I got called the n-word for the first time
Walking home from the gym last night, I was called a n**ger (to my face) for the first time. And you might be confused about why I’m upset.
It’s not what you expect.
“Whatcha looking at, n**ger,” a white woman said to me as she stumbled away from a closed restaurant in Bloor Street West.
I looked around confused. Who was she talking to?
It was after 12 in the morning. She and I were some of the few on the street.
She was talking to me.
It looked like she had had one too many to drink, but the ease with which the term flew off her tongue jolted me. She said the word like she says – or thinks it of Black people daily.
I got home and shared the experience on my TV/Movie/fandom-dedicated Twitter and ended with the phrase, “disappointed, but not surprised.” Friends quickly responded with supportive messages.
Afterwards, I shared the experience on my Instagram stories. Again lovely and supportive friends responded with disgust at the word and support for me.
Oddly enough this happened three days after my dad recounted being taunted with “spear-chucker” and “ni**ger” on the streets of Toronto and Oshawa when he first came to Canada.
Responded to a few more friends, caught up on Game of Thrones, went to sleep and woke up still thinking about it.
I sat around and mulled over what had happened. I wasn’t physically hurt. I rationalized that worse things happen every day. I was jolted and nervous, but other than that, I was okay.
Why was I feeling so weird about it?
I went on to spend most of the workday at a great conference, getting inspired with ideas for the work I do. Still, last night lingered in the back of my mind.
Again, I was fine – I am fine. I’m privileged. I live and work in safe environments where I get to grow and learn. There is great support in my circle of networks. Besides the ugliness of the word, a word often weaponized, what else was really bothering me?
Then it hit me – I was disappointed with myself.
I was disappointed that my first response when she asked, “whatcha looking at n**ger” was to then ask myself what I had done wrong.
I didn’t fly back with a “what’s your problem” or try and educate this person or something else that might’ve done some educational good. No, I asked what did I wrong, before realizing she was most likely drunk, so it was a better idea to quickly walk home.
I told a concerned acquaintance that I was fine. I’m not on the front lines of activism anywhere. I rationalized my jolted reaction to the fact that it’s “just not every day that I’ve had to deal with direct/overt racism.”
“Just gotta keep pressing on, praying and acting to make the world a better place for others, yeah 😪,” I added.
Other writers and educators have discussed how Canada, or more specifically, Ontario is no bastion of racial utopia. I know this. I’ve grown up reading about this, experiencing covert racist acts and aggressions since I was a kid.
I’ve had the privilege of learning about this from some of the best anti-racism, smashing of the patriarchy instructors. I have the experiences of my parents, grandparents and friends in my mind. Twitter put a megaphone on anti-Blackness that I’m sure some were surprised by.
And that’s why I’m disappointed in myself. I know I did nothing wrong. This was nothing new. I was simply walking home, trying to put my earphones in.
Being called this word, that continues to be used to degrade people who look like me...it felt like it was just my turn and I’d been lucky to avoid it for so long.