As the African American mother of a mixed-race little boy, I often think about how to keep my son’s eyes, ears, and heart open to the realities and ignorance of racism.
I was recently watching a documentary about Jackie Robinson’s life, and was reminded of the first time my son asked me, “What’s the n-word mommy?”
We had just seen the movie 42, about Robinson’s life – the word is really thrown around like a baseball in the film – and I realized that a ‘teachable moment’ that could have an impact on his sensitivity, perspective, and financial well-being was at hand.
As I always tell my son, as Maya Angelou says, “People don’t remember what you do. They don’t remember what you say. They remember how you make them feel.” I began my response son by reminding him that he is one of the most compassionate people I have ever met, and it’s not in his nature to make people feel badly.
He should always remember who he is when contemplating using that word, and he should remember that those who use the word may have forgotten their compassion.
We talked about the times as my son calls them, “When some people’s brains were smaller” and they enslaved blacks. We talked about how the ‘masters’ justified treating others badly by telling themselves blacks were ‘less than human.’ They used the ‘n-word’ to convey this.
As I also shared with my son, ‘nigger’ was originally a harmless word that the Spanish and Portuguese used to refer to black people, but it was turned to something that conveys hate and fear. I told him that every time the word is used, it brings, up a lot of hurt and discomfort, and self-doubt for some people.
He got it, and we discussed how silly the whole thing was because blacks were kings, merchants, entrepreneurs, marketers, bookkeepers, salespeople; all of the things we all are, even throughout slavery.
Most important, my little boy pointed out how hard it would be to make yourself ever believe you were a ‘king’ if somebody was telling you every day that you were the ‘n-word.’
As we’ll discuss in part 2 of this series, who we believe ourselves to be, and the negative conditioning it has had on blacks, has had a significant impact on the ways in which we use money and how we see our value.