A tiny town about 75 miles west of the farm where my great-great grandpa had workers who were not slaves because it wasn't allowed anymore even though they lived on the property, did the dirtiest of work, were paid with food scraps and an outhouse, and were called Negroes instead of men when written about as if they were a different species, altogether.
Eric Bishop was an exceptionally talented football player, student, and classical pianist. He would perform at the holiday parties of the elite in the area. How brightly-lit the houses, so gleaming the cars in the circular driveways.
It was at one of these colonial palaces that he had a life-changing moment when he knocked on the door and was greeted by what may or may not have been a perfectly pleasant man in all other ways. The story gets twisted. It's hard to be objective when you have human feelings and teams to pick. We get not being evolved confused with being an evil person.
The gentleman who answered the door gave Mr. Bishop a perfunctory greeting, and then followed with "your friend has to wait outside. I can't have two niggers in my house at one time'.*
And I thought being called fat was bad.
I am not going to put asterisks in the word like you all do. If I said it, I want you to roll the ugliness of it around on your tongue. We can't get rid of the ugliness until we really taste it. What do asterisks taste like? When we spit it into the napkin and tell the hostess it was tasty it doesn't help her be a better cook. I digress.
I know this because it was told to me by Mr. Bishop, now Mr. Foxx, at the Standard Hotel on a golden April day ten years ago. He related it to me as context after telling me that 'TC' (Tom Cruise) was the only 'white dude allowed in his house'. He must have realized what an odd thing to say it was so he gave me the details. You guys know I can't pass up a good story.
So I asked him how it made him feel. That's all. Floodgate opened. Holy fuck. Imagine that. A white girl asks a total stranger, a movie star, even, how he felt getting called a nigger. Wait. Is an honest conversation about race relations in America about to happen? Holy fucking crap. No way. YES WAY.
YES WAY YES WAY YES WAY.
You guys give the words so much power that you are all scared of them. They are words. They have no actual power. Asteroids and hurricanes have actual power.
Maybe you have to be on that side of it to feel safe talking about it. Maybe when you get called fat or fag or nigger a few times you are less invested in societal pleasantries than straight white liberal arts graduates who lived with their parents until after college and have never been truly fucked with in any substantial way but now rule the airwaves discussing bloody, gutty, true real tragedy in one breath and organic turkey in the next.
I don't know.
I spent all night talking to him about it. He even took a shower while I climbed around on that foot. Not putting out with anything but my brain. So fresh and so clean. He answered and asked and it was like every episode of all the Tavis Smiley/Rachel Maddow shows should be because Mr. Foxx is a warrior. A Gladiator, if you will and love Olivia Pope like I do.
Gladiators fight the lions while the Romans watch and comment. Gladiators kill the monsters you're sure live under your bed. Gladiators are not shocked and indignant when someone's throat is ripped out of their neck. Gladiators pick up that guy's shield and keep going.
Don't be scared to ask and say and do. Don't keep the truth hidden in your drawers. Get in the ring and swing your sword a few times. Gladiate.
*edited to reflect actual verbage. When Django came out a few years later, this was the story Mr. Foxx toldand though I'd already heard it, I may have gotten the words mixed up 5 margaritas deep. Sue me.