Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)
TITLE: Bad Words Have Power. Or Do They?
By Angie Wolf
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I bury my head under my grandmother’s handmade quilt, lock my body into a fetal position, and imagine that I am in heaven with Jesus leading me by the hand down streets of gold. I have entertained these imaginations and secluded myself before when the behaviors of my peers have been both incomprehensible and reprehensible. The little boys and girls in my peer group seem to be able to handle negativity better than I do; they retaliate with words and fists and afterwards act as if nothing transpired that was even the slightest bit damaging.
Most of the neighborhood children, including me, have planned, with parental consent, to attend a pajama party at my friend’s house. Pajama parties, otherwise known as sleepovers to kids in our age range, are looked upon with much anticipation. It is a grand opportunity, or rather excuse, for some of us to ask our moms to buy us new night clothes. Bright pink and yellow print pajamas with matching slippers are my preference. Mom never puts up a fuss about such purchases. They, along with my attendance at certain school events are, in her mind, a part of a necessary and unavoidable rite of passage. I think that they are considered to be a rite of passage more so for my mom than me, because although she is permissive in these matters, she isn’t totally thrilled with the idea of her daughter sharing space with six to ten other little girls sleeping on a living room floor in sleeping bags on what she refers to as “an environment not quite as clean as mine,” and I often get the impression that her obsessive thoughts of what strange illness or bacteria I might contract in a group setting constitute a mental crisis for her.
I, however, have always been physically and mentally ready for social outings days, even weeks, in advance until today when one kid’s callousness changes my entire perspective on socializing.
It happens on the school bus, as many unfortunate incidents among school age youngsters do.
He is a ten-year-old freckle-faced boy with a noticeable lisp and a big belly that seems disproportionate in size to his frame. I am sitting near the front of the bus when he decides to sit in the seat in front of me, turns around to face me, and blurts out, “My daddy says that black people are niggers.” Too stunned to give a response, I just look at him with an expression of child-like amazement, not good amazement but the kind of amazement that a child would express if no gifts were left under the Christmas tree for her.
After the amazement leaves, I feel a burning sensation deep within the core of my being. It is as if hot grits, a part of my African-American culture, have been poured on my skin and quickly penetrate its layers. It hurts. The pain is unlike any other that I’ve ever felt, and it lingers and hinders my speech and movement.
Then comes my unexpressed anger. Who does he think he is? He can’t say that to me. How stupid! I should have let my dad drive me to school this morning. Dad and I would have played our silly rhyming word game and talked about astronomy. Instead, here I sit face to face with an intellectual infant contemplating how to verbally retaliate.
I think of some of the things that my grandfather, a civil rights activist and preacher, would say in response to this child’s ignorance. “Do you know what the word nigger means?” “What do you think Jesus would say about you using that word?” “How would you feel if I insulted you?” Unfortunately, none of these remarks come forth from my lips.
Suddenly, the thought of slapping this kid up side his head enters my mind, but it is immediately erased as the bus driver admonishes him to sit in his seat properly. The idea of inflicting bodily harm upon him is quite appealing, but it is overpowered by the echo of my mother’s words and that old cliché, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”
He now sits face forward and my attention focuses outside the window on a field in the distance with tall green grass and dots of dandelions, and I realize that nothing in nature has been changed by this child’s comment, nor will it ever be.
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