Working While Black: My CoWorker Keeps Using The N Word
As told to Veronica Wells
This school year, I started working as a music teacher for this charter school in Brooklyn. The job is awesome. The children are amazing and hilarious, especially the kindergarteners. The administrators are actually more concerned about what the children learn, as opposed to test results and I’m passionate about what I do.
The school even has a chef that comes in to cook for the teachers. I’m talking about delicious meals, with all food groups represented. Anyway, since the food is so good, many of the teachers eat lunch together.
During our daily lunches, the theater teacher, a Latina woman, took a liking to me. Really, she would have taken a liking to anyone who listened to her. And it just so happened to be me. It wasn’t even a week before I learned that she was rather lonely, even though she lived with her mother and was in a long term relationship.
She was always telling about the ways in which her mother was getting on her nerves and was trying to control her life, even though she’s a grown woman. Her mother doesn’t like her boyfriend and they constantly get into fights about it.
As a woman, who hasn’t lived with my mother in years, I advise her to just move out. But she claims she’s trying to save money to pay off her student loans. So she puts up with her mother’s nagging.
As the days, weeks and months passed, this woman got more and more comfortable with me. In between classes, she’d come in my room to chat. And if we both stayed late after school, she’d almost always find herself in my room, just hanging out, attempting to avoid going home to her mother.
During one of these nights, she started talking about a conversation she had with some man in the street.
She was going on and on and I was tuning in and out, when I heard her say,” You know, and I’m saying to this guy, ‘Yo my n-gga you need to…”
She said it so quickly, that I brushed it off, figuring I’d misheard her.
But then, later that week, speaking about another student, she said the word again. “That dude is just a n-gga.”
Now, I’m wondering if I should address it or not. There are people in the Latino population who identify as Black. But looking at her, I can’t see why she would. She’s fair skinned, you know, more European than African. I’ve never heard her say anything about being Afro-Latino.
This all happened two weeks ago and I’ve been asking my friends how I should handle the situation, should I hear her use the word again. And I’m sure I will, based on the sheer amount to time she spends talking.
Should I ask her if she identifies as Black? Tell her she shouldn’t use the word around people who are visibly Black, because it might offend them or compromise her safety? Since I don’t necessarily regard her as a friend, more like an associate, I’m not afraid of losing the relationship and am open to anything.
What would you do in this situation?