Two days ago, I was fast forwarding through the commercials only to hit the play button too soon. My 8 year old son saw the news ad with Paula Deen and heard the negativity in the announcer’s voice.
“What’s wrong with Paula Deen, Mom?”
My instinct was first to shelter them and say nothing. I hated the idea of exposing them to all the evilness that word holds. I couldn’t though. It was time to tell them about the *n* word.
After calling the other two in (his twin and my oldest who is 12), I sat them on the couch with me. “Paula Deen has been fired from the Food Network channel.”
I tried my best to explain. “She and her brother do business together and he has been taken to court for being mean to people, like black people and women in general. Paula Deen had to go to court to testify and she admitted that she has used the *n* word and done some other things that were unkind towards black people.”
My daughter asked, “What exactly is the *n* word?” at the same time my youngest son asked, “Why does she have to be so mean?”.
I explained I would only say the word once so they would know the word when they heard it. I asked them not to repeat it EVER and then I said it out loud.
The twins are at an age when they are fascinated by curse words. They want to know what they all are and what each means, so it wasn’t a surprise when my daughter then asked, “What exactly does that word mean?”
“When you call one person that word, to me you are actually calling every black person that word and it means that you think that they are less than a person. That they don’t mean as much in this world as you do. I believe it is the worst word you could ever use on anyone.”
My youngest son gasped, “It’s worse than the F-Bomb?”
“Yes. And you need to know that now that you are older, you might hear someone say it around you. If a friend says it once, you need to tell them that they are not to say that word around you. If they say it again, then you are not their friend any longer.
My oldest son, who had loved Paula Deen, has been silent this whole time. He finally spoke, “If they say it, why can’t I just walk away?”
“Oh hon,” I said and I hugged him. “You can’t just walk away. Remember I shared with you about when I was 17 and I had a boyfriend who tried to hurt me? Well, the first major time was in front of a video arcade with lots of people from my high school around. They all just watched. Not one person I knew did anything. Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone tried to save me?”
He nodded and said, “Yes.”
“So, saying that word is like emotionally punching someone in the head. It is abuse and we can’t just walk away from abuse. Do you all understand?”
They all nodded and like most children, put it aside and went back to their video games.
Today, we went to the grocery store and my youngest son pointed out Paula Deen on a magazine. My oldest just said, “I don’t want to look.” while his brother said, “I hate her now.”
I pulled the cart over to the side and said, “No, you don’t. We don’t hate and the people who rush to hate her are in some ways just as bad as the ones who rushed to support her. We don’t know the whole story and we never will. We just have to hope that she has learned from this.”
In my heart, I hope that those who rushed to support her by citing her age and location just really don’t have a clue what it is like to be abused. I cannot imagine anyone who has ever been bullied or has experienced bigotry in any manner could continue to bully and abuse other people. And just because it is verbal abuse doesn’t make it less effective than the physical kind. Words stay in your memory for just as long as anything thing else. And they tend to echo for years.
xoxo ~ Melissa