Kyle Miyata Larson is an enigma. He is an American professional stock car racing driver, one of a few Asian American athletes in what is mostly a white man’s sport. His mother, Janet Miyata Larson, is an American of Japanese descent. Her parents were rounded up and imprisoned as if they were enemy combatants by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the beginning of World War II. His father, Michael Larson, is an American of European origins. He taught his son the stock car racing trade.
His parents initially raised Kyle in the white world. Growing up, he knew little about his Japanese heritage and did not seem to want to embrace it. As a child, Kyle asked his mom why she had to give him her last name (Miyata). Janet Larson explained that otherwise, he would not know about his Asian culture. Later in life, Kyle embraced half of him that is Asian. He married a blond, who gave birth to a blond baby boy, whom Kyle gave the middle name of Miyata. See https://www.roadandtrack.com/motorsports/a32141249/we-dont-know-kyle-larson/.
Larson is among the best at his trade, at least he was until he was suspended indefinitely for an incident during an iRacing contest. During the event, Larson lost communication with his team. He checked the sound link with his spotter, but did not receive any feedback; needing to communicate with his spotter, he became irritated. Larson uttered an ugly word that since the O. J. Simpson trial in 1995 has been known by the euphemism, “The N-Word.”
To illustrate the pain inflicted upon the universal Black community, we will not change the meaning of this ugly word in this piece and will spell it out in all its ugliness. We believe that otherwise, the violence of the term will hide from the public, as it has since late 1500, which will tend to cause others to continue to use this word with impunity. After all, 25 years have passed since Christopher Darden said he would only refer to that despicable word as the N-word. In the last quarter of a century, Darden’s professionalism has not stopped whites from using the term “Nigger” when expressing their displeasure with a Black person. There is not a scintilla of a hint that whites will stop using the name any time in the remaining 80 years in the 21st century. Yet it is a worthy aspirational goal.
Larson, by all accounts during his mic check, said, “You can’t hear me? Hey, nigger.” (https://www.distractify.com/p/what-did-kyle-larson-say).
Boom, you read it right, “nigger.” The most hated word in the English language rolled off his tongue smoothly, effortlessly, and clearly. Everyone on the live feed heard it. It was unmistakable.
The stock car racing world was stunned. His sponsors moved quickly to drop him like a hot potato. NASCAR was not far behind them, suspending the industry superstar until the sport decides he can race again.
What is it about the word “nigger” that white men, and apparently at times, half-white men cannot resist using when they are angry?
I must admit, white people, mostly white men, have hurled the “nigger” word at me more times than I care to admit. Fifty-five years ago, I integrated a junior high school in my hometown. My English teacher, a white female, and a distant relative of Edgar Allan Poe relished in calling me a “nigger” every day.
And she was good at it. She pronounced every syllable allowing the word to cut deep into the fabric of my personhood. She knew the pain each syllable etched into my humanity as she proclaimed, “I don’t know why the niggers don’t like their schools.” She relished the power she held over me using this word and the agony that her pronunciation tore into my soul.
Destroying the personal dignity of the person to whom the word hurls is the intent of uttering “nigger” toward people of color.
Despite my past pains dealing with the ugly tongue of my countrymen and countrywomen, I was intent on allowing Larson’s indiscretion to pass without comment from me.
Nothing seems to stop white people from saying “nigger this or “nigger” that in their discourse.
Then my good friend Dennis Michelsen sent me a link to a piece he wrote for Front Stretch, a publication frequented by racing fans, and asked me to comment on his article (https://www.frontstretch.com/2020/04/19/death-penalty-for-parking-violations-a-different-take-on-the-kyle-larson-saga/).
Although I have visited the NASCAR Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, and have test driven a car at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, I am not an avid stock car racing fan. Still, I gather Front Stretch is a leading communication medium in the stock car racing industry. Their motto is: “best seat at the track, Best view on the web.”
Michelsen is white, a veteran journalist, and sports enthusiast. His piece is titled, Death Penalty For Parking Violation? A Different Take on Kyle Larson Saga.
I am not sure why Michelsen added a question mark after the word violation. It does little to take the sting from his contention. That Larson’s use of the word “nigger” to denigrate another human equates to a motorist receiving a parking ticket for staying too long in a parking spot or for double parking, either a rather minor infraction in the world of law and order.
I was going to give Michelsen a pass on his posit. Still, three days after his request, Keshia Lance Bottoms, Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, revealed those hurtful words had been hurled at her via social media because of her “shelter in place” order to Atlanta residents designed to help flatten the COVID-19 curve.
“Nigger, just shut up and RE-OPEN ATLANTA!”
