It happened during my junior year of college. Before I move forward with the story, I would like to first describe the context of my time in Flagstaff and at Northern Arizona University. Coming from Los Angeles and growing up in Santa Monica, Arizona was different territory for me. My freshman year also just happened to be the same year of the election that shook the nation, Obama vs. McCain.
I was a liberal, revolutionary kid, who often dwelled in conspiracy theories and listened to conscious hip-hop. Whereas, I would have many ideological differences with my classmates.
Freshman Year - It’s election night. My friends, family, and the nation are celebrating and partying. Our nation made history that night. While the celebrations encompass our nation, I sat in my dorm room. Wearing my Obama shirt, that had a graphic of his face mixed with Abraham Lincoln – I was confined to my room not by choice but out of necessity. I felt threatened that night as hate spread through the halls of my dorm.
I learned a lesson that night that many African-Americans learn in their lifetime, “To some people, no matter what, just because of your skin color, you are and will always be just a nigga”.
My RA cried the night that Obama won the election. Her tears were not a result of her excitement, but was out of fear. She was afraid of the thought of a black man holding the most powerful position in the nation. She feels threatened, now I assume also of me. Mind you, I’m the only African-American in my hall. This all takes me by total surprise. I’m supposed to be celebrating right now!!
While I received calls of joy and exhilaration from back home, my celebrations had been suppressed by the same fear that is the cause of them.
“The South Will Rise Again" - The day after the election, I see on Facebook a group created with a confederate flag as the logo…called, The South Will Rise Again. What the hell did I get myself into and where in the hell am I?! I’m definitely not in Santa Monica anymore.
The same members and kids who created that group, were the same group of small town kids that live in my dorm. The same kids who I had shared beers with, not knowing the whole time that I was just a nigga to them.
Sophomore Year - “You’re the smartest black person that I ever met”…what did I just hear? In that moment, I had no idea on how to react to that statement. At the time, it was almost insulting – I thought to myself, well you don’t know many black people then. Which odds are, was true. Unfortunately, his perception of black people is monolithic and something like Trump’s. Based on the images of our people in the media, films, and TV.
Now looking back on it, I shouldn’t have been mad. Ignorance is bliss. After four years of living in that environment, I could no longer hold hate or anger. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know any better. They have never been in the same environment as different cultures, ethnicities, and people of color.
What shocked me at the time, I can now look back and understand from a different perspective. There was a girl in my sociology class. One day in class, she admitted that she grew up in a racist family. She held those same views until about four months before her statement. FOUR MONTHS!!
Like that girl in my sociology class, most bigoted people have never been exposed or had interactions with those same people who they hate so much. They only know the worse of the worse through second hand and tertiary interaction. Or their hate is passed down generation to generation, which can be even harder to overcome.
It truly wasn’t their fault. Deep down, I felt like I had a duty to be an example that all African-American’s aren’t the images portrayed that they see on Fox News. We are educated, we have self-respect, we have manners, and we are hard workers. The only way you can break a stereotype is by challenging it.
“You’re not allowed in you stupid fucking nigger” door shuts in my face. I paused. Infuriated. All while I can still see him behind the glass yelling more racial epitaphs…porch monkey, jiggaboo, nigger.
It’s my junior year and I’m at a party in the area of town that usually had three or four parties on one block. Me and my friends decide to go to a different party at a house where we had a few friends at. As we approach the door, we’re met with confrontation. Not understanding why, there wasn’t any provocation. I immediately learn, it’s because of me – boom, “NIGGER”, yelled in my face.
Stuck in stone as if I’ve seen medusa.
I can still feel the anger that overcame me that night. If it wasn't for my friends holding me back, knowing I was and had to be the bigger man. I would’ve broken through that glass as the racist coward hid behind his glass door.
I couldn’t prove him right. By attacking back and stooping to the level of ignorance, I’ll be just another NI**ER.
Here I am, a kid from Los Angeles, living in an ex-confederacy territory where prejudice is as rampant and ignorance is like a disease without a cure. This is the first time I’ve ever been called nigger.
No one could give an explanation to me on why that happened that night. I didn’t want one. I knew that kid, we got along. We shared beers. True colors show and can’t be hidden for long. To him, I was just a ni**er – nothing more, nothing less. N-I-G-G-E-R.
But I always knew that I was more – I always knew that we were more.
“A people without knowledge of their history, is like a tree without roots” - Marcus Garvey.
Intentionally stripped of our history, stripped of our religion, stripped of our identity – so that we would forget where we come from. There was an old saying “An African doesn’t become a slave; you make him one.”
As a people we were broken, and are still repairing those wounds. We forgot that we were once kings and queens and rulers of a great land. Scholars who pursued greatness at Timbuktu. Gods amongst our own right. N-E-G-U-S. Black emperors. Black kings.
That night I was called ni**er.
Today, I call myself N-E-G-U-S.
A Black King.