“The Help” for the Newly Niggerized

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?

Malcolm X, Manning Marable, and Me

The excerpts, for starters, proved uplifting for me. Reading excerpts from Manning Marable’s new controversial biography of Malcolm X, I was reminded of some of the “lessons” we learned inside Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam Schools, Muhammad’s Universities of Islam.  We were drilled, for instance, on Muhammad’s “Lesson #10: Why does Muhammad and any Muslim murder the devil? What is the duty of each Muslim in regards to four devils? What reward does a Muslim receive by presenting the four devils at one time?”

We were called on at our desk to stand and answer these questions. One of us young charges, dressed sharp in a long dress and head scarf, would stand and respond, soldier-like, “Because he is one hundred percent wicked and will not keep and obey the laws of Islam. His ways and actions are like that of a snake of the grafted type. So Muhammad learned that he could not reform the devil. So they had to be murdered. All Muslims will murder the devil because they know he is a snake and also if he be allowed to live he would sting someone else. Each Muslim is required to bring four devils, and by presenting four at one time his reward is a button to wear on the lapel of his coat, also free transportation to the Holy city Mecca.”

Marable’s book, particularly the interviews with some of the former members, will add historical context and overview to what was my personal experience in the NOI. I will pen a review of the book as soon as I have read and digested it completely. My experience in the NOI is shared in my memoir, LITTLE X: GROWING UP IN THE NATION OF ISLAM, and some of the bitter fall-out from the experience is detailed in my book, DO ME TWICE: MY LIFE AFTER ISLAM. But my years of reflection to finally make peace with that experience is something I will share as I reflect on Marable’s book.