The Shell Game – Gary Young MySpace Blog

I think I’m a potential alcoholic. Every once in a while I drink a Half & Half flavored Twisted Tea. Every sip is much more refreshing than it should be. That worries me. Maybe it’s the sugar rush. Or maybe it’s just the perfect beverage. To business…


I played tennis tonight. It was going to be a rematch with a co-worker — I talked much trash today, it was classic — but Xuan came out and then a stranger passing by, Al, joined in for a game of doubles. Al reminded me of Al Roker, an overweight African-American guy. He couldn’t run all that fast but he had some serious skills. Probably well in his 40’s. After the game Al gave me some pointers and then practiced acing me with his serves. I think someone filled my tennis with cement, by the way. Apparently, he has a tournament tomorrow night. Cool guy and/but kind of serious about the game.

My co-worker, an Indian guy, talks very casually to pretty much everyone, When he’s talking to guys he ends a lot of sentences with the word “boy”. Like, “Nice game, boy.” Every time he called Al “boy” I cringed. So at one point I told my co-worker that some black men are very offended by being called “boy”. For historical reasons. I didn’t have time to try to explain but here I am blogging so I have time to distill my thoughts.

Why, you ask? White people used to call black men — full grown or old black men — boy. It was derogatory and used in the same way as the word “nigger”.

The words “boy” and “nigger” are two words that many a lynched black man heard shortly before he died. It’s all in the context. I was thinking about this on the way to Panera Bread this evening. The reason that “nigger” is such a powerful word is because of the context surrounding it. For instance, here’s the context involved when I was slurred once. Riding my bike to a friend’s house. It went something like this:

“Get out of my neighborhood you f–king nigger. I’ll kill you if I ever see you in my neighborhood again.”

That’s an easy one, though. In the seventh grade I transferred to Holabird Middle School for the G&T program. Practically the only black guy in the school. There were five black people in the entire school. The first couple of days a few people called me names as I walked between classes: nigger, coon, etc. Usually there’s a curse word spoken in front of it or implied. G–damn nigger. F—king nigger. The looks in their eyes and the body language said, “I hate you. You don’t belong here. You’re subhuman and your presence or mere existence is an abomination. I would snuff you out like a match flame if I could get away with it.”

That’s what “nigger” means. And that’s why it’s such a powerful, insulting, derogatory word. That’s what people get bent out of shape about. “Boy” doesn’t carry nearly as much weight but there was a time when it meant the same thing except with the implication that the black man in question knew his place and wouldn’t get out of line.

Heavy stuff, man. This is not about the word “nigga”, by the way, assuming that there really is such a distinction. That’s a different conversation altogether.


I had a realization today. I was talking to some co-workers about other people. I mean, it’s something I knew but it’s the first time I’ve had words for it. I often talk about people’s shells. Everyone has a shell. Some shells are thicker than others. Some open easily and some are damn near impermeable. Some are just about opaque and the people inside can barely see out and their sense of reality becomes distorted. Some shells are thorny and will hurt you if you get close to them. Some shells are very pleasant and may make you comfortable or you may even feel flattered, energized or uplifted. Some shells are just inside a person’s metaphysical skin. You may really be interacting with someone and then you’ll reach a wall and you won’t be able to figure out what the hell just happened. Everything seemed to be going so well and then….

The realization is that I’m really put off or annoyed when I can’t get through someone’s shell. If you’ve read many of my blogs you know that my big thing, what I’m looking for in life, is connection. That’s what’s missing. Polite small talk … I guess it serves its purpose but it can be so empty. Talking to drunk people can be cool because they let their guard down. The only problem is that they forget about it by the time they sober up. Drunken connections corrode or evaporate quickly.

I don’t know if it’s just me — I’m kind of a people watcher — but I find that most of the time I can see through people’s shells. Many of them are translucent to me. Opacity varies. But what bothers me most is when I can see through it so clearly but still can’t get through. Still can’t connect. Of course, just because I want to doesn’t mean that the other person wants me to.

There’s nothing wrong here, by the way. That’s just the way it is. Like deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter and grow them back in the Spring. That’s the way it goes. It’s nature.

