What To Do When Someone Uses the N Word Around You

Maybe you’ve seen the shaky phone videos pop up in your Twitter and Facebook feeds, or you’ve heard folks talking about them in the office kitchen — evidence of white folks behaving badly.  Really badly.  Like truly despicably.  They are all the rage in this age of America reclaiming its greatness.

It feels to me that hate has come out of the closet.  People are feeling emboldened and justified in spewing their ugliness, tossing it around like confetti at a parade.  It makes my stomach turn.  I miss the days when folks knew enough to hide their hate and censure themselves.

Over the weekend a Facebook friend posted about this exchange she had while running into her local 7-11:


See, now, this ain’t right.  None of this is right or okay or acceptable in any way, shape, or form.  And I think it is happening more and more.  Somehow presidential politics has opened up Pandora’s box of hate and it shows no signs of closing anytime soon.

Full disclosure, I have wondered more than once what I might do if I saw something like this happen in front of me.  Would I whip out my phone, record the hate, then use my platform to shame the person?  Would I avert my eyes and go about my business, embarrassed and ashamed about what just happened?  Would I reach out to the victim of the assault?  Would I find my nearest soap box, hop on it, and exclaim, loud and proud, that hate and bigotry are unacceptable?

What I love about Tyra’s suggestion about how to address racist behaviors in your presence, is that it requires action and participation. It’s not enough to think racism is wrong.  It’s not enough to not engage in overt acts of racism yourself.  It’s not enough to apologize and sympathize with those being targeted.  Say something.  Do something.  Own that shit.  “Racists should feel uncomfortable, not the rest of us,” says Tyra.  She’s right.


And check your own prejudices.  Tyra points out that the racist man who called her a “n-gger b-tch” was not a “hillbilly confederate” rolling coal in his American made pick-up with a southern flag waving behind him and a wad of tobacco in his cheek.  Nope.  This was a middle-aged dad and his young daughter, well dressed, white, and driving a late model SUV in 2017 Chicago.  Not exactly the first stereotype of a racist that comes to mind.  Hate is everywhere, folks.

The advice Tyra gives is to reclaim the space around hate.  Call it out. Make it clear that hate and bigotry are not acceptable.  Tyra wants us to “Require [racists] to be better people.”  I don’t know if that is possible, but it is possible to put a light on hate and state clearly, loudly, openly, and without shame or fear, that hate and bigotry have no place in our presence.

And, as a white gal, I want to say this so other white folks get it.  Racism is our problem to solve.  White people need to take ownership of racism and how it impacts all of us in ways big and small, overt and covert.  We need to listen, see, absorb, and acknowledge.  We need to understand how we benefit and have benefited from racist systems, practices, and institutions. Real estate, public education, the criminal justice system, and our health care system are perpetrators of racism just as much as that white dude with his daughter and his SUV calling Tyra a “n-gger b-tch” was.

Tyra presents a challenge when you see someone acting overtly racist — see it, acknowledge it, own it, feel a responsibility to change it. And I would suggest that we don’t have to wait for some hating, SUV driving, mouthy, bigoted dad to spout off before we start, because racism is all around us all the time.  Own that shit.

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