The ‘N’ Word

n word nieema fosterAs a parent I want to protect my children from anything and everything that could hurt them, but realistically that’s not possible. The best I can do is prepare them as well as I can for dealing with and overcoming those issues as they come up. Of course some of the biggest issues that could hurt them come from factors they have absolutely no control over, a fact that hurts even more because, even though I wouldn’t want them to change to fit someone else’s standard, at least it is a flexible thing. When someone hurts either of my children, for whatever reason, though, I am like a papa bear who wants to rip down the entire forest to get justice.

I knew from a young age that if I ever brought children into the world they would be judged, not merely on their mental capacity, or on their empathetic scale, or even on the style of dress they fancied, but also on the color of their skin. Even when I grew older and married a woman who just happened to be white, I knew that skin color would still be an issue, because our children would never be “just” white, so they would be different, especially around here. Yes, we’ve made some great gains in race relations and issues surrounding the tension therein, but prejudice still abounds, even if it is done more subtly now than ever before.

In the class photos you can see the differences, in the abundance of curly, kinky hair, in the fullness of the lips, in the curve of the nose. These characteristics she inherited from me, and I’m proud of that, that I can see some of myself, and of my heritage, in her, even just physically. She gets so much from her mother too, but the one thing that stands out most, especially when looking at the class photos, is her skin color. There is a bit of a Mariah Carey light mocha coloring she has that is so beautiful to me, but I know when others see it they have their own ideas. I will honestly never know why, but some people can’t stand what they don’t understand.

When we are out and about without my wife, it’s interesting to see how differently people treat us, and how they treat me in particular. We are a black family when I am with my children on my own. It’s plain to see when older black women smile at the kids, as if they were their own grandchildren, or when we pass older white couples who look at us like we’re a completely new species. These same older black women, and these same older white couples, treat us differently when we are all together. In fact, they tend to ignore us and go about their business. They don’t “get” us. They can’t wrap their brains around an interracial couple, a mixed race family, even now, in this day and age.

The first time I heard someone use the ‘N’ word I was probably about 8 years old and it was on my block, a place comprised of all black folk, and the term was meant to be endearing. Continue reading “The ‘N’ Word”

The Dumbing Down of Language

127192508_640When I first began teaching ninth grade English I remember thinking about the language I was going to use and whether or not the students would understand the way I normally convey language. And the thought process was all tied up and twisted together with the zone of proximal development I had learned in my education program in school, the process of learning that forces kids to stretch beyond their normal reach but not so far that they get frustrated. It also provides for some scaffolding to help kids reach that level instead of letting them flounder out there. But I think for ease’s sake, too many teachers, nay, too many parents, participate instead in the dumbing down of language.

My mother used language that I didn’t understand all the time when I was growing up, but she also encouraged us to ask questions, and the same was true when reading books. One of the biggest issues most kids have when it comes to tackling large words when reading is that they want everything given to them. As a parent it’s hard to watch your children struggle with doing anything, much less trying to tackle words that are a bit too big for them, but one of the worse things you can do is to make it too easy for them. They won’t learn the glory of perseverance and the satisfaction of achievement, and they will take too much for granted. My mother believed in that philosophy, making sure she never gave me or my sister those words, providing us with support with letter sounds and blends, but never handing it over pre-packaged. And I appreciate her for that. Continue reading “The Dumbing Down of Language”

That’s So Gay

Student: That’s so gay.
Me: I don’t think that’s what you mean.
Student: Uh, yeah, I mean it.
Me: Gay? Really?
Student: See, this guy was hitting on this other guy.
Me: Well, then I guess that would be gay.

When I was in high school, there were several things the cool kids (and sometimes even the not so cool kids) would say recurringly to demean me. They would call me four eyes, which was okay because I wore glasses. They would call me Urkel, because I reminded them of that nerdy character from TV. I admit I did look somewhat like him. And they would call me gay. I never quite understood that one, though. Continue reading “That’s So Gay”

Grammatical Faux Pas

Grammar! Grammar! Oh yeah!

A friend of mine challenged me the other day over my use of the word “less” when I really meant to say “fewer.” When I looked back it in stark black and white there was honestly no way I could defend my position, and I felt beyond embarrassed. For me, an English teacher, who knows all of the rules, to blatantly demolish one because I was tired when I wrote the phrase was an untenable position. I immediately deleted it and hoped no one else had seen the horror that was my grammatical faux pas. But we are all human. Here are some of the more egregious grammatical faux pas I have seen and heard: Continue reading “Grammatical Faux Pas”

Dueling Dialects

I remember the first time my wife heard me speaking on the phone with my mother. Her mouth was on the floor by the time the conversation was over, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. For the entire second half of the phone call I kept shooting her looks that meant, “What’s the deal?” … Continue reading Dueling Dialects