I’ve told this story to people in a variety of ways. Usually in person where I can make my expressions clear, where I can read body language to know if I’ve said something terrible dumb. I know I’ve written it out though, somewhere. Maybe in a blog entry I never posted because as a white person, I get worried that I’m going to fuck up my intent or that my privilege will be so blinding that no matter how well I tell the story, it’ll be wrong and bad and upset people.
Which is ridiculous on some levels because I’m often wrong, bad, and upsetting to people, it’s just that usually when I’m like that, it’s my intent. When it’s not, I stay up nights and curl around my stupidity and call it nasty names as if that will change anything. What’s said is said and there’s not much one can do after the apologies have been given and received. After that is all recriminations.
This story is simple. Fifteen years ago, a poster for The Tigger Movie was up at a local theater. This was before my aversion to theaters and the headaches they’d cause. And yes, headaches now, though before that I claimed an aversion to the smell of popcorn and teenage cum. Both are true for a value of what true even means in the world.
I’ll just say that I am no longer a movie-goer, but at the time I was. I was there with my husband and his heterosexual life partner and we were babbling before the movie as we waited to get in. I don’t know what movie it was for. I wasn’t paying attention who was around us. I was in my own bubble, surrounded by friends and as a lover of Eeyore, I saw that The Tigger Movie was coming out with an exclamation buoyed by manic glee, “Oooh, a TIGGER MOVIE!!!!”
The truth of my social awkwardness lays somewhere in between reality and my feeling that at some point, I will say something so terrible that I will have to be dragged into the town square where I will be humiliated before being put to death. So it was with a sort of inevitable weariness that when a small group of black teens whirled around and glared at me I thought, “Yeah, that seems about right.”
I went over what I’d said. Tigger movie. I mean, it’s not like I was cheering with unmitigated glee about Nazis or racists. It was Tigger. What was wrong with Tigger?
It was only after a quick examination of the consonants and letters apart from meaning–a collection of syllables overheard that I reached my true and utter shame. The thought I said the N-word.
The scene was probably ameliorated by my utter shock and then gesture at the movie poster, which I felt doubly stupid for exclaiming over in the first place since I was in my 30s. It was time for me to calm down about A.A. Milne. But also for the hurt that I had caused that group of people.
And look, I tell this story to others and they are ready to defend me, to say that that group of kids should’ve listened more carefully or not been so easily offended.
That misses the point entirely. My heart doesn’t ache that I was momentarily misunderstood. My heart aches because those kids live in a world where on a Friday night where they’re waiting in line to see their favorite movie, it wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility that someone would call them that.
That’s the world. And it cuts both ways. There’s part of me who wishes that I could just feel cranky that someone was overly sensitive, but I’m far too aware of the years of oppression and micro aggression that led to their reaction.
I find myself thinking about that story a lot lately. About all these interactions we have so frequently where we don’t allow ourselves to see the other side of the situation, to engage with our empathy.