I Just Got Called a Nigger and Here’s How It Feels

Image by Marcus Mello

It feels like complete shit for starters. It feels like, “Wow, did that really just happen in this day and age?” It feels like, “Sure it did. Look at how sad things still are in this day and age. Is this really a surprise?” It feels “Why do I even bother anymore?” It feels like I wanted what happened to be a surprise, but sadly, it feels like I knew it was the furthest thing from it.

It feels like I just want to go to bed and try to forget it ever happened. It feels like I should just suck it up and move on and not give it any more thought. But it feels like I can’t. I can tell myself that “I am already over it” and that it won’t phase me, but deep down inside I know that when I finally go to sleep, I will have nightmares beyond my control. I will be woken up by memories of a classmate calling me a nigger on the bus ride home from a Model United Nations conference in high school. The girl on MySpace who called me a nigger will pop into my head. I won’t be able to sleep because the kid who called me a nigger in middle school will appear in my sleep and call me it again and again and subsequently laugh in my face. So will the others who made other racial “jokes,” which they claimed were actually just examples of them kidding around, but were actually incredibly hurtful comments blurted out for their own entertainment.

From now on, I will always remember the time I was called a nigger by a guy named Tyler at Chill Bar in Palm Springs. It’s not something I want to remember, but it’s not easy to magically forget blatantly racist assaults like this.

Long story short: I was at the bar with my boyfriend and a guy started talking to him. When I kindly introduced myself, he gave me a dirty look and whispered something into my boyfriend’s ear, then introduced himself as Tyler. I got the feeling that the interaction wasn’t going to go well from the start. Eventually, after we exchanged a couple of shady back-and-forth remarks, he called me a nigger. My boyfriend and I told one bouncer who told us to tell the other bouncer. The other bouncer talked to him and ultimately nothing could be done because it would be our word against his. I really didn’t want to be in the space during that moment, and my boyfriend and I left.

I haven’t been called a nigger since my senior year of high school, which was twelve years ago. I went to school in Somerset, Massachusetts, a small, predominantly white town on the south coast of the state. Aside from wanting to leave Somerset in order to go college in a different state, upon finishing high school I wanted to leave my hometown because I never felt like I fit in because of my race. I was one of a handful of Black people in school. My hair was like a petting zoo throughout middle school and I was called everything from a Michael Jackson look-alike to a slave to an Oreo.

But I love Somerset. It is where I am from and where my family lives, and I have a lot of positive experiences growing up there. I have many positive memories learning, playing sports, participating in student clubs, and spending time with my family in Somerset. But I was also called many names because of the color of my skin and I wanted to distance myself from Somerset because of that.

In college, I instantly immersed myself into Black student life because I wanted to be around people who looked like me and with whom I could relate to in regards to my race. I wanted to be around people who I knew wouldn’t ridicule my Blackness in order to make fun of me. I met many friends who I am grateful to still be in touch with, and even served on the executive board of my college’s Black affinity group. I did the same in graduate school, where I was Co-President of the school’s African-American Student Union.

I am a light-skinned biracial person. I am visibly a person of color, and I have been asked if I am a range of races of ethnicities, from Black to Brazilian to Cape Verdean to Puerto Rican to Egyptian to Moroccan. I won’t complain about being light-skinned and I am certainly aware of my privilege as a light-skinned Black person, but I will say that it certainly doesn’t shield me from being the recipient of racist remarks.

I feel like as a light-skinned biracial person, the vast majority of white people I meet see some kind of Blackness in me. They don’t consider me fully “Black” because I don’t act as they think I would or should according to whatever stereotyping of Blackness they adhere to. They will make comments and ask questions about this. (“ You should wear a durag. You should get cornrows. Why don’t you act more ghetto?) But they do consider me Black when they want to, usually to insult me.

Then, they will act like we’re close enough for them to call me names. They will call me a nigga at will, but still say that I am the whitest-acting Black person they’ve met. They apply their version of Blackness onto me when and as they please. And, as tonight’s incident demonstrates, they will get away with it.

Tyler knew what he was doing when he called me a nigger tonight. He knows that word is the lowest term one can apply to a Black person, but he still decided to do it. He didn’t care, and he leveraged the term as it was intended to be used — to categorize, to attack, and to hurt. He knew that he was a white person who had a disgusting word to throw at me if and when he felt like it; his ammo has been engrained in our everyday vernacular.

I am tired of seeing people like Tyler get away with things like this. I am tired of seeing the word “nigger” still being used so commonly, even in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and the plenty who came before them). I am tired of reading about high school students doing horrible things in the name of race and people not acknowledging that this is a very real, disturbing, and widespread occurrence. I can’t stop thinking about how just days ago, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted even after shooting dead two people, yet Black people still continue to be killed by the police at drastically disproportionate levels and those who killed them walk away scotch free.

Even if I won’t be able to forget that this happened, I will not let this bring me down. I have been called a nigger before, and I know that I will likely be called it in the future. Unfortunately, this probably won’t be the last time. I have always known that if I speak up for myself, or say something to someone (specifically a non-Black person) that they don’t like, I am running the risk of being called a nigger. But I also won’t stop defending myself when I feel it is necessary. I know that it is best to walk away from drama that doesn’t feel right, but I also don’t like giving in to people who directly disrespect me. I should be able to address a situation, and be able to disagree, and even argue with a white person, without them going so low.

This is a refresher that — even post Trump (for those who think racism just started with his presidency) — things like this still happen. Even if we are slowly moving the needle forward in regards to racial progress, Black people will still get called niggers by white people day-to-day, either behind their backs or to their faces. And Black people will have to swallow it, take a deep breath, and keep pushing forward.

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