Friday, April 17, 2009

Question about using the N-word (contains the actual word)

So I started reading this book called Hoops of Steel by John Foley. I'm into basketball books right now. I still have to finish the Perfect Shot but I wanted a light book to carry around today because I'm going to be walking around.

I got through a few pages on the bus and then I had to stop because I was kind of offended. Let me share the passage:

"Dad," Danny said. "this is Jackson O'Connell from Highland."

"What, you bring the enemy into my place of work?" his father asked with a wink at me. Then he came over and shook hands. "Sure, I remember you, lefty with the quick step. Was wondering what happened to you last year."

"Broken hand," I said. "Had to sit out."

"How're you guys looking next year?"

"Not as good as Shoreview."

"That's because you don't have any niggers up there in Highland," he said. "You need some niggers to compete nowadays."

"Dad," Danny complained, noticing my discomfort. "Remember, you promised Mom to stop using the N-word?"

"Okay, blacks, coons, whatever, you know what I mean."

Danny rolled his eyes and smiled at me. "African-American is the preferred reference," he said.

"You're sounding more like a lawyer every day," Mr. Larson said. "And it's not preferred by me. What a stupid name. Too long, and it gives the idea they're some special kind of Americans. You hear me calling myself an Anglo-American, for crissake?"

"We're gonna go shoot some hoops before you really get rolling, Dad."

Mr. Larson put his hand around Danny' shoulder. "Yeah, go have some fun," he said. They were close, talking to each other like friends, and it made me a little jealous.

I'm not offended because of the use of the N-word or anything. I mean, people talk like that, I get it. And people don't say anything, and it's all laughed off and continued. I can't change it. But the part that offends me is the narrator really doesn't have any reaction at all to the language, except for his friend Danny noticing some discomfort. But after that what he takes away from the conversation is that Danny and his dad are close, which is all well and good, but what about what Danny's dad was saying?

I'm not saying his reaction should be, oh my God, I can't believe Danny's dad said that, it's so RACIST!

Maybe he's like, I admired that Danny tried to correct his dad but that's how all the guys talked in Shoreview, so it wasn't a big deal.

Or maybe, Danny's dad seemed so different from Danny, even though they acted like friends. I wondered how Danny's dad acted around the black members of Danny's team, if he watched his language around them.

Or maybe, I walked out of the store with Danny, feeling uncomfortable. It didn't feel right to listen to someone using derogatory slurs but it wasn't my place to say anything. Besides, they don't even apply to me.

Point is, I'm not saying there should be some big moral lesson in this but I feel like... well there should be some payoff, otherwise using the N-word is just gratuitous. What was the point? If it's to show that Danny's dad is an asshole, well the narrator (his name is Jackson) didn't even think that or hint at that or say that. If it's to say that Shoreview is a tough town then... I'm still waiting for that too. I'm just waiting for more. I know we're supposed to show not tell when we write but when you show it should be sort of obvious what you're telling, if you know what I mean.

Maybe I'm thinking too much about this. I just think it's really weird and I didn't enjoy it because it just seemed to be there to be there. If you wanna show Danny and his dad are close do they really have to bond over Danny telling him not to use the N-word?

Anyway, I may just be getting ahead of myself or ranting for no reason. I flipped through a few pages after that and didn't see any further discussion but I'm only 15 pages into the book so maybe it's too early for judgement.

What do you think? Am I looking too deeply into this?

I'll keep you updated.

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