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March 5, 2010

Overheard: "Hey N-----!" A greeting between some Walnut Creek middle school boys

Picking up my son from school almost always proves to be an enlightening experience.

In the parking lot of 7-Eleven on Oak Road, one group of boys passed another, and a boy in one group said to a boy in the other, "Hey N----!" That's right, the N-word

The greeting was delivered in a friendly tone, no insult or hostility intended. The speaker was white, and so were the boy or boys he was addressing. So, it's not like this was the case of a white speaker saying something derogatory about the race of someone else. 

It was also clear that these boys didn't understood the significance of the word they were tossing around, that the N-word is pretty loaded in Western culture. As the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says, the N-word ranks as "perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English."

However, as the dictionary says, and as many of us know,the N-word's use "among blacks is not always intended or taken as offensive..." In the context of some segments of the African-American community, including the worlds of rap, hip-hop, and entertainment, the use of the word can be affectionite, familiar. However, it can be derisive, but acceptable to use. Example: In the HBO show The Wire, one Baltimore drug dealer would use the epithet when speaking with annoyance about another drug dealer who wasn't pulling his weight or is screwing him out of profits. The rapper Nas (pictured here at the Grammys) ignited a controversy when he announced that the name of his new 2008 album would be "Nigger." Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Fox News were not pleased, but many of Nas' entertainment colleagues came to his defense. Bottom line, the cultural acceptance for using the N-word exists--though it is controversial--and there are rules, though loosely defined, about when, how, and who can use this word. 

I don't think this cultural acceptance would extend to a  white Walnut Creek middle school student, although the kid was acting like it did. Offending someone was not his intention. Trying to look and sound cool, hip, street--that seemed to his the aim of him and his friends, at least one of whom was carrying a skateboard. 
Part of me was amused at the boy's misguided attempt to sound cool. Out of the mouths of 12-year-old white suburban boys.

But, another part of me thought, I hope some adult in his life has heard this word slip out of his mouth and given him a serious talk about why it's so massively uncool for him to use it.

I mentioned this incident to a co-worker, who, like me, grew up in Walnut Creek and attended local schools. Back when he was in middle school, he said, the massively uncool word that he and his buddies threw around at each other was "fag."

I'd say times have changed, but I think this f-word is still in play in 2010 amongst pre-adolescent and adolescent males.

26 comments:

MisterWriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MisterWriter said...

The word is quite widely used and is seemingly a common part of youth terminology despite the furor over its use. When it comes to racial epithets it seems the power of use lies in the taboo more than the slur itself, especially among white teens. I am always amazed at the amount and types of comments one hears in public these days most of which displays ignorance.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

As I sit here and do some work that doesn't require a certain part of the brain, I'll see if I can find some Nas to listen to. I actually like some rap and hip-hop music, and find that the use of some terms and storylines reflects or illuminates the truth of what's going on in the lives of these artists, or in the lives of people they are making the music for.

Masterlock said...

Oh god, sounds like some kids need a field trip to Oakland. When I was playing football in college, there was a white player that used to go back and forth with some black players that way and it always made me ill.

Masterlock said...

P.S. that 7-11 is where I saw a group middle school girls using victoria's secret bags for lunch sacks one day, which also makes me pretty much certain I'm not having kids.

Anonymous said...

By my daughter's report. 7-11 is the place to stay away from. Your story confirms it. She tells me that this is where kids who get in trouble hang out. If you want to buy some pot (during or after school) it's behind 7-11. If there's going to be a fight, the kids meet behind the store. I don't even have to ask her not to go over there, she is afraid to. Do WCI staff have any jurisdiction there? Probably not. Too bad something can't be done.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

8:52 a.m. Thanks for the information about 7-Eleven. I haven't seen anything like pot dealing going on, but I'm sitting there in the parking lot out in front.

I don't think WCI staff has any jurisdiction.

So, just watched and listened to the Nas N.I.G.G.E.R (Slave and the Master) video. Kind of like watching an artfully produced short film. It's making a political point about the history of slavery, and American race relations, with a scene depicting a lynching. And then it tries to tie those images into what's going on now, with inner-city violence, and black self-image. Very in your face with the N-word. Defiant but also delivering a message of reconciliation?

Check out the lyrics. Kind of interesting:
http://www.absolutelyrics.com/lyrics/view/nas/n.i.g.g.e.r._,28the_slave_and_the_master,29/

Anonymous said...

Don't get your panties in a wad overly sensitive adults. Kids use that term and more like Ho, slut, etc. as terms of endearment or a greeting. The term you are talking about does not have the same meaning to these kids. Ghetto talk is cool even to nice little white kids from Walnut Creek. Every generation has its own language. I grew up in the Valley Girl era and area. And now I have to watch myself when I say "Oh My God" in front of the kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm 50 years old. Even when I was in middle school 7-11 was where the dopers and thugs hung out (this was back east, not Walnut Creek). And I think that 7-11 had just been invented back then. Suburban wanna-be thugs are nothing new. Most kids still think they're pathetic.

