Thinking About Things and Talking About Stuff

Nora Taylor

Last week my mother, a bleeding heart liberal with too much time on her hands (a.k.a. every other Huffington Post reader), sent me a link to a video of McCain supporters at a Palin rally in Ohio. Though initially funny, I’ve been thinking about it nonstop for the past week or so.
The sentiments expressed by the McCain/Palin supporters would undoubtedly embarrass the candidates but are indicative of something that stretches far beyond the election. We all look at the news we want to read, and listen to the people we want to hear, but it would seem next to impossible to honestly believe what these people do.
The first woman interviewed said she fears that if Obama is elected, the “blacks will take over.” What could a black takeover possibly look like? In D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” there is a scene with a black congress — most of whom are either sleeping, eating chicken or out chasing white women around — so it would probably look something like that.
Another woman said that Barack and Michelle would be anti-white. Guess that means that half of his family is no longer invited to Christmas and never again will he attend a Harvard reunion or buy arugala at a Whole Foods.
The most jarring comment comes from a man who says, “When you’ve got a nigg-ra running for president, you need a first-stringer; he’s definitely a second-stringer.”
First of all, how much more first-string can you get? Yes, it would be nice if he was also an astronaut and a bear wrangler, but everyone has limits. Second of all is the term “nigg-ra.” It sounds like the halfway point between Negro and Nigger. This is where my tolerance gets tested.
As a culture, we have in many ways become desensitized to the word “nigger.” It is easy to forget its roots, history and meaning when it fits so well in the latest T.I. song. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but I have a column, so here is mine:
When I was eight, I went with my family to a friend of my mother’s house in the north woods of Wisconsin. A few times when we were down by the lake, people would shout at us but it was never really clear what it was. Once when I was walking home with my father, a pickup truck slowed down behind us and just screamed out “niggers.” As formative experiences for third graders go, I’d say that was a big one.
So no, I don’t say it. And I sure as hell don’t want an old white man from Ohio to even come close to saying it. There’s always an opportunity for hate. As we at Lawrence have all too recently been reminded, it comes in many forms and is expressed in many ways. It can be subtle and it can be blatant, and we can’t afford to only face it when it is thrown into our faces.
In theory, reclaiming a word lessens its capacity to hurt. Doesn’t that make it all the more surprising when it is used with malicious intent? A post-racial society involves more than being able to vote for the most qualified candidate who just so happens to be black. It’s more than being able to make the casual joke and feel okay about it. It’s more than having a gay friend, or an Asian friend because really, how often do you talk about the deep stuff?
The word change has been floating around a lot. We can’t forget that change is as beautiful as it is gradual. So talk. Ask questions. Complacency may be comfortable, but it won’t get you very far.