Children and the N Word

I remember every… single… time… someone called me a nigger. The neighbor across the street. The girl from my Girl Scouts troop. My roommate’s friend on my first day of college, not even two hours on the campus. The guy at the CVS. And the one at the Home Depot parking lot. And that fool who cussed me in Spanish because I almost hit his car trying to avoid a stalled car in my lane. The last one was just as shocking as the first one, and all of the others in between; one can never be fully prepared for that kind of abuse. My hurt felt all-the-more acute, I think, because my parents never talked to me about what the N word means—its history, its impact, how to get over the hurt, how to respond to the hate. I can’t blame them; what parent wants to tell her kid our world is full of ignoramuses who will call you awful names simply because your skin is brown?

I’ve had those hard conversations, though—been talking to my girlpies about that ugly word for quite some time. I know that they can never be truly ready to have it lobbed their way, but they know why someone would say it and why they should get pissed about it. They also know they have my full on permission to go ham on the person who says it.

Wait, what? Yes, I said that. *in my Tamar voice* My daughters have permission to put the paws on whoever dares call them that word. Because please know, I’m much more from the school of Malcolm than I am from the school of Martin: I firmly believe that we have the right to defend ourselves from fools who would dare heap mental, emotional or physical abuse on our persons. Word to Paula Deen.

I know, though, that not everyone feels the same—that there are parents who are teaching their children different when it comes to how they should deal with the hurt and pain that comes from racism. So tell me: what are you telling your kids about the “N” word, and how are you counseling them to respond to it?

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. This is a deep one for me. Like you, I was never told by mom or grandparents how to deal with being called a nigger. I was a sheltered kid and the way I heard about the “Movement” was when my aunts would come down from Chicago and my family would gather at the old home house and listen to the reel-to-reel tapes of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I would hide under the table and listen for hours until someone moved their foot and accidentally kicked me discovering my hiding place. Yet and still it was not discussed with me or my siblings. My first encounter with being called that heinous word was when I miscalled and reached an elderly white man who was clearly annoyed. I re-dialed and reached the same man only to be told, “I told you, you have the wrong number! Don’t you NIGGERS know how to read?!” I carry that with me to this day. My son is now 21 years old. A black man with dreads and a clear mind of who he is. I have discussed many times with him what to do and how to do it. In our discussions, I try to teach him to walk away, but I also advise that if he has to, he must defend his right to be called Jonathan and not NIGGER.

  2. Dr Dennis rahiim Watson

    You are a blessing to everyone who visits this site:you are the daughter of Harriet Tubman,sojourner truth and a god send to those who are afraid to speak truth to power.I am inspired,impacted,motivated and encouraged not from this site but also by your books on black male- female relationships.God has blessed you mightily and I want to send you a shout out to letbyou know that you are valued and talk and write in a style that’s real,down to down and profound.Continue to teach and continue to call us out on the nonsense we allow to take place in our communities each are a breath of fresh air and one can feel the love you have for your people and everybody are the type of black woman that president Obama needs as an advisor in these trying and uncertain times. In conclusion I honor your parents for the wonderful values they instilled in you,and I salute you for paying tribute to your awesome husband.may God bless your union so that you both continue to produce the type of books thatvreflect gospel music and Motown lyrics. We have a generation that is addicted to the N word 24 hours a day. We have young children listening to this madness plugged in on their way to schools on buses and subways. We have of single parents that are addicted to cell phones and non stop profanity. We have a hip hop generation that Luther vandross,Isaac Hayes, and Marvin Gaye would be ashamed of.Thanks a million for being a breath of fresh air!

  3. I, too, am more from the school of Malcolm than Martin. And I am white. This is because I have seen what happens to a person when he or she is called something terrible because they merely have darker skin or follow a different religion. And it is so stupid. And utterly mean and nasty. I fully support your decision to tell your children to defend themselves when people use racial slurs. Calling people on it is the only way individuals can hope to change things. Because you make it conscious and you embarrass them. Sorry, but if you use words like that, you deserve to be embarrassed.

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