I Hate That Word

This evening, Heidi and I walked to our community park to let Harrison play around a bit (his new favorite thing is going down slides). We also wanted to take an opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy some of this beautiful Phoenix weather. Unfortunately for us, our trip of fun and family time was contaminated by a particular behavior that I believe has gotten out of hand in America: public cursing.

This is a repost of something I wrote a few years ago, so if you’re wondering why I’m referring to Harrison like he’s a one-year-old, it’s because he was at the time. This is an issue I still feel strongly about, so I decided to bring it back to the surface.

The playground at our park is within earshot of the basketball court where a dozen or more kids — I’d say between the ages of 8 and 14 — were hanging out and shooting hoops. It was not difficult for Heidi and me to hear most of their conversations, and I’ll be honest in saying that I was shocked with a lot of what I heard. The language these kids used was disgusting, and they had no reservations about making their voices heard, despite the proximity of younger kids and other families.

I tried my best to ignore the language and to focus on enjoying the time with my family, and I was doing pretty well. Then I heard that word – “Nigger”.

I hate that word.

My ears perked up and I listened more intently to what was going on. Just for the sake of clarity, it’s important to note that all of the kids in the group were black, so this was not a matter of a person from one race referring to someone of another race using a hateful term. The word was uttered at least a dozen times inside a few minutes and was said in the same casual, conversational tone you might expect to hear from people at the local grocery store. No one was being picked on, no one was trying to start a fight, these kids just used the word as if it were a punctuation mark — and they punctuated loudly.

Harrison is not old enough to understand or repeat the words he hears (and I doubt seriously that he heard them anyway), but I decided after hearing it a dozen times that we were done. I don’t want my child exposed to foul language no matter what his age, and “the n-word” threw me over the top.

I gave very serious thought to going over and expressing my opinion about them using that word with such abandon, but I am a product of modern American society, and society basically says that a middle-aged white man better never utter the n-word around a black person, even if he’s asking them to stop using it because he finds it so vile. I fear now that I missed an opportunity to stand up for what is right out of concern for how I might have been perceived.

As we walked home, I told Heidi how bothered I am by the fact that by far the place I hear the n-word the most is from the mouths of some in the black community. I know of no one in my circle of acquaintances that ever uses that word, and I can’t tell you the last time I’ve witnessed a person of any other race say it publicly. Sadly, I do hear it throughout much of black culture — especially in rap/hip-hop music — and it’s disturbing for me to think that the primary reason that word is still a part of our lexicon is because many of the very people to whom the term is so utterly offensive have nurtured it and allowed it to become a common and acceptable part of their everyday language.

Well I say shame on them.

The black community deserves better, and so do people of every other race.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire people and build them up, and they can be used to foment hatred and cause division. While I want you to be mindful of the words you use in all facets of your life, I want you to take special care that your *public* language is free of such coarse language. I fear that speaking like a gentleman is becoming a lost art. Some people will throw the “freedom of speech” line around as an excuse to be vulgar, but I want you to be intentional about what others hear coming from your mouth. Choose your words wisely, and may the words you use be uplifting to those that hear you.