I grew up in the south in a small town called Lexington, SC. Population approximately 17,500 people with 85 percent of them being white. So it was not unusual to be called a nigger. When I was in high school being called a nigger by a white boy was an instant see you after school problem-fighting on school ground was instant suspension and my mother was not playing that, regardless. It was not out of the norm to see 25 white boys watch as 10 black boys enter into a field to battle. We would knuckle up with each other but turn around and have to sit in class with them the next day.
Around my senior year, I started to really spread my wings as a superb athlete in basketball and baseball. Though, I loved the game of basketball, baseball was the sport that I knew would take me places. My senior year, we won the state championship in baseball and became one of the best teams in the nation. But the defining moment of that year was a response that I got from my father. I happen to be disgusted about one of my teammates calling me a nigger and was going kill the boy. The coach stopped me and pulled me to the side and apologized for his comments. (Let me add that I was the only black on the team.) I am not sure what he said to the boy or if he said anything at all but I know how I felt. That moment left me in isolation from the rest of the team for the rest of year outside of my man, Drew. Drew was my neighbor, black and he was the athletic trainer. We pretty much stuck together the rest of the year because we knew the culture that we were dealing with at Lexington High School.
I remember going home and telling my parents about the ordeal and being shocked, so to speak, that they were not shocked. But the profound moment came when my father said, “So what they called you a nigger.” Now my father is an intimating man upon sight (at least at the time, age has caught up with him)-6’2, 225 easily and strong . He spoke loud and did not take any shit. (his words not mine) He concluded that my job was to go to school, learn and perform on the field. I was not to mix words with the teachers, coaches, students or other players until they put their hands on me and once that happened, I was to tear their ass up (his words not mine.) From that day I chilled and relied on his words to be the guidepost for my senior year’s journey. I do not know if he called the school or any coach but I never had a problem with anyone else calling me a nigger-at least from my team.
That has been over 25 years ago and I still remember those words my father said to me, “So what they called you nigger.” It has taken me that long to understand the words that he spoke that day. My father was trying to get me to accentuate who I was over what they called me. He was trying to get me to see that I was more than who they proclaimed me to be by their statements. The problem that troubled me prior to his statement was that I fell into the trap of becoming the nigger they called me. “I let their perception of me become my reality “as my good friend, Len Jackson so intelligently bemoans to me frequently.
I find that many of my young brothers today fall into the same trap as I did. This trap caused me to become a mediocre student with grades that did not reflect my intelligence level. It caused me to be bitter for years toward all whites. It took me until my 35th birthday to peel back the psychological damage that I had let infiltrate my heart before my father’s words hit home with a stern punch.
The end result is that I learned to overlook ignorance from small people. I still do not like for white people to call me nigger or refer to other blacks as a nigger but I can tolerate it with intense bitterness-still a work in progress, nonetheless.(I have too model this behavior for my own son now) But the main objective is to live my life is such a fashion that if they do refer to me as a nigger then by the time it is all said and done they say to themselves, damn (my words not my father’s) I want to be like that nigger.
What happened after my teammate called me a nigger? Well, I went on to flourish the rest of the season while he sat on the bench. I went to college on a baseball scholarship as well as getting drafted while his career pretty much ended that day. So in the big scheme of things, “so what he called me a nigger.” Now I may not respond like this all of the time but my mentality is such that I refuse to let someone define who I am. I chose who I want to be and when I want to be that person. One’s definition of Brian does not make me Brian but how I define myself is the key. I chose not to walk in ignorance, selfishness or hate because that just takes too much work. I walk in love, honor and integrity but I am not above getting in someone grill about nonsense. I wish I could end with saying I will never respond to being called a nigger but I can’t, but I can assure you that being called one want define my life.