By Laura Cathcart Robbins, Studio City, CA
The first time someone called me the N-word, I was about 10 years old, and my friends and I were at Paragon Park in Boston. The roller coaster operator took one look at my five friends and me and proclaimed loudly, “Hey, it must be watermelon day! Look at all these little [N-words] here!”
There was a kid with us named Frank, who was about 11. Frank got so mad that he tried to fight the ride operator, and another adult had to come and pull him off. I had no idea why Frank was so furious. I had never heard that word, and I didn’t know why watermelons would make anyone angry. When I told my mother what happened, she got angry too and then calmed down long enough to explain.
“That man who said those things is what they call a racist,” she said. “It means he doesn’t care for us Black people. It’s better to stay away from people like that.”
When my son Miles is 11, we place him in a new school where he is one of three Black kids in his class. About three months into the school year, the principal calls me right before pick-up to tell me that someone had posted something offensive about Miles on Instagram. The post had been taken down, Principal Webster says, and the boy who posted it had been suspended.
“What was it?” I say, bracing myself.
I can hear the tick of the air conditioner in the background as Webster shifts in his chair. “Um, I think perhaps it’s better if I show you when you get here.”