Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 240 - HNIC - A word I despise

First Rest Stop going west on 26 from Route 95
Everytime I get on the highway in SC going West on Highway 26 from Highway 95, I tense up as I pass the first rest area.  I stopped there this summer only to take a photo so I could remember this place for its mark it has made for me.  Before my divorce, my husband was acting kind of nutty.  I think the loss of his pension from the National Guard with only 15 months to go due to no fault of his own, was causing insurmountable anxiety along with the full pension that the DOD Federal Government had ripped from him almost twenty years later.  He had worked 16 years under the premise that he would retire with full fire-fighter benefits.  The Government renigged and sent him notice in an uncertified USPO regularly stamped envelope.  It wasn't even important enough that this man couldn't retire at 55 (ten more years) and had to work now until he was 62 that you could call him.  I pleaded with him hire a jag lawyer.  He refused and just went about his life being miserable to himself and everyone else that it started a downward spiral that I couldn't adjust to and ultimately why I left him.

We were in the middle of this part of our lives and as we traveled to what I knew would be our last time as a family to visit his large extended family at his mother's house, he was joking about being the HNIC with our sons in the back seat.  He knows I take offense to that word.  I told him that I didn't want him to use that word, he said, "What? I'm the HNIC in this car!"  I said, "OK, You're the Head Nigger in this Car!"  HNIC is a term used by black folks and most white folks don't know what it means.  I'm sure it stems from the days of slavery that the lost of the low could feel have some sort of pride or dignity for being the head of something.  It means Head Nigger in Charge.

At which point my husband started going nuts!  He screamed at me that I was not to call him a Nigger.  I was trying to drive but realized this was getting out of control. Being the only solely white person in the car, and having a history of fighting racism for over half of my life, I was shocked that he would even insinuate this of me.  For speaking at the March on Washington, for starting support groups for multiracial families, for being disowned by my own family and on this journey to see my black family with he and my kids now, was painful to be accused of using such a vulgar word in our history.  I pulled over at the rest area and got out of the car.  I walked under the trees to just get my thoughts together.  I had told him that he had "baited me".  He used the HNIC reference and I asked him not to.  When he kept using it repeatedly I called him on it.  The shock of hearing his wife of sixteen years use such a word was probably the tipping point for the circumstances in his life at the time.

He followed me under the trees and kept yelling at me that I should never call him Nigger again.  As all the people who had heard him, stopped, in shock and watched this, I looked around and realized that I was the only white person witnessing this event although at the same time, being a part of it.  I bantered back that I did NOT call him a nigger, I merely said what the words that were represented by the saying HNIC meant!  He is the one referring to himself as the HNIC.

I never did go back to see my "black" family again with him or with my kids.  I did visit in July by myself and got to see some of them.  I realized that the right thing to do was to not fight the impossible battle.  I know I didn't do this and the thought of it, if anyone really knows me is ludicrous.  It is just as painful now to retell this story as it was when it happened. Most people in the family don't know what happened that day, but I do, and I remember it every time I go by that rest stop. 

By the 1900s, nigger had become a pejorative word. In its stead, the term colored became the mainstream alternative to negro and its derived terms. Abolitionists in Boston, Massachusetts, posted warnings to the Colored People of Boston and vicinity. Writing in 1904, journalist Clifton Johnson documented the "opprobrious" character of the word nigger, emphasizing that it was chosen in the South precisely because it was more offensive than "colored." ~from Wikipedia

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