When I signed up for the NCore Conference here in New Orleans and scanned the workshops/presentations/seminars I wanted to attend, one stood out and not in a good way:
My entire being reacts so negatively to the N word that just seeing the title of this workshop made me reject it hands down. Then a friend sent me an email saying there was a seminar in Philadelphia I might want to attend, the seminar was the The N!GGA (ER) Word Certification Program by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. So I went back to the NCore list, circled it and read more about it and thought if I am having this much discomfort just seeing the title with the N word, perhaps I need this workshop more than most.
I also contacted Dr. Moore and asked him if I could interview him, which of course got me thinking about where the N word lives in my life. Lately, there have been a few songs that Tin and I have listened to together, where I’ve stopped on lyrics that contain the N word. Two in particular, International Remix by Akon and Ali B and Pyramids by Frank Ocean slip the N word in effortlessly. I’ve watched myself roll over it in song, aware while I’m doing it, of course that Tin doesn’t know how to roll over the word.
When I called Dr. Moore, he knew that I am parenting a young child of color and so when I asked him about the work he is doing around white privilege and with the N word (disclosure: I said the word to Dr. Moore repeating what someone else said and that was uncomfortable enough, so I’m going to stick to using the N word even if Dr. Moore actually said the word. I’m not using the N word as a euphemism here but as my way of acknowledging I have not completed Dr. Moore’s certification program and so therefore am not qualified nor want to use it).
Foremost a lot of good work is being done around diversity now; we are in a changing dynamic. Your son is going to need a global skill set as he moves into the 21st century. I want to help these young people lead and live in this time. There is the work you are doing individually with your son and then there are systems of privilege and oppression that need work. There are so many people doing good work individually, but not institutionally when it comes to systemic racism in religion, economics, [and education].
I asked Dr. Moore if it was better to target adults or children as it appears to me that white adults are so resistant to acknowledge their own racist point of view.
I believe it’s a combination. I work with children but I also work individually with adults through keynote talks and conferences. I think though the most effective work for adults is done when there are children in the room. This allows adults to see the direct impact of their own incompetency. The N!GGA (ER) workshop is a mixed group sharing their own experiences around this word, from middle school to high school to college to adults.
Just how do you present this word and interact with it in these workshops?
I have created activities that shift the conversation away from people saying the word. These are challenging activities with a conversation around the [N-word] and people have to be willing to go there. In addition, having young people in the room helps adults to understand how this word is in our world, in our schools. I had a high school student tell me he hears [the N word] at least a thousand times a day. With the way music and multimedia conglomerates operate today we can’t live a lifetime without hearing [the N-word].
I told Dr. Moore that I had just watched a documentary where a young Black man said they had to change the N word into a term of endearment and also how I am encountering the word in lyrics and my response is to turn the song off, to ignore the song, to try to act like the word is not there.
I’m helping kids and adults to understand the way [the N word] shows up psychologically and emotionally. Forget a term of endearment, [the N word] is showing up as an academic term. Forget people helping to reclaim it or people thinking it is ok to have this in school. Most of the time when [the N word] shows up in conversation it is especially with Black kids, and in particular, Black boys speaking with Black boys.
How do you avoid the word? Do I listen to the song and then explain to my 4-year-old son that this is a bad word and why?
You need to confront it in a variety of ways and determine a strategy. There can be an anti[N word] policy that can be connected to it. You don’t mess around with just turning off the song when it comes on. [The N word] is a traumatic term. If you were driving down the street cursing and swearing at your kid in the car, someone could call Child Services on you and take your child away. [The N word] does the same thing. Don’t think of [the N word] as a term of endearment, that’s an oxymoron, you can’t take a word that was designed to destroy you and make it endearing. We need to engage kids with the message, don’t just turn off the song, do it skillfully, how do you engage with the word?
I confessed my ignorance. I don’t know how to engage with the word. I have a visceral reaction when I hear it no matter who is saying it. I told Dr. Moore that my niece posted the word on Facebook and I posted back, “I don’t like that.” She said sorry and then months later did it again. She’s a smart girl, so I was stumped on how to respond.
There are too many incompetent people in schools teaching the most dangerous word in history. Part of my work is going into school buildings where you might not have the support for this work – it’s not for everybody – but we have to build from a common denominator. If you are going to teach Huck Finn and To Kill a Mocking Bird you need to know about [the N word]. You would not let a teacher teach Spanish who could not speak it herself? So why are we are we letting teachers teach content that involves the most horrible thing that happened in our history with no skills to do this and no way to prepare kids for diversity in the 21st century?
So what would you like to see happen to educate our educators?
I want you to drop off your child at High School and see a certificate on the front door that says his teacher has had some training in how to deal with [the N word].
I can’t wait to take Dr. Moore’s seminar at NCore in a couple of weeks and meet him in person here in New Orleans.