No, it’s not racist that we white people cannot use the n-word.

Personal experience is the best teacher. In my own journey out of racism, there is one experience that stands above all others. I’ve written about it before, but it bears repeating here. In 1983, my ship, the USS Ranger (CV 61) was in port at Subic Bay in the Philippines, and I was on liberty, having a beer at a quiet open-air bar called the Stoned Crow on Magsaysay Avenue in Olongapo.

I was doing what I loved to do: writing. I was twenty-one years old at the time, and a bar girl probably ten years older walked up to me and asked me what I was writing. It was of course her opportunity to sit with me and make a few pisos (not pesos), and maybe quite a bit more if I’d pay what we called a “bar fine” and take her to a hotel for an hour or so. Trying to be both nice and honest, I replied to her, “I’m writing to my family back home and telling them that people here smile a lot, but it seems to me that they really aren’t very happy.”