Recently I went to some form of an open mic night for a cappella groups. All was well, until we arrived at one group's rendition of "Whatever You Like", in which the n-word slipped out, not once, but three times. The first time hit me hard and fast, and I wouldn't have believed that the singer actually said it if I hadn't had heard the grunts of discontent. A few brave souls yelled out to the soloist, clearly voicing their opinions of the word. I was not among the outspoken dissenters, but inwardly, I was as enraged as any.
Afterwards, as my a cappella group was preparing to walk onto the stage, the same group, quickly becoming the pariahs of the event, were huddled near the stage entrance. As I accidentally made eye contact with one of the singers, he offered a "good luck" before our performance. I thanked him, but then he went on to apologize, on behalf of his group, for the use of such an inappropriate and derogatory word. The soloist, who also happened to be there, eagerly joined in, along with other members of the group, all adding in reassurances: "We're sorry", "We didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings", "We hope you weren't offended". I had mixed feelings on accepting their apologies at the time, so I simply nodded and walked on stage.
Upon replaying the moment in my head, one thought became most prevalent: I was the only black person around as they apologized, and they only apologized to me. They only apologized to me, I kept repeating and reinforcing in my mind. In the end, I could only conclude 2 reasons as to why this would be. The first is simply coincidence, yet in this day and age, rarely anything is "simply coincidence". I vote more strongly for the second reason: the members of the group believed that it was only their duty to make amends with me, because of my identity as an African-American.
If indeed the second reason is what really crossed the minds of the members of the group, then I think we have a seriously misguided approach to racism in American culture, especially teen culture. We have been trained to right our wrongs, make peace with our guilts, which is why we apologize. When the members of that group aimed their apologies toward me, they were following the process, righting their wrong. However, that implies that the wrong only had any affect me, and the other African-Americans, or that we were the only victims of their wrong. Because the n-word only upsets black people, right? Wrong! No, this is the misguidance. We pride ourselves on being a new generation centered around unity, therefore we should demonstrate this strive for unity in our reaction to forces of disunity, such as the n-word, and other terms that single out a single sect of society. These terms, charged with racism, prejudice, and/or stereotypes, are like pollution in the air, air that everyone breathes without distinction. Therefore, when terms as these are used, we should all demand apologies from the offenders, for they have fouled up our communal air with the stench of 400 years' worth of oppression and ignorance. Please, we all breathe it, so keep it clean.