This message was seen on the world wide web by two of her children. The syntax is unmistakably cruel and illustrative of much more than a mere parking ticket. Here is the mayor’s text message.
This attack on a Black mayor from someone she probably has never met and likely will never meet, moved me to keep my promise to comment on Michelsen’s piece. Why did he ask me to begin with, I am not sure, and this extended form essay is probably not what he was expecting. This matter of name-calling is too important to leave to a 300-word response and the payment of a parking ticket fine.
Now, why does Mayor Lance Bottoms have to be a “Nigger” because her political views differ from the opinions of some other citizen? The person submitting the text probably does not even live within the city limits of Atlanta.
This query is not a rhetorical question. It is a serious question that demands a careful and considered answer, not one of those Donald Trump COVID-19 responses like drink a little Lysol, get some sunlight. The silent enemy will disappear by August. Nope, this racial slur deserves a thoughtful response based on reason.
Why does this question require a reasonable answer?
Because white people have a fixation with the word “nigger.” A case in point, two white students at Carrollton High School in Carrollton, Georgia recently were expelled from school after they posted a video on the popular site “tic-toc” where they present a skit, “Hey today we are making niggers” ( https://www.theroot.com/racist-carrollton-high-school-students-expelled-after-n-1842945282?utm_source=theroot_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2020-04-20)
What would possess two teenagers loaded down with white privilege to spend their time in quarantine disparaging Black people on social media? This kind of act is insane. They got expelled from school while the school was closed for the remainder of the school term.
Only white people know the answer to this question. The time is now for white people of goodwill to give some serious thought to this question. Only whites can prevent other white people from shouting “nigger” at will.
I hate to tell this to white people, but you all must stop using the “nigger” word in your private conversations. I know you have these conversations because my progressive white friends tell me all the time how white people talk about Black people when there are no Black people around to hear them. You simply cannot casually roll “nigger” off your tongue in private and hope it does not blip into your public discourse, because sooner or later, it will surface.
I know you all do not like for people to tell you what to do. But you all need to listen to us for a change. There is no excuse to inflict pain on another person. Especially because of the color of their skin, period.
In the main, Black people do not name call white people in their private discussion of white people. When you do hear Blacks utter the word “Cracker,” it is usually a defensive response to some offensive, discriminatory act by a white person. For instance, when Trayvon Martin realized that George Zimmerman was harassing him, Martin told his friend, Rachel, “That creepy ass Cracker is following me.”
I live in a majority Black city in a majority Black Congressional district. I talk with Black people all the time, and I can report that Black people do not in their spare time sit around calling white people “Cracker,” “Honky,” or “Whitey.” I hung out in pool halls and barbershops, at least I did, before the pandemic, where the Trump administration took a beating in hot political debates among patrons. Never did anyone called Trump a “Cracker.” I have heard him called an idiot, a racist, and an asshole, but never a Cracker or Honky. There are simply a plethora of words in the English language to describe Trump’s incompetent administration, and Black people usually find the appropriate adjective to frame the madness coming out of the “Swamp.”
This piece could stop here, but there is this issue of “nigger” being the equivalent of a parking violation postulated by a well-intended Libertarian and my sports junky cohort, Dennis Michelsen.
I have known Michelsen for several years as a social media friend. He has interviewed me for his sports podcast, and just this week, we agreed to meet and break bread when the Coronavirus crisis bids us farewell, or whatever becomes its eventual fate.
Michelsen begins his piece by declaring: “Let me be clear; there is no excuse for Larson using the N-word under any circumstances, especially during a publicly viewed competition.”
I would only add that there is never an excuse for Larson or anyone else to utter “nigger,” whether in public or in private.
Then Michelsen suggests there is a double standard in operation here with the alleged utterance of “nigger” by rappers, which is not altogether factual as rappers have coined a slang to show affection to their friends; therefore, “nigga.” In the vernacular of hip hop, this slang is a term of endearment.
But you argue, Blacks cannot have it both ways. They cannot show affection for their “nigga” without expecting whites to become comfortable with expressing a term for “brothers” that whites have used in talking about them since 1574.
Well, let us say; you have an endearing term for your favorite girl. You picked her up from the scrap heap, and you are quite proud of her. You love her dearly. She is a beautiful pale skin Scotch-Irish woman with red hair and blue eyes. She loves to hear you say it because she senses a closer bond each time you refer to her by this term. It both denigrates her and encourages her. Let us say; this term is “Cracker,” which, since the times of Shakespeare, “Cracker” started as a way to denigrate people of Scotch-Irish lineage. See Shakespeare’s King John published around 1594, where an English character says to another: “What cracker is this same that deaf our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath ” https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/07/01/197644761/word-watch-on-crackers)?
