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Trayvon Martin, the N-Word and Dealing with My Hurt at “Hurt Village”

When I first wrote this post, I was thinking about my daughter, who has been called the N-word twice this school year.

I was hurting over that.

Since then, that hurt over still-thriving racial intolerance, has been compounded by the senseless murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teen in Sanford, Fl., who was killed by a racial profiling, self-appointed neighborhood watchman.  I see my young son in Trayvon Martin, and the pain of Trayvon’s death stings even in New York City.


Oh and by the way, the boy who has been verbally attacking my daughter is also Latino and white, like Zimmerman. A fact, the young boys’ mother raised as to why her son would have never used the N-word.

Like any mother, you’d like to think your children won’t suffer the same pains you have. And as a black mother, I’ve prayed that in our so-called post-racism society and after all that has been struggled through and fought for that these things just don’t happen anymore. Things like a good kid, getting Skittles and iced tea, is considered a potential criminal because of his hoodie. And his skin color. Or less fatal things, like a young girl being attacked by painful racial slurs while she sits in class.

Wishful thinking, I know.

Just as I was licking my wounds from sharing in my daughter’s pain and recovering from the many exhausting conversations I have had “checking in” with her and the “repair” work a black mother must do to make sure her little black girl stays steadfast and whole even when the boy sitting behind her in Math likes to lean forward and whisper “Nigger” in her ear whenever the teacher turns away—Yeah. It’s like that.

As I was doing this necessary work of saving my daughter’s self, I went to see Katori Hall’s latest play, Hurt Village.

I was super excited to see this play because 1. I had missed Ms. Hall’s previous Broadway production, the highly-acclaimed Mountain Top, based on Martin Luther King’s  last night before his assassination.

So bummed that I missed that.

So when I read about her latest play in the Sunday New York Times and a few weeks later, and then the lovely ladies at Mama Drama and the good folks at Playtime NYC invited me to be their guests at one of the performances– I was elated!

MamaDrama connects cultural events to the mom market and helps busy moms get to the theater. I love the theater. Playtime NYC is the first program to provide a low-cost child enrichment program during theater times. Moms can drop their kids off for theater workshops, arts and crafts and other artistic activities with actual artist caregivers while they catch a show.

I knew the play was about a military man who returns home to the projects of Memphis, Tennessee, but I didn’t expect so much use of the N-word.

Now, I’m a fan of the theater, especially black playwrights and black productions, and I can appreciate the complexities of our culture, the texture of the N word, and the realities of life in the projects, but on this night, the constant barrage of N words felt too much for me to handle.

Perhaps I was in my own personal Hurt Village and dealing with my own isht and didn’t need to step into anyone else’s.

In the gritty play, a young, vivacious, super smart 13-year-old girl, her once drug-addicted mother, her not-known daddy who one day returns from war with post traumatic stress issues, and the hard working grandmother saving every penny to get out the projects and finally buy the furniture that she’s been marking off in a JCPenney catalog for years.

Its a whole lotta hurt in their Hurt Village. And so I guess it goes along with the storyline that people hurl hurtful words in Hurt Village, cause multi-generational damage in Hurt Village and perpetuate damaging stereotypes that often lead to death–where they hurt no more.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if putting these stereotypes on full theatrical view actually helps dispel them or reinforce them? Would someone like a Zimmerman see Hurt Village as validating proof of the assumptions he already holds?

Do boys who hurl epithets in the sixth grade become neighborhood vigilantes killing unarmed young black men as adults?

On that night, my “Hurt Village” consisted of my daughter, the boy that is taunting her, and his mother whom I respectfully approached instead of filing a “bullying” report with the school, only to be told that I must be mistaken. That her son had been in a black-owned day care since he was a baby and that he views black people as family. And that he probably said “Negrita” because that’s a “friendly” nickname for the darker Latinos in her family. And…and….

Tonight, the parents of Trayvon Martin, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, are in my Hurt Village, where I live with their pain over their dead son. And I worry about my own young black male–who celebrated his eighth birthday this week.

Who’s in your Hurt Village right now?

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