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  • Writer's pictureProf. Yuille

He Spared Us Nig**r, at Least

My children are still babies--one is just over 1, and the other is 3 1/2. But, I guess I am lucky it took this long. I was just duped. And, because of that, my kids were subjected to awful, demeaning, and degrading racialized and racist harassment. Normally, when people stalk us and engage my children in the supermarket, it is because they are... well, gorgeous and precocious and gregarious. And, I talk to them like they are adults, instructing them about economics, marketing, nutrition, etc., as we shop. So, I thought the man stalking us today was like that—I thought he was like the four other people who had already wanted to join our party this morning. But he was not.

As he awkwardly stared and circled around, I thought, "he's just working up the nerve to speak." I even told my children to say hello. They knew better. They did not comply. I gave an apologetic acknowledgment of my children's lack of manners, and we moved on our way. But, he followed. Empowered—no, emboldened (because the power was already there)—by the deference I had unwittingly shown, he spoke. Out came the deluge: Half-breeds and Africa and the like. There was rage. But I think it was the spittle that made my gut wrench. That made my blood curdle.

I was speechless. And, then, I was breathless because I had let this happen. I had opened the door to this man. I had put aside whatever mistrust my experience has taught me to harbor against people like him, and I let that white man assault my children. My blackness hurt my children. By standing with me, my phenotypically ambiguous children were outed. And so, their blackness hurt them too.

And, for the first time in years, I was scared because we are black. Not the scared for "black

people" (or black men) that is the daily work of being black in America and the world. But, scared for me and scared for my kids. Not the scared about the future of racist oppression that is the special burden of the mother of black children. But, scared for right now. Scared that he is in the store where I still need to buy groceries. Scared that he is in his car on the street on which I have to drive to get home. Scared that he is in America, where he gets to buy guns to fortify his message. Scared that he is in the world, where my children have to grow up and show up. Scared that my woman-ness makes me an inadequate shield in a world where men take liberties, especially with a fat, black woman, like me, who wouldn't have a man to protect her anyway.

He spared us "nigger," at least. That assault will come another time. But, my children got their first lesson about what “Black” means in America still today: It means that not everyone is looking at you because you are gorgeous and precocious and gregarious. Not everyone is following you because you and your mommy are so smart. My children are still babies--one is just over 1, and the other is 3 1/2. And I guess I am lucky it took this long.

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