Seattle, Senior Citizenry, Sushi and Sisters: Part II
After doing six “Nigger-word” workshops in two days all over Seattle here I was introducing myself to a table of four highly intelligent, very cool, extremely witty, visually engaging women. My buddy, Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. and I had been invited to join this eclectic group of professional women for dinner and drinks at Wasabi Sushi in Seattle’s Belltown district after one of our presentations. Because we had arrived somewhat fashionably late they had to relocate from a smaller table to a table that was only slightly larger with the two of us joining them. I decided to demonstrate how considerate I could be by introducing myself to them and apologizing to them for the inconvenience they would be experiencing at our expense. When I extended my hand and said "Hello, I am J.W. and I just wanted to introduce myself and apologize for any inconvenience,” one of the women said "Did you say your name was J-man?" I said "What?" Her friends were all shocked as well as floating between some level of embarrassment and laughter! I looked at her and then repeated what her friend had just asked her. “Did you just call me J-man?” Now I need to tell you that they don’t come too much more chill than this woman. Where most people would have disappeared from what many would label a racially verbal gaffe, unlike that deer lost in the headlights, she looked directly at me and with the slyest undercurrent of a laugh, said “But I thought you said your name was J-man? How is that wrong?”
Aside from her tongue-in-cheek sophisticated way of sidestepping her not-really-a-gaffe moment, she was right, how is it wrong? If she thought I said J-man, how can that be racist? Well, on one hand, it isn’t. On the other hand, it is! Aside from the fact that J-man itself as a term isn't racist, J-man as a stereotypical assumption about a man's name definitely flirts with racism. Calling someone J-man is racist, or perhaps better said, a symbol of the impact of racism—whether she meant it or not—if she heard J-man because of stereotypes associated with casually dressed Black men. Especially if most people would have heard what I actually said when I introduced myself, saying, “Hello, I’m J.W.?, which appeared to be the case with all of her friends, even those sitting further away from me. In other words did she already start to hear, or expect, something like J-man when she saw two black men, not in suits, approaching her table?
One of the things Eddie challenges our audience to consider throughout our “Nigger-word” presentation— and it is one of our most provocative points—is what is the image of “nigger” that we carry with us. Well, not that she was thinking nigger (or not that she wasn’t either, albeit subconsciously), because I definitely didn’t think she was consciously. However, Eddie makes the assertion that because of the weight of the word “nigger” in our society, you can’t escape a dysfunctional image when you say the word. Conversely, as an identifier traditionally directed at African-Negro-niggra-colored-Afro American-black-Black-African Americans, it is hard to not associate it with any negative attribute of people who “fit the description.” This is not always limited to so-called Negroes either. It also proliferates our society in an array of intriguing ways, both by those outside of the Black (for lack of a better term) community, as well as inside of it. Yes, black folk use the N-word as well, which is where some would say the real problem lies. I’m curious though, how many of you have a take or any take on this word? Often people say it is confusing how some use it, some don’t, some think they can, and others state they won’t? What is your take? What are your stories?
Quite an ironic moment occurred prior to our encounter with the women. Earlier in the evening while Eddie and I were maneuvering our way around for lunch, we turned a corner and saw two black men on a corner. It was a downtown area and therefore, during the lunch rush it was fairly crowded. So, though we saw them, I don’t think Eddie or I really focused on them more than anyone else out and about. As we passed them, one of them said to us “Either of you two niggers knows where the Park and Ride is?” Eddie and I, actually on a break from doing one “Nigger-word” workshop and just a couple of hours away from doing another, looked at each other and chuckled a stifled, heavy hearted, laugh at the tragicomic moment we had just experienced. Can you relate, or have you ever had a similar moment? Like comedian Dave Chappelle says at the end of his infamous skit “The Niggar Family,” “This racism is killing me.”
Okay, so back to Eddie, the women folk, and me. The lovely woman who had referred to me as J-man, turned out to be amazing, as did her sister (both Canadian), the woman who orchestrated the dinner, and their feisty red headed friend from high school, also Canadian. We consistently revisited the moment amongst martinis and multiple shots of unfiltered sake that was described by these bodacious women in ways that I can’t go into during the family hour. We actually talked, laughed, assessed, kidded, teased, considered, unpacked, dismissed, cajoled, and digressed. While we only spent about 30 minutes in total ever discussing the “J-man moment,” we probably brought everything to the conversation on J-man and its subsequent implications that most would bring, except ridicule. We hung out in this bar for 210 minutes (3 ½ hours, for those of you who got tripped out about how I chose to give you the time). Everyone was chill, even in the passionate articulation of a point. That was really fascinating. It was like catching lightning in a bottle. It may not happen again, and most will never experience it.
At the end of the day though, the J-man moment still fascinates me for both its simplicity and complexity. Why do you think that is?