Comparing the Loss of Innocence in Cullen's Incident and Naylor’s Mommy, What Does Nigger Mean?

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Loss of Innocence in Cullen's Incident and Naylor’s Mommy, What Does "Nigger" Mean?

Unfortunately, a question that many African Americans have to ask in childhood is "Mommy, what does nigger mean?," and the answer to this question depicts the racism that still thrives in America (345). Both Gloria Naylor’s "'Mommy, What Does "Nigger" Mean?'" and Countee Cullen's "Incident" demonstrate how a word like "nigger" destroys a child’s innocence and initiates the child into a world of racism. Though the situations provoking the racial slur differ, the word "nigger" has the same effect on the young Naylor and the child in Cullen’s poem. A racist society devours the white children’s innocence, and, consequently, the white children embody
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Unlike Naylor, Cullen never identifies the sex of the black child in his poem. Perhaps Cullen renders the child in his poem genderless to give the child a more universal standing; perhaps he leaves the child genderless in order to focus on the more important fact that the child, whether male or female, sees no difference between him- or herself and the other boy until the “Baltimorean" boy calls him/her "nigger" (3).

Both Cullen and Naylor add "color" to the description of the children with this single racial epithet. The white children’s use of the word "nigger" establishes a distinction between them and the black children in Naylor and Cullen’s works which embodies the essence of racism. This distinction forces the young Naylor and the child in Cullen’s poem to see beyond their innocence and to see themselves and their world in new colors: black and white. Both Naylor and Cullen touch on an important issue by noting that the first incident of racism for the black children, occurring when the white children call them "nigger," takes place between two children. The fact that the white boys call the young Naylor and the child in Cullen’s poem "nigger" at such a young age reflects the unfortunate truth that America teaches color boundaries and racism at a young age. The word "nigger" does not exist in white children’s vocabulary at birth. Rather, their parents and community teach them the word and pass down the legacy of racism as if it is an

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