Skip to main content

young black man crying
I thought I knew all about why it was wrong to use the n-word. Having taught and written about racism in America, I've read the words of those a scholar would read: David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. Dubois, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Cornel West. But it was a football player who really touched me when he explained just what a black person feels when he hears that vile slur.

This month Cris Carter was inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame. He appeared last Thursday on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike,” and talked about his playing days and his upcoming book. Co-host Mike Greenberg then turned to another subject. A few days before the Hall of Fame inducted Carter, a visibly angry Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver named Riley Cooper was caught on tape using the aforementioned slur. He announced that he would “fight every n-----” at a Kenny Chesney concert.

The Eagles fined and suspended Cooper, sending him to counseling for four days and then allowing him to return to practice. The team’s best player, runningback LeSean McCoy, said that he forgives Cooper, but noted his pain as well over “losing a friend ... I can’t respect a guy like that.”

Back to the radio interview, where Greenberg asked Carter for his perspective on what Cooper had said and how he might feel having Cooper as a teammate. Carter talked about how difficult forgiveness would be. He doubted that Cooper really understood “the magnitude of that word ... how harmful it can be.” Carter then laid it out for Cooper, and for anyone listening.

“He does not know,” Carter said of Cooper, “how many people in my race that that was the last word they heard before they died.” Those words came out of my car radio speakers and took my breath away. I’m lucky no other driver picked that moment to stop short in front of me.

Listening to those words again just now, I hear the depth of emotion behind them. I also hear something I didn’t pick up when I first heard Carter’s voice: seven thumps—which can only be him pounding his hand on a hard surface—emphasizing each of the seven words that ended his comment: Last. Word. They. Heard. Before. They. Died.

Please follow me for more after the fold.

I had long known it was a word that slaveowners had used, that Klansmen had used, that whites (and not a few non-whites) have aimed at black Americans in every region of our country right up to the present day. Cris Carter was the one who truly humanized the experience for me (others, including Oprah Winfrey just this month, have expressed similar sentiments). I thought about a man hearing that word ringing in his ears as he hung from a tree, struggling to draw his last breath, or a woman hearing it just before she was whipped into unconsciousness. I envisioned African Americans seeing those images when they heard that word.

Carter didn’t provide a number, but almost 3,500 black Americans were lynched in the years after 1882 (no reliable statistics exist before that year). How many tens of thousands of others were murdered by one method or another in the name of white supremacy? How many countless others were tortured or beaten? Historians can only guess.

We have made tremendous progress as a society when it comes to racism. However, we have by no means conquered it. It would be a great thing if no one ever used that word to slur a black person again, if the use of all hateful slurs simply ceased. Such developments, however, would not end the discrimination black Americans face today, or undo the legacy of the even harsher discrimination of the past. Such developments wouldn’t educate any children, lift any families out of poverty, or eliminate racial disparities in drug sentencing. But they would mean a great deal.

My hope is that all the people who heard Cris Carter felt what I felt. My hope is that hearing directly from someone about the pain and hurt racism doles out leads great numbers of people to not just avoid the worst of racial slurs, but to take active steps to bring about greater justice.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 01:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, Black Kos community, and White Privilege Working Group.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Meteor Blades, Kestrel, jo fish, CJB, Odysseus, hester, teacherken, Scott Martin, Dave the Wave, greenbird, sacrelicious, surfbird007, Noelle in MPLS, billlaurelMD, rubyr, awhitestl, grover, expatjourno, entlord, boadicea, shanikka, mkfarkus, vmibran, smokem2271, Voter123, psnyder, Egberto Willies, KayCeSF, Josiah Bartlett, xxdr zombiexx, Sassy, sebastianguy99, historys mysteries, marina, radarlady, SisTwo, PDiddie, wallys son, basquebob, YucatanMan, Laurence Lewis, Kevskos, bleeding blue, kaliope, FindingMyVoice, bunsk, peacestpete, begone, Nance, snazzzybird, 417els, tobendaro, emeraldmaiden, BeadLady, Kimball Cross, raptavio, seefleur, arlene, fou, twigg, 4Freedom, gpoutney, JVolvo, justiceputnam, onionjim, bartcopfan, tegrat, Habitat Vic, tgypsy, Dartagnan, aravir, karmsy, flumptytail, Dave in Northridge, mommyof3, deepeco, joedemocrat, jnhobbs, OIL GUY, cececville, on the cusp, TomP, VA Breeze, also mom of 5, JaxDem, Port City Moon, DarkHawk98, 6412093, bythesea, Buckeye Nut Schell, Lujane, rssrai, royce, smartdemmg, Gemina13, glendaw271, Gentle Giant, sewaneepat, JamieG from Md, Mayfly, JBL55, legendmn, ARS, LinSea, bobatkinson, dharmasyd, janmtairy, WakeUpNeo, earicicle, CamillesDad1, DefendOurConstitution, dRefractor, Joealan, Denise Oliver Velez, Kysen, Black Kos, NJpeach, gramofsam1, Susan Grigsby, Observerinvancouver, UTvoter, BenderRodriguez, freeport beach PA, hepshiba, k8dd8d, elginblt, Kristina40, Yasuragi, Oh Mary Oh, stevenaxelrod, slice, theKgirls, Onomastic, annieli, Maximilien Robespierre, I love OCD, vahana, FarWestGirl, cama2008, Ricochet67, IllanoyGal, MacDaffy, SueM1121, worldlotus, peregrine kate, CorinaR, stevie avebury, ratcityreprobate, SoCalSal, SteelerGrrl, weinerschnauzer, Chitown Kev, Kurt from CMH, Azazello, YaNevaNo, AnnetteK, stormicats, The Lone Apple, a2nite, swampyankee, CA ridebalanced, Horace Boothroyd III, stellaluna, carolanne, belinda ridgewood, willrob, Laiane, pdxteacher, bewareofme, pittie70, linlu, jennyp, terrybuck, arizonablue, jeannew, dotdash2u, Marjmar, ShoshannaD, Hammerhand, Sue B, GoGoGoEverton, Blue Bell Bookworm, nomandates, IamGumby, koosah, Late Again, remembrance, dennis1958, Says Who, aresea, Urban Owl, Vienna Blue, alice kleeman, Aunt Pat, Jollie Ollie Orange, howabout, northerntier, LaraJones, Icicle68, starfu, GrannyRedBird, blue91, aging exhippie, pragmaticidealist, LilithGardener, Politikator09, northcountry21st, starduster, lbl1162, htowngenie, richardvjohnson, Elizaveta, Kit RMP

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site