to be called out. ALWAYS. It’s bad enough when white people say “nigga” (I’m white btw), but to say the ACTUAL word?!?! Mind. Blown. What a bunch of pieces of shit. I’m so angry after reading this, I’m sitting here fantasizing about what evil things I would like to do to this douchebag. God forbid something like this was said in front of my husband or kids (my husband is African American)…security would have to be called on me.
    Always confront these racist f*cks, always!!!! Silence makes them think they can get away with it. Believe me, I grew up around people like this. Film them with your camera and post online so the world can see what racist trash they are….maybe their boss will see it and fire them. Along with other repercussions. But they need to know they can’t do whatever the hell they want!!!
    Sorry for my pottymouth…I honestly hardly ever cuss, but I’m just livid right now.

  2. Hey, Jen. Thanks for reading the piece, and taking the time to respond. And please don’t apologize for being livid. I was, too, but I was also in complete and total shock, I have to say. I really didn’t know whether I should have responded or not, until the guy said it the second time! That let me know it wasn’t a slip of the tongue; dude MEANT what he said! Anyway, thanks again for reading the piece and supporting TNT — we appreciate it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *