Friday, March 13, 2009


WARNING: This blog contains language of hate that many will find offensive, but it is crucial to tell the story and express the strong emotions evoked by words.

By Tony Rawlings

It is now 7:21 A.M. on Saturday March 7, 2009 as I sit down to write this blog entry.
We were initially assigned to write reporter blogs as part of a class and when I received this assignment, needless to say I was less than thrilled. With an already daunting schedule of television news reporting and the long hours of work and scrutiny that comes with presenting information to the masses, I never imagined that this assignment would become a necessity, a sanctuary, a haven.

You see recently things have become rough on both an academic and social level. I am learning lessons, taking notes and maturing. Yes, this is the goal of the educational process, becoming adept in the necessary skills to provide a living. That much I expected. However this quarter of my senior year and this particular phase of my life have taught me much more than I expected to learn and introduced me to parts of myself that I never knew existed.

Wow, I’m rambling a bit huh? I guess it’s the fact that I’ve been awake all night and have a million thoughts bouncing around in my head like those rubber bouncy balls that you can get in the vending machines at the grocery store for 25 cents. I guess I should explain what prompted these thoughts and the idea of learning on different levels. And what possessed me to a homework assignment at such a time and not having been to sleep since sometime Thursday night/Friday morning. (No this assignment is not due on Saturday or Sunday, it’s actually due this coming Friday, the dreaded 13th). The reason is a mix of passion, pride, pain and anger.

On Tuesday, March 3rd I was given a choice of two assignments on which to report. One was a story about naming a boutique in O’Bleness Hospital. (A story I declined due to my dislike of hospitals--seeing family members die in hospitals, and remembering the pain of those losses will do that to you). The other was a story about three car break-ins.

So anyway, I tell Julia, the other TV reporter for the next day’s newscast that I would like the car break-in story, at which point she made a witty and humorous reference about men wanting the more action-oriented crime stories. I chuckled slightly and said “Nah, I just don’t like hospitals.”

At that point a colleague in the newsroom said and I quote “Yeah, but what we didn’t know was that Tony used to break-in cars.” It didn’t register at first, but after I realized that he said what I thought he had said I was taken aback a bit.

While I give him credit for making his snide remark while I was within earshot instead of when I was not around, I instantly became enraged. Immediately, I gazed around the newsroom to see if anyone else had thought the remark out of place and slightly racist, however the other students and teachers seemed not to have heard the comment as they were engulfed in their work of preparing their pieces for the newscast.

As I looked around I caught the gaze of colleague and friend Josh Mei, the other only minority student in the room, and found an expression of surprise that mirrored my own. I wasn’t surprised by the lack of reaction to the comment, more so the fact that the person who made the comment felt it was OK to say that in the first place. Nobody cracks jokes about him and believe me there are plenty of hurtful things I could say, but that would be slander because I can’t prove them to be true. The same way he couldn’t prove that I had broken into cars, which of course I've never done.

Did he not understand that the reference to a black person as a thief or vandal is insulting on both a personal and racial level? Did he not understand that to a black man that type of 'joke' coming from a white man could be offensive? What type of camaraderie did he think we had that I would take such a remark as a joke? That I would see it as funny? Where I’m from, I’ve seen fights break out for less.

It took everything within me to keep a steady hand as I poured my morning orange juice. And it took even more to talk myself out of throwing that gallon of orange juice 10 feet and hitting him in the face. As a former football player I am confident I could have made the throw on target. Ha-ha ha-ha. I’m not even joking though. See what I’m saying? A serious, contemptuous remark disguised as a joke or slightly humorous statement.

For the readers whoi think I might be taking this too seriously or simply picking a bone, I say look at the situation like this: you know those commercials that talk about people using the word gay as an adjective or a joke? In the same way that using the term gay as synonymous with something you don’t like or find lame offends gay people; a remark about theft, jail, slaves, monkeys, or a slight resemblance to another person is offensive to black people. Here's another example: a black man with dreads being called Lil' Wayne wherever he goes. When I looked like the photo below, I was told I looked like every black person you can imagine with dreads by white people who did not know such comparisons were offensive.

