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Southern roots and the N-word

in Life Lessons, Nonfiction Writing, Parenting, Random Musings


Photo by lco on

Born and raised in Texas, my southern roots run deep. Racism is still fresh enough in the town where my parents live that my folks can show me where the segregated schools were, the “colored” water fountain, and where each race was expected to worship on Sunday morning.

I have tried to abandon the labeling by skin color. I’m raising my kids on a street with neighbors of 3-4 different races. That wasn’t intentional, that’s just part of the modern community in which we live. My kids don’t see people as black, white, hispanic, or Indian; they see various shades of tan and brown.

So you can imagine my frustration of my kids being introduced to the “N-word” at the pool by a group of Black youth.

The background

When I am home alone with three young kids (one solid swimmer, one newbie, and one with floaties), I am hard pressed to take advantage of the community pool. As the Texas summer heat sets in though, I ventured there earlier this week.

When we arrived there were several families already swimming with young kids, one older couple, and then a group of teenagers playing ball in the middle of the pool. They were playing rough like all teens do, but we found a corner of the pool for ourselves and my kids spent as much time oohing and ahhing over the teens’ game of keep-away as they did doing cannonballs.

About ten minutes into the trip, the first N-bomb dropped. I flinched, but I watched for my kids for a reaction and they didn’t have one. Knowing that my kids tune out 50% of what I say, I hoped this would be the same. Over the next 20 minutes, the same word was jokingly used five more times.

My job?

My 7 year old is at the age where he is picking up words. I don’t jump on him when he brings home a cuss word, I simply correct him, tell him we don’t use that word, telling him the word’s actual meaning, and we move on. I’ve left it open for my kids to ask me about any word they hear without fear of discipline. They’ve used this option on more than one occasion. This particular word, however, I’m not sure that a 7 year old is fully able to grasp. Especially given the context in which it was discovered.

I did the only thing I knew to do. I asked them if they had heard any words at the pool that they wanted to know about. Why start a conversation that you aren’t sure that your kids are ready for if it isn’t necessary? Luckily, none of them claimed to have picked up on the word.

But what if…

What if one of my kids did file that word in the same area of their brain that they house playful words like champ and buddy? What if my 7-year-old goes to school and uses the word on the playground? What if my 5-year-old uses the word in his preschool class where his teacher happens to be African American?

The thought scares me. I’d like to put that word on the same “no-no” list as several other cuss words that they’ve heard, but this particular word has much greater meaning and consequences than any of the other ones.

What would YOU do?

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