The Global Picture: The Use of the N-Word

The Butler by Lee Daniels: A Quiet Voice

“The Butler” by Lee Daniels: A Quiet Voice

Years ago, when I was living in Mexico City, I remember talking with some acquaintances. I do not recall how the topic came up but there was reference to the n-word.

“Don’t use that word,” I told them. They laughed and it became like that game children play when you admonish them for use of a swear word. With what could be called a wicked smile, they would say it back to your face, laughing at your reaction as you ran out of the room, covering your ears. Mine was a useless tactic since I can still hear them, to this day.

I realized then that they didn’t use it in the same context because that context does not exist in Mexico. A context of slavery and apartheid. It is a word that had made its migration only through songs and movies. It wasn’t like the comic books I used to read, where when a superhero would use their powers, they would have to explain every single time what those powers were so that the reader could understand what they were doing.

There is no explanation that comes with the n-word.

It is a demon I have to face as well. Because of those same movies, an Asian is never looked upon as a person who could come from any other country other than ones that have the well-known habit of birthing them. I could not tell you the number of times I got blank looks from people when I explained to them I was American.

It reminds me of the time I was in Immigration, renewing my visa. There was limited seating in the room and there was a family of four (mother, father and two sons) who were split up. The mother and one son sat in front of me. The father and the other son sat some rows back. Out of sheer curiosity, I peered over the mother’s shoulder to look at their passports: they were Kazakhs.There was a woman sitting next to the boy who was with his father and I overheard her ask him, “Are you from China or Japan?”

With the release of Lee Daniel’s “The Butler,” there have been quite a lot of discussion as of late about the use of the n-word. It is a discussion that has long followed the community and one, I feel, is an issue that pertains to me. Oprah had answered in several interviews that she always found it more beneficial to break down the stereotypes by not stating that today’s show is about how black people raise their children but by talking about parenthood.

At the end of the day, I have not known one person who has not experienced heartbreak. It does not matter on which side of the Rio Grande you live because getting your heart-broken and getting dumped feels the same, regardless of what you look like on the outside, where you were born and what language you speak. And it is through our joy and pain that we can see our similarities.

I could not have put it more eloquently than labor leader Eugene W. Debs, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for sedition and being “a traitor to his nation” when he urged resistance to military recruitment during WWI. He defended himself during the hearing and stated the following:

“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

I fight against ignorance and fear. My weapons are my words and the love in my heart. I bow to the pride of being a free-thinking human. I do not bow to the weight of negative words.


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