Fast forward from Tuesday March 3rd to Friday March 6th. Some friends and I formed a rap group called the Iron MC’s and were invited to perform in a showcase at The Union (a bar located on Union Street, hence the name). We did a four song set and absolutely killed it. It was the best group performance we had since forming the group back in October. After the show we were all in a good mood, laughing and telling jokes and trying to figure out what our next move would be. It was about 2:00 A.M. and we knew that everything would be winding down soon. or so we thought.

I had to stop at the BP on Court Street to get a soda because as you can imagine, after rapping on stage my throat was dry and sore as the dickens. My group members decided to stand outside of the gas station and do some impromptu raps, made-up off the top of the head (better known as freestyling) while they waited on my to get me pop. I came out of the gas station to find out that it was my turn to rap. I opened my pop, took a swig and started rapping when this kid walked up out of nowhere and decided he was going to rap too. Unfortunately he started trying to rap in the middle of my turn (A cardinal sin in hip-hop. You wait your turn and take it when it comes.) So after straightening that out with him, I continued my little piece and finished, then as is custom, it was his turn.

He started rapping and was aiming his insults toward me, I guess thinking that this was a rap battle instead of a group of people just rapping for fun. During his second or third line into the rap he looked directly at me and said “Look nigger I’ll…” and that’s when all hell broke loose. In a second that seemed to last for an hour, I looked at my group members and saw the same 'did he really just say that?' look from all of them. At that point I realized that he had in fact just called me a nigger.

“He started a sentence with it, it’s not like he was trying to rhyme the word with something he had already said. I wasn’t sure that he had said that word, then I saw your face and I knew what he said,” fellow rapper Josh Mei would say about the incident later.

Something deep down inside me just snapped! Before I knew it, I lunged for him with my hands outstretched for his throat. I wasn’t going to throw a punch; no I was going to strangle him. My group members, seeing my anger, immediately stepped in and separated the two of us. Josh Mei, who is one of my closest friends as well as a classmate and member of the Iron MC’s, tried to talk me down, while Marc Rose took the kid off to the side. Eddie Franks was still holding me back. These are my friends and fellow rappers, and I am glad that they were there to stop me from making a rash decision based on anger and pain, because without them I know I would have wound up in jail that night.

After the confrontation I was shaken. Amazed at the fact that the boy was able to call me a nigger to my face but was unwilling to fight for his beliefs. I was not so much mad at him for being a racist as I was for being a punk. Where I’m from, if you say something you back it up. Right or wrong, good or bad, if you were man enough to say it you should be man enough to stand behind your words.

It was about 2:30 A.M. when I called my father. He was at our family’s house back home in Lexington, Kentucky working on his car in the garage. As soon as he heard my voice, he asked me what was wrong and I explained. He talked to me for nearly two hours, calming me down and giving me one of the best pieces of advice I had ever heard.

“Son, I’ve been getting called a nigger eversince I was 17 years old. I’m 53 now Tony. The word’s always going to be there and as long as you are black and as long as you are working toward being successful in this world, you are going to be a nigger to somebody.”

He said, “look at Oprah, you think she made it to where she is today without being called a nigger? Look at President Obama, the President of the United States, Tony. You think he made it to that level without being called a nigger?”

He said, "They may not say it to your face Tony, they may not say it where you can hear it, but don’t you think for one second that somebody somewhere isn’t saying it about you or somebody else.”

And then the real heart of his lesson. He said, “So what they wanna call you a nigger, so what Tony? If you go around fighting every white person that calls you a nigger, you’re gonna be fighting for the rest of your life. They wanna call you a nigger? So what, be a nigger! Be proud of being black; be proud of being a nigger. People died for you boy! People died so that you can be in college and get an education and get you that good paying journalism job you want. People died for that Tony! So that you can be where you are right now. I know it hurts, I know you’re mad son, but they can’t hurt you, they can’t hold you back. That’s why they say the word, because they know that’s what sets us off. That’s what hurts, that’s what makes us mad. Be a nigger Tony, we all are and they’re not. That’s what makes you special, that’s what makes you unique. It's nothing to be ashamed of or get upset about, hell that’s what they want you to do. Naw Tony, you be a nigger and you be the best nigger you can be. You be a nigger and make it look so good that white people wish they could be a nigger like you. The way you write, the way you speak that’s how you fight back. The pen is mightier than the sword son, because the sword cuts only once but you put that pen in your hand and you can cut and cut and cut. That’s why you’re here son, that is what you were put on this earth to do. The world’s not perfect, and it never will be. All you can do is make your life the best you can make it. To hell with the rest of that foolishness, you don’t need it. You just be yourself. Be the young man that your mama and I raised you to be and you’ll be just fine.”

