Millenials, the “N” word, and not-so-casual racism

I got my hair cut the other day at a new salon. My stylist was a young hipster in his 20’s. He had the typical hipster uniform: plaid shirt, long beard, and tattoos. He was nice and talkative, and as he worked we talked about a number of things. As he learned that I had two black children, the conversation turned to race.

He talked about the Oscars and asked what I thought about the protest in regards to the lack of minorities. I told him that I understood it. He nodded, but then added that “even my black friend was saying that it’s okay if some people are just naturally better at certain things than others. I mean, how many times to white people get the MVP award in professional sports? Different people are better at different things.”

white racist

And here I found myself in a totally awkward situation, because he’s expressing some seriously racist beliefs, but I’m now trapped with dye on my hair, and how far do I want to get into it? I said something about acting being unrelated to skin color and systemic racism, and let the topic die.

BUT THEN.

He wanted to talk more. And I had the distinct sense that he wanted to get some stuff off his chest and be validate by someone with black kids for his latent racism. He started talking about the N word, and why black people shouldn’t use it if they want white people to stop using it.

And here’s the thing. Up until this point, nothing he’s said has shocked me too much. He’s using somewhat coded language to try to dismiss instances of racism – white people pull this ish all the time. But then he says:

“I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’ve used the N word a few times, too. I’m not proud of it, but everybody does it. And if we want to stop using the word, everybody has to stop using it.”

Um, no, hipster man. Not everyone uses that word.

He then goes on to tell me the story of one of his white friends using the word in front of a black guy, and how he really put his foot in his mouth. And his emphasis in the retelling of this story is not on the fact that a person used the N word at all, but on the fact that he did it in mixed company. At which point, I had to ask, “I’m sorry. I need some context here. Why would someone use that word, every?”

And he explains that it was in the heat of the moment, during a sports event. “You know how it can be, when you are all caught up in the heat of the moment.”

No. I don’t know, I said back. And I had some words with him. And things were really quiet and tense until my hair was done.

Here is the thing that threw me off about this conversation. I know that Millennials can be hella racist. But usually it is under the guise of irony, or hidden in coded language. And while this guy obviously holds some racist views, he was also quick to talk about his Mexican girlfriend as if it was proof that he couldn’t possibly be racist. BUT HE ADMITTED TO USING THE N WORD. And told a story of a friend doing the same.

Help me out here. Is this a thing now?

I know that our country has a long and sordid history with this word, but I thought this was a thing that died out with the generation above mine. In all honesty, I have never, in my life, heard a white person use this word (outside of singing along to a rap song.) In my experience, it’s just something you don’t do. It’s something that would make you a social pariah . . . something that would lead to a record-scratch moment in which you were instantly judged and seen as being completely devoid of class. It’s something that only a trashy racist would ever say.

And I grew up in Florida. And am a good 20 years older than this guy.

So, tell me . . . is the casual use of this word a thing now? And why? Has a bunch of ironic hipster racism led to a generation of people who think this word is funny or casual or not a big deal? Because I cannot for the life of me figure out how this guy a) uses this word, and b) thought it was a thing he could admit to me in our first conversation.




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