Monday, July 9, 2007
I just finished reading of the Funeral The NAACP just held for the "N-word" here in Detroit today. If only it were that easy! The problem is, of course, that the issue isn't the word itself, but the hearts of people who use derogatory language towards others they have learned to hate. Like many African Americans, I remember the first time the "N-word" was directed towards me personally. I was about 6 years old, and playing with a new friend, a blond of European descent, in front of my families quarters (military housing apartment) when my friend fell off of her bike. Having been taught that a gentleman always helps those in need, I proceeded to assist my friend when her mother stormed out of the house, grabbed my friend away from my hands and wagged her finger in my face screaming, "[N-word], get your hands off my daughter!" Assuming she had misunderstood what my name was, I answered, "Ma'am, my name is not [N-word] Jackson, It's Samuel Darrell Jackson and I was merely helping your daughter." The most bewildered look you can imagine crossed my friend's mother's face and her mouth gaped open as she searched for a response, but found none. By that time, my mother came bounding out of our quarters and asked to speak with my friend's mother. My friend and I couldn't hear what they said, but the conversation was lively. Nevertheless, after their words ended, they nodded in agreement, took their respective children by the arm and returned us to our homes. When we got inside, my mother gave me an abbreviated history on the [N-word], but told me that my response was really the best one I could have given. She also informed me that no one could define, demean or devalue me by calling me a name. God had created me and THAT gave me, and the person hurling the insult, all the worth we needed. It was a precious moment.
Since that time, I have been called the "N-word" more times than I can count, usually in one of two contexts - 1. By someone who doesn't know me and has made assumptions about me due to my ethnicity or 2. By someone who does know me, usually of the same ethnicity, who is using it as a "term of endearment." I share this simply to be honest about how the word is used, and how I have experienced it, NOT to make a statement about politically correct speech regarding the word in question.
According to Scripture, when we use offensive speech to demean others, it is an indication that we have failed to surrender some part of our heart to the Lord's control. It's as if we've attempted to keep a piece of our will away from God's control, so that we can retain the luxury of hating whom we choose and loving whom we choose. Jesus takes this privilege away by calling us to love our enemies and to good to those who persecute us and by calling us to control our tongues. The Apostle Paul says that it isn't' the words that need to be put to death, but our "Old selves" and our old ways. This would not only deal with the "N-word" but with other vile utterances that have become common place in our contemporary US culture.
So, while I can appreciate the symbolism of a funeral for the "N-word", I feel the time for symbolism has passed and the need for reality is upon us. Let's put our old ways and our old selves to death and allow God to raise us up as new people devoted to a new way of thinking and a new way of living. It is a more dignified solution and a more practical on as well.
Oh, a little epilogue to my earlier story. Fortunately, my blond friend and I would actually play together again for years to come. We walked to school together everday and I even ended up defending her from a bully who saw her as an easy target! I actually got a hug from her mother and a hearty handshake from her father and was a good as an honorary member of the family after that! Later in High School, someone remembered that incident and chose me to diffuse an explosive situation becuase they beleived I had been raised to be fair and not to be afraid to get hurt for standing up for what was right! It shows that when we use a difficult situation to seek understanding instead of division, as our parents did in that initial confrontation, God can make something very beautiful that bears fruit for years to come - even from a very ugly word! That works a lot better than a symbolic funeral!
Until Next time,