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The N word

Here is something I wrote... many years ago.

I co-wrote a musical called Sammy & Me many years ago with the incredible Wendy Dann. We wrote a dual biography of Sammy Davis, Jr's life and my life. During our initial writing back in 2006, I sent her some free writing. I recently discovered "something I wrote...many years ago".

This is sad. Since BLM became illuminated in the summer of 2020, I have been asked by several different friends, colleagues, educators, and organizations to share my thoughts on the current state of race relations in America. What books to read, what programs to watch...all of that. At first I took offense. it's not my duty or job to teach people about racism and quite honestly I have been writing, addressing and performing work about racism for many years. Almost my entire career. It's weird to me that America is becoming "woke" (I don't really like that word) to issues regarding race. There are so many Films, TV shows, Recordings etc that have been focused on the plight of racism in this country. We watch these programs, we read these books and we acknowledge their existence by participating in the storytelling. So why do people feee the need to act like these stories haven't been shared? I just simply cannot believe that people haven't saturated these stories over the years. What's the point? I guess it's just unreal to people and they just watch and avoid mental immersion. They must watch it as an entertainment only. They've stopped learning or maybe never even started. Me? I just needed time. Time to think about how racism in America has affected my life. It's a lot. It has taken a full summer to gain the strength to share my thoughts here today. I still don't know how I truly feel. It's so painful. So numbing. So exhausting.

Regardless, I was happy to discover material that I wrote in the past. Words meant to inspire content for a musical about myself and SD,Jr.

Here's an excerpt I wrote in 2006...

Nigger. What a nasty, hateful word. I can’t remember the first time I was called one. I must have been very young. My parents were and still are very strict about language. The use of profanity in the houses where I was raised in was not tolerated and is still frowned upon. My Dad is the one who is the most sensitive. I remember being told that the N-word was never to be used to address anyone at anytime. It was worse than telling someone that you hated them. I understood and never entertained the thought of using it. Ever. Even now as an adult.

I do remember being called a “nigger” several times in elementary school, middle school and high school. It always started out with a sense of discovery in elementary school; another student coming up to me at the playground saying something like “my Dad says niggers are poor” or “my brother said you’re a nigger.” In middle school it was used to hurt and embarrass; “you’ve got nigger naps” or “ …of course you’re a fast runner, all niggers are.” In high school my peers weren’t as vicious but they were very ignorant. The use of the word when it was supposed to pertain to me would come through a bad joke or a quote from some movie. It was always a constant reminder that my upbringing was unique. The words would shock me back into a reality that many of my friends didn’t have to deal with. The difference in the color of my skin.

When I went to college most of the students who even dared to use the word were blatantly ignorant. The mix of people from other parts of the country gave way for several different views.

This is what I do remember:

I was called a nigger in middle school by Mark W*****. I hate that I remember his name. He thought he was being brave and funny in front of his friends and threw the word at me so easily I immediately knew it was used in his household regularly. The beyond hateful insult landed on my skin so hard that I couldn’t react. I stood there and nodded my head slowly saying only “ok.” Almost like every thing went into slow motion. We went to eat lunch in the cafeteria and I remember staring at him from across the room. As we headed back to class I followed him. I was wearing a pair of pointed toe Dingo cowboy boots that I saved up for. I was very proud of them. It was the 80's so it was a big deal to have them. In the suburbs at least. As we approached the library a burning sensation came over me. My insides started to flare and before I knew it I found myself running at full speed towards him until my foot came out from under me kicking him very hard in his ass. He dropped to the floor in pain and I got in his face to say “call me a nigger again!” He looked back at me while his friend tried to help him up from the ground in utter shock and complete disbelief that the words he’d spoken gave me reason to kick his ass. The funny thing is that I looked around to see if anyone heard me say the word. I was afraid I'd get in trouble for using the word not for kicking him. It was a great day. One of the first times I ever stuck up for myself and one of the first times something I saved up for was put to good use. Unfortunately, it was just the beginning of a scholastic career that would always be tainted by name calling.

In college my roommate and I came home from a day of classes only to discover that our dorm room door had the N-word written on our message board in marker. Disgusting. Funny thing was missing one letter. "G." Come on...if you're going to insult someone at least spell it right. The person must've been so scared to write it that they had to rush before someone saw them or they were really stupid and didn't deserve to be at Ithaca College at all.

In my senior year of college I was called a nigger by a black man who felt that I was the “coon” of the Drama dept. A mtg was held on campus by the African-Latino Society on the subject. The theatre dept opened up all auditions for the musical HAIR to the whole campus in hopes of finding more people of color to participate. When a gentleman of color claimed he'd auditioned and didn’t get a part in the production he was offended and made it known that Eric Jordan Young was the only Black guy or shall I say “nigger” the drama dept paid attention to. I had to go to this mtg to defend my position in the dept, my goals in life and the fact that the guy didn’t even audition which is why he didn’t get the show. Now that was some bullshit. There I was, an honor student in my fourth year standing trial in front of my peers over some bullshit that was all based on jealousy and untruths. All the while being called a "nigger" too. As if.

I can't write anymore. I'd love to tell you the story about being pulled over in Virginia by the cops but I need a moment. Ugh. Hateful and exhausting.

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