A Black Student Has Been Making White Peers Pay To Say ‘N***a’ And His White Mom Didn’t Know What To Do About It
Noted Black writer, critic and commentator Jamilah Lemieux gave some sage advice to the mother.
July 28, 2020 at 2:04 pm
A white mom turned to Slate's parenting advice column for help in dealing with her 11-year-old adopted Black son who was caught by his sister selling "N-word passes" to his white friends at school.
The woman explains in her letter that she and her husband adopted two Black siblings as toddlers who are now 16 and 11 years old.
Recently, the older daughter, who the mom calls Taylor, pulled them aside and showed them screenshots explaining what their son Martin was doing.
"Taylor asked us after dinner if she could talk to us in private and showed us screenshots a friend had sent her. Apparently, Martin has been selling 'N-word passes' to kids at his middle school for $20-50! It’s been going on for weeks, and he had offered it to Taylor’s friend’s sister, who screenshot it and sent it to Taylor. They go to diverse schools for our area, but there are still a lot of white/non-Black kids there. Taylor told us that kids have been sending Martin money via Venmo, and she thinks he’s made almost $1,000," the letter read.
"Martin’s actions must have made his fellow Black classmates upset and uncomfortable, and I feel like a horrible mother and person. I thought we did a good job, but we must have done something wrong. We need to give him consequences, but I don’t know how extreme to go," the mother added.
Noted Black writer, critic and commentator Jamilah Lemieux was in charge of the column that week and provided some sage advice to the mother.
While also noting how hilarious the situation was, Lemieux dove into the seriousness of and the problem with Martin's actions.
She explained how difficult it was, even for Black parents, to stop kids from using foul language or inappropriate words and said that it made sense why Martin would think he has some ownership over the word as a Black person.
But she went on to call the boy "naïve and shortsighted" for trying to get paid for something that his friends were probably doing anyway.
"What Martin must understand is that while some of his classmates have played along with this charade, none of them who purchased his 'passes' were actually waiting for anyone’s permission to say 'n***a.' Furthermore, as they are unable to access the experiences that come with being a 'n***a,' he ought to spend some serious time considering that while he can pretend as though he is giving his friends access to one of the 'fun' parts of being Black, they will be spared the disenfranchisement and toll that comes with this identity—which should bother him," Lemieux wrote in her response.
Lemieux touched on the difficult spot the white parents are in when it comes to regulating their Black children's use of the N-word. After stating that the white parents have every right to ban the word from being used in their home, she said that there is little they can do to fully explain the complicated history of the word, especially to Black people.
"Black people have an infinitely more complex relationship to the term, and he’ll have to learn how to grapple with that without doing something that could cause harm to other Black folks and/or his friends who were 'waiting' for permission to use it. Hopefully, there is a Black adult in Martin’s life—a godparent, a neighbor, etc.—whom he is close enough to that they can help you with this conversation," Lemieux said.
"It sounds like Martin needs a reminder as to how 'n***as' are treated by our society and why he has very little to gain and a lot to lose from cheapening his people’s experiences to make a quick buck. It would be ideal for him to hear that from someone who has experienced the anti-Blackness that brought the word to life in the first place," she added.
Poignantly, Lemieux wrote that Martin has to understand that allowing white people to use the word around him is "a betrayal of the Black folks who would be upset at such a thing—aka the majority of Black people."
She urged the parents to find out how the other Black children at Martin's school have felt about his actions and figure out why there are no other Black children around him telling him why this was so wrong.
"If he and his sister are not regularly finding themselves in a community with children who look like them, then that is something you’ll have to address. Black kids who don’t have healthy social interactions with other Black kids have a world of trouble waiting for them," Lemieux said.
The white parents, she said, should contact each parent of the children who purchased the passes and let them know what happened so that everyone can understand how wrong it is for white people to say the N-word under any circumstances.
Unfortunately, Martin's business is not an original idea. Just last year, white children at Winston Churchill High School in Maryland were caught trading "N-word passes" in an incident that gained national prominence after some of the kids and their parents refused to admit that what they did was wrong, WJLA reported.
NEW: Students caught exchanging "N-word passes" Friday at Churchill H.S. in Bethesda.— Kevin Lewis (@ABC7Kevin) February 12, 2019
The pieces of paper gave passholders "permission" to use the N-word.
MCPS hasn't said how many students/passes were involved. We also don't know if the students were black, not black or both. pic.twitter.com/VN4B2Zx57Z
The term "N-word pass" is often associated with the controversial idea that non-Black people are allowed to say n***a when singing along to lyrics or referencing the words of another Black person. There have been dozens of essays over the years repeatedly reminding non-Black people that there is absolutely no reason for anyone who is not Black to use the word.
As Blavity previously reported, actress Gina Rodriguez was under fire last year for posting a video of herself singing the N-word while listening to a famous song from The Fugees. Rodriguez, who is not Black, released multiple apologies and was flamed on the internet for initially trying to defend her right to say the word.