After seeing the movie “The Help” on opening day, I couldn’t help think about a story I stumbled upon recently, another story that has not been told. I met a homeless white woman who lives out of her Volkswagon. She asked me to write her story and immediately I obliged. Then we got stuck on the word “nigger”.
I met her one morning when I was out on my power walk. She asked me to help her into K-Mart so she could use the bathroom. I did not realize initially that she was homeless. I saw only an elderly, kindly, caucasian woman who needed help. I returned her kindness and she mentioned that she has lots of stories to tell and would like to write a book. I told her that I am a writer and possibly could help her get her stories together. Since I had time, we bought a notepad and pen there on the spot and I began taking notes.
I was finding her story fascinating, insightful, at times witty, some parts wise, parts tragic. I ended up spending more time with her than I had planned. Traces of her story – her family history, current insights and observations – uncannily were similar to my own. Her story also seemed to me somewhat a cautionary tale.
I was with her, feverishly writing as she spoke, excited about encouraging her to tell her story – until she mentioned the “N” word. Obama’s not a nigger, she said. He’s not even an American, because he’s from Kenya. She wants to move out of this country because “The Russians” have taken over. She went on and on until I interrupted.
“What is a nigger?” I asked.
“You know,” she said, laughing. “My friends and I used to refer to you all as niggers. It’s a friendly term.”
“It’s an offensive term. A very, very offensive term,” I assured her.
Of course, I left her at the broken down car she sleeps in and returned to my comfortable home. I later thought about Dr. Cornel West’ statements about how middle-mainstream America is being “niggerized”, marginalized, ostracized. I’ll pray for the homeless white woman – and, yes, I’ll go back and help her tell her story. I know a compelling story when I stumble upon it.
In one of the wealthiest counties in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world, a white woman has been “niggerized.”
What’s a nigger? The American Heritage College dictionary defines it as, “a disparaging term for a member of any socially, economically, or politically deprived group of people.”
What should we title this story?