The “N” Word

Stop Racism Now. Photo by Callen Harty.

Yesterday I overheard an African-American teen I know telling an adult about an experience from earlier in the day in which she had been called the “n” word. She is one of the sweetest girls I know and I felt for her, but I didn’t listen in further as it wasn’t my conversation. To think of someone treating her like that bothered me a lot. To think of anyone being treated like that bothers me a lot.

Earlier in the day I had received an e-mail notification that a comment was waiting for my approval on a video I posted last year from a neo-Nazi counter rally in West Allis, Wisconsin. The comment said only, “Dumb n****rs”; except, of course, the word was spelled out. Needless to say I didn’t approve the comment. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of person it was whose sole comment on a video where African-Americans, white Americans, and others were gathered in unity against hate speech consisted of nothing more than two hateful words. Is this the totality of his thinking on race? Is this as far as he can move himself toward any kind of real thought? Is this acceptable in our society?

It is mind-boggling. This is 2012, right? Right. It is the 21st century in America, and somehow we are still struggling to evolve emotionally and spiritually beyond petty hatred based on the color of someone’s skin, the nature of their love, or any one of a number of other things that make us unique and should be celebrated. Somehow after century upon century of our existence we still have people who are crawling out of a moral morass or, worse yet, wallowing in it like pigs in mud. We are in a country that most Americans like to define as Christian, a religion founded upon the principle of loving all of one’s fellow human beings, and yet we are the most violent nation on earth. Despite the capacity to love unconditionally huge segments of the population choose to love conditionally and to hate based upon differences. I don’t believe this is the world that Jesus envisioned, or Mohammed, or Buddha, or any of our great religious thinkers.

At this juncture in our history the family of man is itself dysfunctional. It is a family in which we share the same genes and blood and common ancestry and yet we cannot get along. Some of us abuse other members of the family and others stand by idly and let it happen. The hatred is perpetuated from generation to generation and never questioned. It is never talked about in any kind of real way. We cannot get past it because we haven’t figured out how to communicate with each other yet or even realize that we need to do so.

I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t know how to talk with someone who uses words like that, who can’t seem to rise above broad generalizations, but I know I must find a way. I know that conversations need to happen—not accusatory ones where blame is placed, but honest ones where real questions are asked, feelings are laid bare, and where we can begin to figure out how to love one another in order to survive as a family. The future of all of us depends upon it.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to The “N” Word

  1. marcea0k says:

    If only we could taste the words in our mouth before they are set loose. If words of hate tasted as vile as bile (which lets face it…it is), would anyone continue to bring that word into their mouth? And if words of kindness tasted like our favorite candy would we not savor and indulge in offering kindness for the sweetness it brought to us…as well as to the one we shared it with? Your words seem like the freshest, juiciest, just picked apple….clean, crisp and so good!

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