That picture is me with my parents who never cease to inspire me.

I started to cry after that. Heck, I'm starting to cry right now as I write this. After listening to my dad it was like all my anger, all my pain, all my frustration just melted away. I let my father’s words sink in and I realized that he was right, that being a nigger wasn’t a bad thing. It was just a word that people used to demoralize other people. That the word only had power over you if you let it and if you let it have power over you it will control you and consume you until there is nothing left.

I began reading President Barack Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father about a week ago. Earlier in the day on Friday, before all of this happened, I came across a passage in the book that really made me think. After all this happened, the passage has been on my mind even more because it seems to put everything in perspective.

“and by the time I had dropped my friends off, I had begun to see a new map of the world, one that was frightening in it’s simplicity, suffocating in his implications. We were always playing on the white man’s court. Ray had told me by the white man’s rules. If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher, or Kurt wanted to spit in your face, he could because he had power and you didn’t. If he decided not to, if he treated you like a man or came to your defense, it was because he knew that the words you spoke, the clothes you wore, the books you read, your ambitions and desires, were already his. Whatever he decided to do, it was his decision to make, not yours, and because of that fundamental power he held over you, because it preceded and would outlast his individual motives and inclinations, any distinction between good and bad whites held negligible meaning. In fact, you couldn’t be so sure that everything you had assumed to be an expression of your black, unfettered self - the humor, the song, the behind-the-back pass – had been freely chosen by you. At best, these things were a refuge; at worst a trap. Following this maddening logic, the only thing you could choose as your own was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage, until being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat. And the final irony: should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors, they would have a name for that, too, a name that could cage you just as good. Paranoid. Militant. Violent. Nigger."
From "Dreams from my Father" by Barack Obama

I couldn’t fight the bigot in front of the gas station last night and I couldn’t fight my colleague in class simply because I was offended by their remarks. I wanted to in both situations because I felt that I had been wronged, insulted. I wanted to show them the consequences that come with such insults as a testament to the fact that they would not be tolerated. Ever. Instead of fighting with bullets or fists I’m fighting with words, with knowledge and with purpose.

I’m not fighting for my race, I’m fighting for myself so that I can be a successful black man in a industry dominated by whites. I'm fighting to make my way in the world. As a 21 year old I know that I have a long road ahead of me and that things in my life and career may not be fair, may not be easy. But after the lessons I've learned about life and about myself in this past week, I know that I’m ready for whatever the world throws my way and that for better or worse everything that does come my way will become a part of me.


K. Rawlings said...


It is sad that you had to learn a life lesson in this manner. It is also sad that some people feel that it is alright to say things with subtle racist undertones and some not so subtle racism. Being African American in the United States it is inevitable that something like this will happen to you at least once in your lifetime. As you know it continues to happen time and time again. It is almost like some people want to remind you that you are black and want to let you know where they feel your place in society should be. Like being black is something you could ever forget. It would be nice if race did not matter at all and you could forget. You have learned that you can’t fight racism physically but you can fight it intellectually. Those that are open to receive you message will. Those that are not open, you won’t be able to change. Just continue to rise above it and remember your purpose and you will be a success. Love Mom

Jerica said...

T, I have really enjoyed your blog. I am glad that you have been able to share this story, and more than that, share with us all the kind of young man you are. A young man of poise, dignity, intellect and maturity. You have shown us and that simple minded person that you are the bigger
person, the better person and the brighter person. You Go Boy!!!! A little saying that my daughter Mia tells me. Don't let the haters stop you from doing your thing.
Auntie C

Anonymous said...

You write a very compelling story. You have a strong voice.

One thing I thought was interesting though was that how you responded to the very sexist comment by the young woman about how men like the more "action-oriented" stories. It provides an interesting contrast to an understandably emotional experience you have dealing with racism. It seems like you were dealing with some sexism too about stereotypes about being a man. I'd be interested in reading another blog posting about your experiences where race and gender intersect in your life and how you've responded to it.