Wednesday, May 23, 2007

how do you teach a thing like THIS?

Jasai - 31
Los Angeles, CA
2 children - 1 boy (12), 1 girl (6)

“Mom,” my son says in the kind of tone that lets me know what he is about to say is troubling, “Oren always says nigga.”

I pause.

And then I unload.

“Why would he feel like he can say that around you?!!”

Blank face.

“There is no way he is saying that if you are not!!”

Guilty face

“Do you think I know any Jewish people who would think it was okay to say that word around me???!!”

Appalled face

“Do you know that he is hurling offense at you, your family and every other black person you know when he says that??!!”

Sullen face

I went on this way until I could not untangle all the things my head and fighting heart wanted me to say.

You see, Oren is my son’s energetic if academically oblivious Jewish friend. I have my issues with him for this and other reasons but since they have a similar hobby in skateboarding and my son’s grades don’t reflect Oren’s work habits, I let it slide. But no more.

How do you teach a young black boy that you do not compromise on an issue like this? That as an emerging black man in America, there is no room to acquiesce to the ignorant tide of individuals, media and even other black folk who think that word has simply become part of the American lexicon like “homey”, “dude” and “man”. And that never is he to conform to such ignorance in order to save a friendship. Never.

I assured him that there was is no way Oren would continue to be his friend if he tossed derogatory names for Jews up and down their jr. high school hallways.

He tells me Oren says these things because he watches David Chapelle. I tell him I could give a damn why he says it.

But I will not tolerate it or teach my son that it is acceptable for him to tolerate it.


Blogger mark said...

Mama you shouldnt tolerate it. Ignorance and and mean spiritidness leads to more of it.

I applaud you on being deligent on teaching your son not to use the N word.

Incidentally thier is a post on the afrosphere forum about banning the Nword. Here is the link right here

7:55 AM  
Anonymous ethnicscrapbooking said...

If only Dave C. had a momma like you to teach him what's appropriate.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Mrs. J said...

Did you consider having a talk with Oren's mother?

6:58 PM  
Anonymous jasai said...


I have thought about it and am sure i will but i'm honestly afraid that she will respond wrong, and then what?

It is inevitable though because my son still wants to skate with him and there will be none of it unless a conversation is had. But really what do you say that they don't already know? is it naive or arrogant of me to think they know better?

Because of the way I hear him talk to his mother over the phone i am sure she has heard him say that and worse.

And then I want to be mindful to handle it in such a way that takes into consideration that my son still has to finish jr. high and go to high schol in this community.

so i think the stakes could be high.

or maybe not.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

I don't have high hopes for a mom who's letting her kid watch Dave Chapelle. His humor is for adults.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous jasai said...


or allow her son to be late to EVERY weekend meeting we scheduled for a joint class project because "He was so sleepy. He went to the movie last night, poor baby and couldn't wake this morning."

no lie.

every time.

every weekend.

or else it was some other such silly I-can-not-be-bothered-to-parent-today excuse.

i think some part of me does not get her and knows for sure that she will not get "it"

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Patricia said...

Another approach could be to have your son educate his friend in some way. It is a hard load to put on a 12 year old but it may help him learn something about his culture and history. Could he suggest a book that his friend could read or a movie they could watch together?

The mom might be a lost cause but the son might still be salvageable...

I can hear your frustration!!


11:02 AM  
Anonymous jasai said...

I spoke to him about it again the other day and he said he "told him not to ever say that again because it was disrespectful to his mother."

He said his friend said, “What! You told your mother?”

So…clearly he knows better.

I gently informed my son that notwithstanding the fact that it is disrespectful to me, it is disrespectful to HIM. That HE should require more regard from a “friend.”

But maybe in the culture we live in, there is a reason my son does not yet fully understand this. We are working on it though.

2:39 PM  
Blogger the prisoner's wife said...


you are right. the culture we live in doesn't see this as a "bad" thing. i was NEVER brought up to say the Nword, but plenty of my friends hurl it around freely. i can't blame their position on hip hop alone, cuz i'm a junkie...but in the fact that it's so prevalent in society is the problem.

no matter HOW your son's friend's mother would handle it...i'd still talk to her about it & inform her that her soon is using this word. liken it to the term "kike" and she will get the picture. approach her like a commrad, not an adversary & hopefully she will respond properly.

as far as teaching your are on the right track. just instill in him that he should NEVER use the word, no matter what.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Patricia said...

yeah, sounds like you are on the right track! I just hope I never have to deal with this - but I am sure I will in some way so your example is my education!!

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Keith said...

Amen to that. I stopped going to my local Subway sandwich shop because there was this Puerto Rican kid that always said "what's up nigga" to me when I came in. I'm a grown black man and I don't care what race he is, that kind of thing is unacceptable. Now I'm forced to pony up a few extra bucks at Quizno's.

