“Goddamned nigger!” I hear a Caucasian male voice raised in anger. The words slice through me like the point of a spear, gutting the calmness of my day. I try to concentrate on my paper, but the words hang menacingly in the air.
“Goddamned nigger!” he repeats, dripping hate with every syllable. There is another murmur of voices, followed by laughter.
My heart starts to pound. I want to run, escape this sound. But where can I go? I’m already at home, a place where I should be safe. I feel as if I have been assaulted. Why did the man shout the words? Did he want for me to hear them? Tears well up in my eyes. A hard chunk of trepidation rises up in my throat. The words continue to reverberate. My home has been invaded, and something precious has been stolen from me: peace.
I don’t live in a “bad” neighborhood. It is close to the university, and lots of students live here. But hate has no educational restrictions; it knows no socioeconomic boundaries.
I take a shower. As the hot water flows, I think about how many times I have heard that word in Sacramento. I have heard it spat on the sidewalk like phlegm as I waited for my light-rail train.
I came to California from Pennsylvania in search of a better life and an atmosphere of tolerance. But in 30 years in Pennsylvania, I never heard the N-word as much as I have heard it during my 13 years in Sacramento.
After my shower, my hands are still shaking. The water has not washed away my feelings of sadness and vulnerability. I return to the living room. My feelings of personal security have been shattered, never to return.
As I write this, Black History Month, a month devoted to celebrating the accomplishments of African-Americans, is winding down. But in spite of my postgraduate education and my personal accomplishments, I know that to many people in Sacramento and in the rest of the country, I am, and always will be, nothing but a “goddamned nigger.”