Stan asked me if I thought I had a shell. I figure it’s what gives people the impression that I’m super independent and don’t want to bother with you. Or that I’ve got some big life happening and don’t have time for you or don’t want to be interrupted. And that’s how shells work. Ironically (and I think most of them are ironic) my “shell” says the opposite of what I want. It says leave me alone when in fact I want to interact and connect. Hmmm, maybe shells are like the electron shells of atoms. It’s the negative charge of the electrons that keeps them orbiting around the positvely charged nucleus. I’m going to have to follow this path of metaphor down the rabbit hole but I’ll spare you and do it on my own time. My point, though, is that maybe shells naturally complement the internal workings.

People are funny.

By the way, I saw the cutest young lady today at Panera Bread. Short, petite, fit and cuuuurvacious. My goodness. Actually, I saw her in Office Depot first and then she came into Panera Bread a few minutes after I did, coincidentally. (And yes it was coincidence. I know what you’re thinking because she couldn’t have seen where I went after I left the store. How do I know that? Because I was watching the doors of Office Depot for her exit as I walked into Panera.) As I was stepping out of the door I thought of what I could/should have said as I “coincidentally” walked by her and she smiled at my polite greeting. About 30 seconds too late. Argh.

Alright. I’m going to work on some music. The RC-50 is here. I’ve reinstalled my Symphony Strings plug-in for Fruity Loops, I’ve got a lot of ideas, I’ve watched the KT Tunstall performance (she uses a looping device … and well) and I’m fired up.

Time to get busy.

Currently reading :
Spanish III : Learn to Speak and Understand Spanish with Pimsleur Language Programs (Comprehensive)
By Pimsleur
Release date: By 12 July, 2004


S. Flick I

EstAs aprendiendo espaniol? Q divertido! Yo no lo sabia. Si quieres practicar, te invito a escribirme en espaniol. yo tambien debo usar lo poco de espaniol q he adquirido. Porque si no lo uso peorarA. (i don’t know if that was good grammar but oh well)

That’s weird that your Indian friend says “boy” alot.. is he first generation from India or was he born here? Is it an awkward adaptation to english, or some regional baltimore version of “dude” I don’t know about since I live in norcal?
Anyway I was watching Inside the Actors Studio today, because the guest was Dave Chappelle – so I guess I’m a fan. And it was interesting, because even though they were having a pretty candid/serious conversation, it was like the dialog was stifled throughout the interview because of the content of Chappelle’s work, especially when they were talking about using the “n” word, but also anything to do with race, which is pretty much all of his stuff. Or maybe I was just uncomfortable because James Lipton was interviewing Dave Chappelle, and that in itself is fodder for many a parody (In fact, that EXACT SITUATION WAS the scenario for a skit on his show!!)
It was still a good interview despite being uncomfortable, because dave chapelle is talented at softening the mood for an audience (maybe a specific audience?) But this is what he said about using the N-word– (paraphrasing) even if a white guy comes up to him and says “I love that skit about the Niggars”, it gets him right there (stabbing at his heart) or something like that– like it makes his skin crawl, even if its in a supposedly harmless manner (is that ever the case?). He also said something about getting flack from women for using it so much in his skits. I guess mothers do always know best ;). Anyway, he made a subtle implication that there is a BIG distinction in connotation with the ownership of the word, but that maybe through the nagging conscience that is a woman, it’s still vulgar in any case when you come down to it…..

i don’t know, taboos sometimes make a word stronger. But in this case, I can’t imagine a more powerful thing really. The power to dehumanize with a single word is scary as hell. I guess that’s why we all deny we live in a racist country, and don’t want to “own” our past (and our present) .. because that would imply taking on a responsibility that we’re afraid of.

Posted by S. Flick I on Jun 12, 2006 3:27 AM
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Gary Young

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the comment.  This is a blog-worthy comment.

Posted by Gary Young on Jun 12, 2006 10:03 PM
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I have to say as a former co-worker I always thought your “shell” said go away.  I don’t want to get involved.  Maybe it was just with me, but like you I usually like to make contact and I never felt that was something you wanted with people there.  Interesting

Posted by amie on Jun 14, 2006 1:03 PM
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Gary Young

Thanks for the comment, Amie.

Yeh, isn’t that strange?  And definitely not good for a UI designer.  I’ll have to be more mindful of that.  But realizing that, I’ve done what I can to make that little corner where I sit inviting and comfortable for everyone.

Maybe I need to put up a sign to make sure that people know that they’re welcome and that they’re not a distraction.

Aw man.  Time to go to training.  My brain already hurts.

Posted by Gary Young on Jun 14, 2006 3:21 PM
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