It was a beautiful Spring day. I was working at a firm on 55th and Madison at the time. It was lunch time and I had run out to pick up an order that I'd placed at Burger Heaven on Madison Avenue at 49th Street. I was doing mostly appeals by then, and the case I'd left on my desk was weighing heavily on my mind: the documents had to be compiled; and our argument at the lower level hadn't been successful. How could I state our case differently this time around?
I got my food and started to walk back uptown on Madison. Unbeknownst to me, an older white woman was tracking my progress. And she had convinced herself that I was following her. She suddenly twirled around and pointed a long bony finger at me.
"Stop following me, nigger!" She yelled as loudly as she could muster. (I'm sure she must've read that in a self-defense book somewhere.) I froze. A million thoughts zoomed through my head. Was she talking to me? I turned my head to see if there was anyone else close by. Nope, just me. She was most definitely talking to me. Alrighty, then. I figured I would ignore her and began to move away; but that did not appease her:
"Why are you niggers always following me??!"
At my look of shock, she got bolder: "Yes, I called YOU a nigger. Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!"
I lost count of the number of "niggers" that fell out of that woman's mouth. I was absolutely rooted to the spot. I couldn't make myself move. The anger coursed through my veins. At the moment, I wanted nothing more than to back-slap the old hag. Instead, I took a few deep and ragged breaths.
I waited until she was done and then I forced myself to look her in the eyes. In a voice much calmer than I felt inside, I said, "Lady, you aren't worth my time." And I did the only thing I could -- I walked away from her. Even knowing as I did, that she would think she had been "triumphant" in her face-down with a bonafide Negro who was trying to harm her.
When someone calls you a "nigger," there is no mistaking the intent -- you know that it is meant to be as offensive and derogatory as possible. The word "nigga," however misguided, does not pack quite the same wallop.