When the trailers first started airing in the theaters, I decided to invite my ten-year-old nephew to join me but before I could extend the invitation, he called me and asked if we could see it together. This past weekend, we found our reserved our seats in a local "fork and screen" theatre, ordered a giant bacon cheeseburger to share, and settled in for more than two hours of history and baseball and life lessons.
Reviews and friends alerted me in advance that in order to accurately depict Robinson's story, the language was strong and somewhat shocking. In other words, "the N word" was tossed about repeatedly. Obviously, over the years there has been tremendous controversy over that word. In my personal opinion, it is repulsive. But it is not a word that my nephew has had a lot of exposure to, if any. So I thought it was worth a conversation before we saw "42."
I asked him what he knew about "the N word" and he said he learned about it in school. His teacher taught him that it was a bad word and a term that should never be used to describe or insult another person. I asked if he could give me an example of another word that might be comparable. "Is it like calling a white person a hoosier?" he asked. "No," I replied. "It's much worse than that." But I paused. What should I teach my nephew or even other children who are not black about "the N word." How do I describe it or explain it in a way that would be so impactful that they would understand the horror of being called such a word? Then I thought, what would my black friends want me to tell my nephew? And I thought, how great it would be if I could get a number of my black friends, of all ages, male and female to send me a short video sharing their feelings so I could just show him, rather than telling him. (What a great idea for a video project, huh? Don't steal it...)
But there was no time for all of that. So I told him that I thought people who use "the N word" to describe others or as an insult were saying that person has no value and no worth. I told him that I believe it is one of the worst things you can say to a person. And I told him that it's so horribly demeaning that it's a word that should be erased from our vocabulary. And then, we watched the movie.
Following the show, my nephew and I agreed that it was a great experience and a fantastic movie. Jackie Robinson changed the face of baseball and opened the door for many, many people. We agreed that because of his determination and his decision to stick it out and play through the difficulties he experienced, baseball is a better game.
And then he said, "I think if I ever heard someone call someone else that word, Aunt Michele, I might want to punch him in the face." Not exactly how we want to handle situations but... I think he gets it now. Sometimes, we can't teach others simply with words. Sometimes, they have to see to understand.