For centuries, white people have disparaged other white people whom they thought were inferior to them. This European disposition to rank people in classes of respectability spilled over to people of color when Europeans encountered people in Asia, Africa, and the islands of the seas.
Thus, “cracker” has come to mean a lazy person full of hot air and lacking the substance of gentile society.
“Cracker” later became a term of endearment between Scotch-Irish people who settled in Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia to escape persecution from Anglo-Saxons in England. I have white associates who proudly proclaim: “I’m a Georgia Cracker.”
What would happen, if I see your favorite girl in Walmart, and greet her with, “Hello Cracker,” your sweet term of endearment for your lovely Scot-Irish sweetheart?
I am sure most of my white friends would turn red as a beet and prepare to confront me over my use of their word of endearment to greet their favorite girl.
The emotion you would feel for my infringement upon your term of endearment with your favorite girl is precisely why “Nigger” is considered a fighting word by members of the “nigga” clan.
There is no reason why a white person should ever appropriate Black culture and call a brother or sister “nigga,” as there is no excuse for a friend to call his best friend’s girl by their term of endearment for each other.
And usually, whites do not resort to the word “nigga.” Perhaps they have not grasped the unspoken nuance of the name yet. They use the tried and true word that means that I am superior to you, “Nigger.”
“Nigger” is unmistakably clear, “I am not trying to be your bro. I hate you with a passion, and I want to see you destroyed in all your manifestations,” or more contemporaneously, “Nigger, just shut up and re-open Atlanta.” In other words, you bloviate, nothing you, stop talking.
No, no, no, thousand times no, shouting “Nigger” is not akin to a mere parking violation. It ought to be a criminal assault charge.
There is only one reason why Larson shouted, “Hey nigger,” he was frustrated because the sound system had failed, so whoever was responsible, if they were not Black, was no smarter than a dumb “nigger.” Period.
And this my friends inflict pain. If you are white, I do not expect you to understand the pain felt collectively by Black Americans, and if you are Asian living white, I do not expect you to understand it either. If you are Asian and living Asian, I know damn well you feel me.
What then, is a “Nigger?”
Cambridge Dictionary says that “Nigger” is a noun and defines it as “An extremely offensive word for a black person.”
According to vocalbulary.com, “Nigger” is one of the most controversial, complicated words in English. It’s a hateful slur for an African-American…”
Before Merriam-Webster removed certain words from its dictionary in 1998, it defined “Nigger” as “A black person — usually taken to be offensive and a member of any dark-skinned race, or a member of a socially disadvantaged class of person.
Merriam-Webster states, “Nigger,” is “used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a black person.”
Also, Wikipedia states, “In the English language, the word nigger is an ethnic slur typically directed at black people, especially African-Americans.
Additionally, the Oxford English Dictionary opines, “this term is strongly racially offensive when used by a white person about a black person.”
Given his heritage, Larson should have known better than to park his car on the term “nigger.”
The consensus of language scholars skilled in the lexicon agrees that “nigger” is a term used by non-colored people to inflict pain on Black people. Such dastardly deeds deserve more than a parking ticket fine.
Michelsen concedes that “Larson deserved a suspension, and maybe a long one, to make sure everyone in the sport gets the message.”
To his credit, Michelsen calls out General Motors, a former Larson sponsor, for racial threats presumably made by white employees against Black employees in a plant in Toledo, Ohio. And he is right to point out that corporate America has done a poor job in sponsoring minority drivers like Willie T. Ribbs in the last century and Michai Stephen in the past decade. Without the sponsors, Black stock car drivers cannot compete long at a competitive level on the NASCAR circuit. Withholding sponsorship money to Black stock car drivers is equivalent to a corporate shout-out of “NIGGER,” the pains of which not only torment the soul of Black drivers but their pockets too.
Michelsen concludes Larson is guilty of being stupid and careless, using a racial slur.” Larson’s despairing racial slur amounts to a simple city ordinance violation, slap him with a brief suspension, and back to the racetrack grind if he keeps his “nigger” name-calling to private conversations like a civilized white American.
The notion that what Larson said is equivalent to a parking ticket is the rub. Sure, Larson was stupid and careless for resorting to a racial slur in the heat of a moment. Still, his actions also reveal racial hatred liken to a pathogen like a virus that is as deadly on its impact on Black people as the Coronavirus is. Perhaps, the appropriate punishment for Larson, if not the death penalty, then indeed, life without the possibility of parole.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.