I remember the first time I heard cuss words. I was seven years old and had just recently moved to a neighborhood called Chesterfield Heights in Norfolk, VA. Until moving there I had been pretty sheltered from children outside of my family and none of us cussed. To this day, unless we are really trying to make a point, we will literally only say the first letter in the word–not that it’s really that different. So you might understand my Ned Flandersesque confusion when I first started hearing all kinds of B*s, MF*s, S*s and niggas. Yup,I hadn’t heard the word nigger before either. I know. The only word to have sold more albums than Michael Jackson and I never heard it. I told you I was sheltered.
Anyway, I was sitting in my yard one day when some kids from the neighborhood came up to me and asked, “Nigga, what’s your name?” I got the name part but was confused with the first thing they said and replied, “Excuse me. What was the first word you said? My name is Pedro, but what did you call me at first?” I can still hear the laughter in 2009.
“Look at this MF* here. Did you say ‘excuse me’? What the F? And what kind of nigga is named Pedro? What is you? Geechee or some kind of Mexican?”
For the next few weeks they were joking me everyday. It was the first time in my life I felt stupid–like I didn’t know anything. I had to fix that. I needed to learn their language and figure out why they were being so hostile toward me. So I took out a pen and paper and asked if I could write down the words they keep saying. Hey, I admitted that my confusion was Ned Flandersesque. So after getting joked some more, one dude, who ended up becoming my best friend, let me write down some stuff and even let me practice on my technique. Of course this was after the other brothers left. Thanks Kevin. We have to hook up one of these days.
Anyway, that night, I’m in the living room practicing my heart out like it’s the SATs when my mom walks in. You should’ve seen the look on her face. I didn’t know what I had done wrong, but from my training with Kevin, I knew I had just F*ed up.
“What did you just say?” she inquired/screamed. Instincts told me to throw my notebook under the couch. I would have been better off eating it. Let’s just say that those were the last cuss words my mom heard out of me for a long time. Of course, I still chose to study in secret until I got to a point where I felt like I had mastered it and could be accepted by the kids in the neighborhood, but in the house, my mom’s orders were enforced. I had to remind very mindful so that I wouldn’t slip and say something like “son of a S*” the next time I got shocked or something. Hey, I was still learning.
Well, as most of us learn in life, going back and forth between how you act around people pretty much sucks. And if you do it too long, you run a real risk of losing your authentic self altogether. After a while, I felt like I was two people and I didn’t like it. I kept trying to figure out how to be cool with my friends on the corner and being a good student and son at school and home. By the time I was 10, I was starting to get a little twisted. Which Pedro was I? Was I all of them? Was I none of them? I decided to ask God. Through all my confusion, I always prayed and when I talked to God I only had one identity–His child. (I say “His” because of the nature my relationship with God and do not prescribe this description to anyone else’s relationship or lack thereof.)
My answer came when I was hanging out with my grandmother. I realized that when I was with her I didn’t even think about whether I would cuss or not or whether I was accepted. It was a given that with her, I was always alright. That’s when it hit me that I was who I was when I wasn’t thinking about who I was. Does that make sense? Because she loved me unconditionally, I didn’t have to think about who I was through someone else’s eyes. After that realization, I decided that I would do all I could to stay conscious of who I really am and to help others know that when they are around me they can feel free to do the same.