Your son knew it was wrong and the fact that he felt like he could come to you with his dilemma speaks volumes about your relationship with him.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous jasai said...

people are priceless. and clueless.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous kim said...



For all that is not happening in his social environment to help him appreciate the enormous offense present in this word, even more is absent from the independent thinking that I would expect from a twelve year old who attends school, is exposed to the same news reports, exposes, and documentaries that my children are.

Such exposure can also be powerful for transmitting the response and relationship of certain values to young people.

Twelve. Wow.

Of course, self same exposure to media probably conveys at certain times, through certain forums, that such usage is acceptable, and culturally valuable. *sigh*

Good for your son that he was able to address it. I don't envy you the face-to-face with the parents. What a doozie that could be.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

I'm ten years late in this discussion, but I'm so curious about what happened. Sometimes kids do things because they are trying to be cool and maybe Oren thinks using that word is cool and he just needs a "check yourself" moment. I would have definitely spoken to Oren's mom about it though.

8:47 AM  
Blogger upwords said...

It doesn't get easier, does it? Have your son read Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. I picked it up at BEA a few weeks ago and there is a scene in the book where the boy, the first free youth in a settlement of escaped slaves in Canada, uses this word to a man who is still saving to buy his family. What happens is burned into my mind forever.

Or...tell the boy yourself that the word isn't acceptable in your house or your son's presence. At least then it's clear. With Dave Chapelle, rap and so many other blacks giving others rights to say such things it's going to be hard. I heard some latinos calling each other that in Wal Mart not long ago. They laughed but I prayed for them, thinking, "They'll be calling y'all that next. It won't be funny then..." Just do the best you can and keep being you.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Trula said...

Talk about being late to the conversation! Jasai forgive me please. I am so upset this happened to you and your son. My head about exploded when I read this. It hasn't happened with my sons yet, and I know we live in similar areas. I think if this happened with one of my 12 year old son's friends, I would check the friend and talk to the friend's parents.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is from a different Anonymous than the one who replied earlier.

The key word is found in your son's first statement: "Oren ALWAYS..." This is not a one-time occurrance which one could assume indicates that Oren doesn't know any better. And since Oren always says nigga, I'm sure he has heard his mother say it, and/or she has heard him say it, and it speaks to their attitude towards African Americans.
I strongly urge you to talk to his mother. I would say something like: Hello Mrs. Oren's mother. I need to discuss a sensitive, and very important subject with you because I value our sons' friendship. I would tell her that you have been told that Oren always refers to your son as nigga and tell her that you don't know how she feels abut it, but you are appalled!!! I would tell her that for your son's sake, you plan to have him end the relationship, because it speaks volumes about how Oren really feels about him.

Check out her reaction. You'll find out everything you need to know from it.

In addition, I would tell Oren, that it has come to your attention that he has been disrespecting your son and your family, consequently, he is no longer welcome in your home. If he wants to genuinely apologize and remain in relationship with you and your family, receive him; accept his apology and all will remain the same. Consider it a teachable moment and Oren will be the better for it. If he trips, oh well. Your son is better off without being disrepected daily by this so-called friend. In the short term, it will hurt him to lose a friend, however, he will be better off in the long run for choosing self-respect over a so-called friend.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous dara said...

today (9/19/07), students at NC A&T State University had a funeral (literally) to retire the word. I'm all for it!

5:08 PM  
Blogger plez... said...

at 12-years old, your son may not have the historical perspective to begin to explain to his Jewish friend why he shouldn't use that word.

since this post is close to 6 months old, you may've already dealt with the issue, but my suggestion would be as follows:
* speak with Oren's mother (and father) about this and let them know that this behavior is unacceptable. if they are not amenable to your explanation, then you may not want your son hanging around their son, anyway!
* i would also speak to Oren (after talking to his parents) and explain to him why he (and David Chappelle) should not be using the n-word.
* since they are Jewish, i'm sure drawing a parallel to similar derogatory terms that have been used in the past about them and why they'd be upset if your son was bandying those terms about should be sufficient.

your son knows that the n-word is a derogatory term (and i'm sure Oren knows it as well)... they just may not know why. if your son continues to hang around people who can deride him at will and nothing is ever done, i'm sure it will do serious damage to his self-esteem.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Phillipe Copeland said...

BMD, I'm looking forward to spending more time visiting this site especially as I hope to be a parent of biracial kids sometime in the near future. (No we aren't pregnant yet but workin' on it). This blog, along with Anti-Racist Parent will be a great resource for my wife and I.

Also I've included you in my "Race Reading" links.

Go ahead BMD, Go ahead.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember an old ad in the 70s that talked about prejudice. It ended with a grandfather saying to his young grandson, "well you are prejudice. Because you think of Michael as your Jewish friend and not your friend."

Oren needs a serious talking to. As does his mother. But I don't know if thinking of him as a Jewish kid as opposed to just another ignorant kid is actually helping matters.


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