I sat there in class, watching a movie on kids and their biases. Researchers asked kids, black and white, what they thought the characters in a picture were doing. They showed the characters doing various things; the only difference was the color of their skin. Each child said that the black character was bad or doing something wrong. The movie made me flash back to when I was little.
Back then my best friend was a white boy named Colton who lived across the street from me and my grandma. One day he came to our house because he had left his house keys on the bus. We played in the yard for a good hour before he remembered that his mom always left the back door unlocked. Before he crossed the street he ran back and said not to tell my cousin Bill, who was 15, that they left their back door open. I asked why not and he said, “Because ni---rs like Bill steal.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Shocked, I said, “But I’m one too.”
“Yeah, you are, but you’re a good one,” he replied.
Before I knew it I was punching him until blood gushed from his nose. I had never hated anyone until that moment. I didn’t even fully know what that word meant but I knew it was degrading. My grandma came rushing out and pulled me off him, shouting that friends don’t fight. I shouted that he wasn’t
my friend, that I hated his guts. The moment that statement bolted out of my mouth my grandma grabbed me by the arm and said “Stacia, don’t you let me hear you say you hate anyone ever again.”
I said “Yes, ma’am” and went inside.
When Colton’s parents came home they wanted to know what all the fuss was about. He ran into his mother’s arms and told her that I beat him up for no reason. I ran toward him to beat him again but my grandma stopped me. His mother looked at me with disgust and asked what happened. I hated the way she looked at me as though I was some kind of killer. So I looked her in the eye and said, “Colton called me a ni--er so I kicked his ass.” It felt so good to say that word that I chuckled. She gasped, and seeing the mixture of horror and disgust in her eyes, I said it again, but this time my grandma flicked me in the mouth and made me apologize. I said it under my breath, then jetted into the house.
Later that night my grandma came in my room to talk. She said that for the first time in her life she was ashamed of me. I told her that no one in their right mind was ever going to call me that and get away with it. She said she understood how mad I was but fighting didn’t solve anything or take back what he said. I asked how I was supposed to walk away when someone called me an awful word like that and she said “You’re right about one thing, Stacia, it’s only a word. Remember, sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.