Mike is a fairly regular visitor to our home, and we have come to love him dearly. He's a sweet, strong, opinionated black man with lots of issues. But he's honest with us about his shortcomings, and he shows us mountains of grace as we navigate life in Avoid where we are — for the first time — a minority. And, like so many other neighbors, he has welcomed us with open arms.
|Mike's birthday banana pudding|
Last week the kids were away at camp, and we invited him to dinner. While sitting in the living room, having a beer and half-watching the news, my dear husband decided to throw a grenade on the table and see what happened.
Bless his heart.
"Mike, why is it OK for black people to use the n-word with each other, but if a white person uses it, it's a bad thing?"
Okey-dokey! This dinner just got really interesting, I thought as I took a long draw from my beer.
Mike contemplated this for a minute. Then he came up with an interesting observation.
"Well, to me it depends on who the person is who's sayin' it."
"So it would be OK for one white person to say it, but not OK for another one?"
"Yeah. Maybe. I don't know," he admitted.
Then he proceeded to tell us the story of a woman we had heard of. To us, she was a nameless, faceless white prostitute who had been murdered last year a few blocks from our house. But to Mike, she was a neighbor.
She lived nearby, and everybody knew her. And because of her integration into the neighborhood — and perhaps as a business tactic given her likely clientele — she said things that you would expect a black person to say.
Mike explained. "She'd say, 'nigga, please!' just like I would, but it just didn't sound right comin' outta her mouth," said Mike. "But I don't think it was 'cause she was white. It was 'cause of her. She'd be all sweet and nice to your face, but then she'd turn around and talk about you behind your back."
Then he challenged me.
"Say it. C'mon. Say it just like that."
No, I couldn't. No way.
But he persisted.
So I did.
"Nigga, please!" I said as I shooed him away with my hand.
Mike sat there for a second. Then he passed judgment.
"That sounds OK to me. It wouldn't bother me if you said that to me. But it's because of who you are. I trust you."
So I now have permission to call Mike a nigga.
And I think it's the biggest compliment I've ever received.