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'Nigger Rich'
by Vicky Nabors

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Cracker, Jew, white trash, spic, whop, dyke, carpet muncher, sissy, fag, hoe, punk, nigger!

Powerful words, huh? Often people intentionally use slurs as weapons of attack to insult one's character or ethnicity. But what happens when people use phrases that contain one or more of these words out of innocent ignorance? For example, a white co-worker, Al, was sharing a story with me about employee motivation. He was quite animated as he acted out his story of how our boss used to walk in throwing $100 bills to employees.

Al said, 'I remember back in the good old days when our boss was different, he'd pull out his thick wallet, and ... excuse the pun ... he was 'nigger rich,' and toss $100 ...'

Needless to say, I went into instant shock and never heard the end of his story. But, Al continued with his story, totally oblivious to my shocked expression. My heart began to race and my blood was on 'bake,' I was on fire but managed to find my voice. 'Al,' I said. 'That was a fucked up thing to say. Not cool Al, not cool at all,' I concluded, daring not look into his eyes. 'What?' Al questioned. 'That's a phrase that we've used for years ... heck, it's older than me! It doesn't mean anything negative. It's just a way of saying that you have a wallet full of money!' Al defended, pleadingly. Finally, I looked directly into his eyes and asked, 'Do you really know what you just said to me?' Al paused for a moment to ponder my question. 'You said the 'N' word first of all, and then you connected it to being rich. For me, that phrase represents the wealth that white people have enjoyed at the expense of Black oppression since slavery!' I said through clenched teeth. My words must have hit Al like a ton of bricks; he flushed red, dropped his head, apologized and walked away mumbling, 'Oh God, I'm such and idiot!' over and over again.

Even though I was pissed, I understood what Al was feeling that day. You see some years back, I also made a racial blunder while talking to a white co-worker about an area in Chicago called Jew Town. As it turns out, she was Jewish and found the name of that area quite offensive. She let me have it from all angles and was pissed that I just didn't seem to get it. 'But, it has always been called Jew Town because of the Jewish settlers. I don't know any other name to call it?' I defended. And then she dropped the hammer on my consciousness: 'The name of the street is Maxwell Street and how would you feel if I called it Nigger Town?' I got it then, I got pissed at her for using the 'N' word! I felt the same emotions at that time that Al probably felt a few days ago: guilt, shame, remorse and a new sense of awareness to the complexity of the diverse environment that I lived in.

Language usage and labeling in our country has become quite confusing, and sometimes dangerous. Terms that were once used to define the state of things during a particular period in time have become outdated, but some of us haven't been cued to the new way of seeing and labeling. How long has it been since you've heard the term 'Nigger Toes' used to describe Brazilian Nuts? We've become a politically correct society. However, everyone isn't sensitive to the same terms? Two people can look alike but think totally different. I despise the term nigger and refuse to use it, but other Blacks use it comfortably. All Native Americans do not despise the term American Indian, especially my friend. And not all lesbians embrace the term dyke, especially Black lesbians. I can go on but you get my point. It's difficult to know what to say and how to say it when in mixed company.

So here's a tip, if that person holds any value to you as a human being, think before you speak. Remember, what goes around comes around. By the way, my co-worker is the most dangerous type of racist—one who doesn't believe he is. I've learned to ignore his off-color jokes and puns about Blacks; that is until he goes too far.

What does 'Nigger Rich' mean to you?

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