My kids were raised in a tiny mountain town in Colorado. I’d bring them to the Gulf Coast to visit yearly. One visit, we ran into one of Dad’s old friends. I’d known this man when I was growing up but he’d never met my children. (These two were 5 and 3 at the time.)
He and I did the quick catch-up. He asked the 5 year old “What’s it like to live up in the mountains? ” or some version of a grown-up trying to chat with little kids.
(We’d just had a mountain lion pacing in our driveway the day before we were to leave for our annual trip. It was big and my little kids were playing outside. I quietly told them to slowly walk backwards to me. I was as scared as I’d ever been at this point. The mountain lion stopped pacing. It did not advance towards them. They calmly walked backwards to me. The length of the driveway seemed forever that day. All ended well.)
My 5 year old innocently replied to Dad’s friend that we’d just had a mountain lion in our yard. His immediate response was “It’s better than having a nigger sneaking around your yard.” Excitedly my two year old loudly asked: “What’s a nigger??? It is bigger than a mountain lion? Is it bigger than a T-Rex?”
The man stared at me. His face turned pale. His eyes got wide. He questioned me, “Seriously, your kids don’t know what that word means?” Embarrassed for all of us, my dad said, “No, these kids truly have no idea what you are talking about. Want to tell them?” After an awkward moment, we exchanged an uncomfortable goodbye.
Dad told them that the man had been robbed recently and he was probably still worried about being robbed again. Fear made his brain not use his words right.
Quickly, I assured the kids that they didn’t need to worry about a T-Rex coming into the yard; remember the T-Rex is extinct. Gently, I explained that the word was only used by people who did not know the right words to use. That this man had probably just forgotten the right word. Our family doesn’t use that word, ever. It is never the right word.
We intentionally avoided assigning color to the word. Dad and I had both heard people of all color use the N word with one another. The N word is a word that kids will add to their vocabulary if they hear it. If they hear it; teach them not to use it. Make the word extinct.