EdiBirsan said...

I remember being told that "words have the power over you that you surrender to them." However, I still cringe on the rare occasion that I hear it in public and often reflect on the purpose of the user. For youth as in this case, attentio-getting and indifference to their setting seems more involved than simple ignorance.

Anonymous said...

I think it is hilarious that kids are talking street as you say, or ghetto someone said in one of the comments. Walnut Creek is one of the whitest areas in the country. :)

Anonymous said...

SM,what gives you and other parents the 'right' to sit in your car in the 7-11 parking lot to wait for your child coming over from WCI?

Do you patronize this establishment or are you just doing them a favor by your presense in their parking spaces? Bet the owners would like your business....more than a slurpy that your kids might buy on occasion. No wonder kids have real 'attitudes' about what society owes them.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

9:42 a.m.
As a matter of fact, I often do patronize that 7-Eleven, either after dropping off my son at school, or before I pick him up. Yesterday, I bought a Diet Coke. I was tempted to buy a trashy tabloid, like Star, or a not-so-trashy magazine like People. But I ended up being good and getting the New York Times instead. Lots of mess in New York and Ukrainian politics, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Such language by pampered youth on the mean streets of Walnut Creek :) I just worry one of these kids will slip with the N word in Oakland, and get a whupping.

Anonymous said...

The word is offensive. There is no justification for it being used by anyone other than African Americans who need to have power over this massively abusive word. As adults in these children's lives, it is imperative that we make this perfectly clear.

Sharon

hapamama said...

Like SoccerMom, my husband and I use that particular 7-11 as a meeting place to pick up our 7th grader, and yes, we do patronize that establishment even though sometimes we're parked in the "House of Sake" spots (House of Sake is closed at 3 pm).

Out in front of the store seems quite safe.

That said, I've been told an interesting tidbit by more than one principal. Technically, your child's school is responsible for your child from the time they arrive on campus until the time you pick them up, or they get home. So yeah, WCI could discipline these students for incidents occurring in front of that 7-11 if it happens before their parents pick them up.

ALCO medic said...

I grew up in a nasty ghetto in San Francisco. When I moved here (Moraga) I was astounded by the seeming desire by some suburban kids to dress and speak like they are "inner city" kids. What's up with that?

Kenny said...

The N-word should not be used by any white person period whether it's spelled with an "er" or an "a"

LeftCoast said...

Believe me if an African American, or a group of African Americans, had been around you wouldn't have heard the N word tossed about by any of the white kids.

Anonymous said...

LeftCoast: I disagree. As a HS teacher, I often hear the N word tossed around between AA and white students as well as between AAs and AAs and whites and whites. I also hear my homosexual and non-homosexual students use the word 'gay' to describe something they don't want to do. The whole thing is frustrating. I tell my AA students that they cannot use that word in my class as well as the white students. I tell my students they are not to use the word 'gay' within a derogatory context. Yes, I explain why and try and create a culture of tolerance. Sometimes though, the lesson is lost on them. They are privileged kids and I don't see why being 'cool' has to mean they talk like the inner city kids and dress like the inner city kids. Maybe one day, we'll have a field trip to a real inner city hood and they can see just how scary it can be. Maybe then, they won't think it's so cool. I think I'd be hard pressed to get WC parents to sign permission slips for that though. :P

AKA Soccer Mom said...

I sign a permission slip for a field trip to certain neighborhoods of Richmond or Oakland and would be a volunteer chaperone.

I covered crime in Richmond, and became acquainted with some of the more gunfight-prone, hanging out street corners.

There were a lot of good people in those neighborhoods, just trying to live an honorable life, even though they were poor. But with the poverty, there was also despair and fear. Young AA men who say they don't think they'll live past 25. I spent some time with two young AA men who became quadraplegic after being injured by guns. These two young men, one 17, the other in his early 20s, were not in gangs, or doing anything illegally. They happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--literally. And I met lots of African Amerian women who had buried one or two sons, and had another in prison. Not much that's glamorous or cool about any of that.

Anonymous said...

Nothing glamorous or cool about cigarettes either. Doesn't seem to matter to especially insecure or vunerable kids.

Surely, like cigarettes, the glamor is in the adult disapproval.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sick of this word, the subject and the controversy.

The View had this debate, I'll never forget it. Just drove me crazy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a507xSadnrY

Anonymous said...

Labeling rap and hip-hop music "art" is really stretching the definition of the word "art."

A better description would be "crap."

Anonymous said...

Please leave these kinds of comments to yourself.

Thank you.

I'm The Urban Spaceman said...

I think you mis-heard the word....kids use 'Nigga' as acceptable slang, end the word with an 'er' and now you've got trouble. My daughter attended Foothill and she brought this useage to my attention. We both agreed that either word was inappropriate and offensive. If any of these little boys were to be transported to Oakland and used this language, I think after they got out of the hospital they'd have an altered viewpoint on the meaning of the word.