Elliot, from the minute I read your article’s headline I was hooked. I’m in no way fond of it, nor am I fond of the more infamous person mentioned in the subhead. I figured the person who juxtaposed (or mashed-up, depending on your point of view) the two was incredibly clever or a hardcore racist. As an optimist, I went in expecting a double-negative header. Or rather negative double-header.
I see myself as a free agent on Medium. I can choose to read whatever I want for as long as I want. There’s nothing that says I have to read an offensive article to the end. I can stop and block a writer faster than you can bat an eye, and feel no remorse about it at all.
The way you told your story brought to mind images of Barry Levinson’s movie, Avalon, with Elijah Wood. And the minute you detonated the name of the rocket in a bottle, I knew where you were going. I went along for the ride right to the end and highlighted a paragraph to say, I got it. I see what you did here. I know why you wrote this and who it’s for.
Was the piece a work of bait and switch? Maybe to some. I only know how I interpreted the piece.
Having lived in central Florida most of life, I’ve worked alongside casual racists. To say that I’ve been surrounded by casual racists at times would not be an exaggeration. I’ve overheard utterances, witnessed deeds done, and have been called names. (Given my race, the fact that I stand four feet tall, and am gay, I’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks.)
But I am the only one who gets to define who I am for myself.
My father broke down racial barriers in the south. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. I bore witness to prejudice he endured while attempting to earn an honest living to support his family, the same as his white counterparts. So for me, reading your headline was no act of courage but merely a willful decision to see if you had something to say that was worth my while.
I have used that word freely amongst other black Americans because I wanted to take ownership of it, strip it of its power, and give it the meaning of my choosing. (I used in a very colloquial and almost mocking way.)
That practice stopped in 2013 with the release of Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker appeared in an interview with Anderson Cooper to promote the film in which she explained why she never used the word. After listening to her reasoning, I stopped using that word. I strive to be about the business of affirming life: my own and others. And I see that you are as well.
Would that no one use that word. But as long as there is hatred for people of color, women, gays, and anyone deemed “other,” there will always be labels to denigrate.
Racism needs to be talked about. Out in the open. The damage it causes. Its roots. And it’s eradication. This is only way to effectively dismantle it. Period. It works. I’ve seen it happen. More than once, many more times than once. I live to hear white people say, I never thought of that way. It’s like witnessing someone discover they’ve lived their entire life with blinders on. Once they get it, they never want to fumble around in the dark again.
Lies can be soft and comfortable, but the damage they inflict can last a lifetime. Sometimes the truth can be hard and it can hurt (for a little while), but it always facilitates healing, growth, and freedom.
Personally, I’m of the mind that your intention was not to do harm, but to use pain to reveal a great truth to foster healing. Very well played, Elliot.