Griffin Speaks


THE WORD NIGGER


Langston Hughes in his 1940 memoir “The Big Sea” remarked that the word “nigger” to colored people is like a red rag to a bull. On Tuesday, July 27th 2004 My three kids and me traveled to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia to pick up my nephew, Melvin J. As we waited at Air Tran Gate C for Melvin J. to arrive from Winston Salem, North Carolina we encountered an experience we shall never forget. 

Greg Jr. Alexis and Chris were all excited about the arrival of Melvin J. I was able to convince the ticket agent to give me passes so that all of us could go to the gate. We arrived at Gate C and immediately took our seats. Approximately five minutes after we sat down, a cute little white girl who looked like Goldie Hawn about three years old came over and began to sing a song to us. She threw her hair back swung her hips and stared Alexis straight in the eye and sang, “Nigger Number 1; she then moved over and began to sing to Chris, she sang Nigger number 2; she then looked me straight in the eye and sang Nigger number 3, and finally she looked at Greg Jr. and sang Nigger number 4”. By this time my kids were rolling on the floor with laughter. I was in shock. I debated as to whether I should say something to her mother who was talking on her cell phone a couple of rows from us. I decided to let it pass. The mother sounded like she was from South Africa. I didn’t want to get involved in an incident and have to call Atty. Lewis Gillis to bail me out of jail in Atlanta. Thirty minutes later a Jamaican couple sat across from us. Five minutes after they sat down the little white girl returned. This time she looked at the Jamaican woman who wore dread locks and sang “ Nigger Number 1” The Jamaican woman looked at her husband as though she was about to have a heart attack. This time the little girl’s mother heard what she said and admonished her for singing that song in public.

 The word “nigger” is a significant term in our American culture. It is a racial slur that is hurtful and intended to stigmatize African Americans. I admonished my kids for finding the little girl’s action funny. I explained to them that the word “nigger’ has accompanied many beatings, lynchings and acts of arson against African Americans. It is the ultimate phrase of bigotry.

 Some states link the use of the word “nigger” with a threatening work environment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not. The federal courts have held that only sexually offensive terms create a hostile workplace. As often as African Americans call each other “nigger” it is definitely not safe for a white person to do so. I hope that the little white girl does not grow up thinking that other blacks will laugh when she sings her little song. 

Almost every time that I go to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport I run into someone that I know. On this last occasion it looked as though I wouldn’t see anyone familiar. At last we get on the subway headed to the baggage area when former Governor Don Seigelman enters the subway. I said, “Well good evening Governor!” He smiled and said “Hey Greg! How are you?” I told him that I thought that he would be in Boston at the convention. He said that he was returning from Boston because he had a hearing before Judge U. W. Clemmon the next day. I told him that I wished him well and hope that things work out for him. He thanked me and exited the subway just before the baggage stop. 

It was an exciting trip full of surprises.  

Greg Griffin is a free lance writer. You can read his previous articles by visiting his web page at www.greggriffin.com

 


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