Gee: I was called the n-word last week, this is what I learned
I was called the n-word last week, and it reminded me of a story…
I was playing a basketball game in Topeka, Ind. back in December 1989 (It’s so weird to me that I can’t remember your name if you just told me, but I can remember dates of things that happened to me 30 years ago).
I was shooting the ball really well this game. I remember my coach telling me to keep shooting it. The kid who was guarding me was not having a good game. Everything I did well on offense, I did even better on defense because I kept stealing the ball from this particular kid. I could feel that he wanted the game to be over soon.
During the game, I could tell that this particular kid I was guarding had is family watching. They were all together. I can see them right now in my mind as I tell you this story saying “Jacob, good job!” Jacob this and Jacob that — it was the entire game.
It was during the fourth quarter — I’m dribbling the ball down the court. I’m coming down on the left side. Jacob comes out to guard me outside of the three-point line. That’s when I hear, “Get that n-word boy!” This came from Jacob’s cheering section. It actually came from the older lady that had been doing most of the screaming during the game. It felt like my entire body wanted to fall to the ground. I picked up my dribble and passed the ball right away.
As I’m running through our motion offense, I could feel the energy transfer happen between Jacob and I. I know he heard it because he was now working harder and I was all of sudden really tired. I didn’t want the ball anymore. He actually scored a few more times before the game was over. My team still won the game, but I never scored another point. I didn’t even shoot the ball again. As soon as the game was over, I ran to the locker room. I didn’t want to shake hands, and I didn’t want to see anybody from that team, especially Jacob.
My team then went to get on the bus to leave and everybody was excited that we won. I was sitting there wondering if anybody else heard that lady say what she said. Apparently not, given how everyone was celebrating. I didn’t speak the entire ride back to school. I didn’t talk about what happened until I saw my dad.
That was about two weeks later when my dad picked me up for winter break (just a reminder that I attended military school and lived away from home). I told my dad everything that happened, from beginning to end. He smoked a cigarette as I told him the story. He finished it by the time I was done. Then he grabbed another and lit it. I remember him calmly saying this to me, “Champ, that word is a weapon. It is used to do exactly what it did to you. They used that word and it got you off your game. They saw you having success, which made them afraid, then used that weapon and it worked. Learn from this, and promise me that no matter what, even if/when this happens again, you will not get down. Just know that it is being used as a weapon and they are trying to stop your success.”
So last week when it happened again, I was reminded of my father’s words. A person sent that word to me in a text message, to the KIRO Nights line, which allowed me see his phone number. I was able to find out exactly who it was — first name, last name, location, everything.
You see people getting caught doing or saying hateful things every day, then it’s all over social media. That person might have a family and might have a job. But that hateful act puts everything in jeopardy. There’s a lot of it going on these days, but on this particular day I learned something new.
I was at work when this happened. I didn’t say anything to my co-workers that night. But later, I did get a text from one of them. It said:
Hey man, I want to address something that happened tonight. I saw what a texter called you. I blocked him and didn’t want you to see it because I didn’t know how you would take it and I wanted you to be able to focus on the segment. I’m feeling a bit guilty about it, because I know that you did see it and took a picture of it. I don’t know how to handle things like that and If it’s a conversation you want to have or not, I’m cool with whatever way you want to handle it. Love you man.
I learned that when hateful and racist acts happen, it can hurt others more than the person it was intended for. All of us are affected by racism. As you can tell right now, it is having an affect on our country. Ignorance is brought on by fear. My co-worker has a heart of gold and has probably never encountered something like that. Instead of saying something right then, he was probably in shock. Just like me back in December of 1989. Still, it meant everything for him to text me that night and say what he said.
I wish my father were here today so that I could tell him that I didn’t get down at all. I would tell him that it empowered me to do more to help others. Yes, even those that are saying hateful things today, there’s a possibility that they won’t say it tomorrow.