By Mario Lewis
“In the mid- to early ’70s my sister and I went to a Chargers game with my father. We (are) actually Raiders fans. My father, is a nice—nice-size man with some nice-size arms and everything and we were enjoying ourselves at the game and at the end of the game these four white guys were following my father out of the game calling him the n-word. Calling US the n-word, I should say.
“I was a youngster. I was maybe about 10 or 11 years old, if that. And so my father had a van and so my father, I guess he knew that he was about to get into a confrontation with ’em because they followed us all the way to the car. My father told us—he said ‘Run and lock yourself in the van.’ Right. So me and my sister ran and we locked ourselves in the van.
“And my father had one of those belts that had the two buckle things back in the day and he took the belt off, wrapped it around his fist and my father commenced to try to kill them dudes. My father socked them all up. And that was the first time I really experienced the n-word in that magnitude, and that manner in which my father let them dudes have it. Like really let them have it. And me and my sister were crying and screaming because we didn’t know what was going to go down. You know what I mean? So that was my very first experience with the word.”
[Harris asks what Lewis thinks about the use of the word today.]
“I think it’s totally disrespectful. I think the youngsters now that utilize the word, they don’t understand the significance of it on how people died while yelling that word while their bodies were swinging on trees and how the word is just negative. They try to put a positive spin—you can’t put a positive spend on something negative. That’ straight negative energy. It’s definitely wrong. They try to use it as a term of endearment and make it exclusive for brothers to say it and all this other stuff like that.
“Me, personally: ‘n-i-g-g-a’ is ‘n-i-g-g-e-r’—STILL. It’s still the same thang. Ain’t nothing changed. It’s just slang.”
The preceeding was originally published as “‘N-i-g-g-a’ is ‘N-ig-g-e-r’—STILL” in The n-Word Project a website put together by Professor Frank Harris. On the site Harris notes that, “This project involves collecting narratives from a range of people across America about their thoughts, feelings and experiences with the n-word, as ‘nigger’ and ‘nigga,’ and whether its growing use might lead to it becoming the new standard reference for Americans of black African descent. It is part of my larger research on the evolving name-descriptions of Americans of black African descent over the past four centuries.”
Editor’s Note: We’ll be publishing excerpts from Sunshine/Noir II: Writing from San Diego and Tijuana, an anthology of local writing about San Diego over the coming weeks. As City Works Press co-editor Jim Miller says in his introduction: “… San Diego is still a city in need of a literary voice, a cultural identity that goes beyond the Zoo, Sea World, Legoland, and the beach. With Sunshine/Noir II we persist in our romantic, perhaps Sisyphean, effort to address this need and expose the true face of “the other San Diego.”
The book gained national recognition when National Geographic Traveler recently listed it as a must read before visiting the San Diego/Tijuana region. To buy a copy of Sunshine/Noir II or any other San Diego City Works Press book go here.