I so wanted to like her, and I may be warming to her as I reflect on her short stories, but the casual use of the N word stupefies me. Of course, it isn’t her fault, she is merely reflecting the times as they were; therefore, I should be mad at those times, but it is O’Connor in my hands and in my head.
Was it Flannery O’Connor’s grandmother in A Good Man is Hard to Find or Sweetheart who said, “Oh look at the cute little pickaninny.” O’Connor may have written the words in the early 50s, but I heard them in the 70s from my own grandmother. Sweetheart had a habit of using the N word which was never watered down such as negro or colored. I loved her but had trouble figuring out why the obvious character flaw in her otherwise pleasant self.
All my grandparents were openly racist, yet my mother and father rejected their beliefs by buying music by Fats Domino. Sounds silly, but this was a major deal. White people were supposed to buy white music and black people were supposed to buy black music. Or, at least that is how the world turned in the South.
I approached the situation a little differently, I merely listened. Ns are dumb. Ns are lazy. Ns are dirty. As I became older, each one of the statements was debunked by my friend, Kenneth Moore. Our dads played tennis together, so we learned early, get lost. (Can you say ball girl?) Kenneth and I were the same age and went to the same schools. He always made better grades than me, was early to all classes, and looked like a model from the Sears catalog. I may have been white, but I was the N my grandparents warned me about, not him.
In O’Connor’s time, N occurred in everyday conversation. In present times it is a dirty word. Sweetheart, if you are reading this, I love you! But, say that word again and I’m gettin’ the soap.
Note: Fats Domino's mixed media portrait by Tami Ellis.