When I was a boy, my family adopted a black cat during the Halloween Season.¹ I named her Spook. Although a word meaning ghost or spirit, spook, if you don’t know (and my wife didn’t until I told her this story, bless her heart), is sometimes used as a racist term for black people. There weren’t a lot of black people in my town growing up (and when I say ‘weren’t a lot,’ I mean they were a single family), and I was completely ignorant of the word’s racist connotations.
That is, until my mom moved us to Lakewood, Washington when I was in the 7th grade. Lakewood, at that time an unincorporated are of Tacoma, Washington, is a far more diverse city than anywhere on the Central Coast. We lived in an apartment complex with mostly white neighbors, but also several black families. One such family, a military couple, had a kid my age, and we played together.
But sure enough, when the neighbor family heard the name of my cat, they asked, “Wow. Don’t you think that’s kind of…racist?”
And when I say ‘neighbor family,’ I mean the WHITE neighbor family. My cat’s name made them feel all funny inside.
The black family whose kid I played with? They never said two words about it, and even took care of the cat once when my mom took me back to California to visit my grandma.
The thought I’d like to leave you with is this: Do you think my friend’s parents were able to look past my cat’s name and see intentions behind the bullshit of labels, or do you imagine that they–originally from Florida and New Jersey and born sometime in the Fifties–had just maybe never heard that word before?