Once, in Portland, Maine, a skinny white boy in grubby clothes calls me ‘nigger.’ He waits until we pass each other on the street to hurl the insult at my back. Amazed, I turn around to stare at his receding form. The intent of this word is clear, to diminish my value and cut me down to size, but I feel no such effect. I laugh to myself or possibly out loud. I’m thinking of how my mother, over all the years of our bitter arguments and prickly standoffs, managed to pour so much of her fighting spirit into me – instructions in a kind of pride I’d often found exaggerated –– all so that I’d be able to withstand exactly this encounter.



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