Last week while driving to the cottage, I was on iPod compromise with the boy, meaning, I pick something from his iPod that I can stomach. Unfortunately, that leaves me with only two choices – Green Day and K’naan. On that fine day, K’naan won out and so we cranked it up and rapped on down the highway. I'll have you know, I’m down with K’naan and I even know all the words to “I Come Prepared”. It has a filthy beat that hooks me in every time and before long, I get all gangsta yo, holding my imaginary gun sideways, pointing it at cars going in the opposite direction.
There are two “N” bombs in the song, and because the boy was in the car, I just left a pause where they would normally be sung. Kid’s in the back playing a video game, probably won’t even notice. Two problems here.
1.) Never underestimate the ability of a ten year old boy to process 5 to 7 media applications at once.
2.) Apparently the pause and ignore strategy only serves to highlight the word, because as soon as the song was over, it came up.
“Dad…isn’t n_ _ _ er a bad word?”
Oh lord, here we go. Maybe I can distract him and we’ll have the sex talk instead.
“Yes it’s a bad word. And if you want to refer to it, you should say the “N” word.”
“So why is it bad?”
“Hmmm. Well way way back when African Americans were slaves in the US, white people used to refer to black people using that term. After that, it sort of stuck around and was used in a very hateful way by some white people. It’s a very insulting term and you should never use it.
“So why does K’naan say it? He’s from Africa you know. He’s African Canadian”
“Well son…it’s complicated. I think black people use it as a way of reclaiming the word.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know really. Hey, you want to know where babies come from?”
“Dad, c’mon…I already know that.”
“Okay… well, some black people feel it’s okay to use the “N” word to each other in a friendly way. Between black people, it would be like saying “buddy”, which kind of takes the sting out of the word.”
“Maybe they’re trying to make it into a good word?”
“No. Not exactly. Like I said it’s very complicated. You see, there is a bunch of white kids going around saying it now, but they think it’s okay because they don’t really know the history. In my books they’re still using a racist term and that’s not okay. Do you get it?”
“Well just don’t say it.”
And with that, we concluded round one of the “N” word life lessons. Talk about mixed messages for kids these days. When I was growing up, it was very cut and dry. If you said the “N” word, you were a giant racist. Run DMC weren’t dropping it fifty times in every song and you certainly didn’t see Theo Huxtable calling out his buddy coackroach with a “Whats up my n_ _ _a?” I know kids have to sort these things out for themselves, but it ain’t easy in a time where hip hop culture is dominating the teens, tweens and beyond.
K’naan is pretty tame and let’s face it, radio friendly. I can hardly wait until he discovers the Wu Tang Clan.
Your homework, if you choose to accept it, is a radio friendly version of “I come Prepared.”