My husband and I were recently watching the move “The Dam Busters” on Netflix. This is the story of the brave men of the RAF, who using a radically new and for the most part untried method, bombed dam sites during WWII. We were settled in for an exciting, but true, war adventure, when we suddenly looked at each other and went “huh?”
The movie showed Wing Commander Guy Gibson leaving his plane after a successful bombing mission being greeting by his black lab pet.
My husband- “Did he call his dog what I think he called his dog?”
Me-“It sure sounded like that, but he probably said ‘Nigel’, it’s the accent.”
My husband – “OH MY GAWD, he said it again, he called the dog the n-word!”
Me-“He did, he called the dog the n-word! Should we be watching this movie?”
(It should be noted my husband and I really did say “the n-word”. That’s because we never ever say that “the n-word” represents. We are parents, and I work with preschoolers. It’s safer to never say any actualy word like that for fear of little ears in anyway hearing. It doesn’t matter that our children are grown and it was just my husband and myself. We can’t bring ourselves to say it, even in this case of film watching horror.)
My husband-“Maybe it’s alright to watch the movie as there aren’t any black people in the movie?”
Me-“I don’t think he’s a racist, I think he’s just British.”
We continued to watch, but also winced each time someone called the dog “the n-word”. It was “well hello, n-word, what are you doing around here boy?” It was “Good old n-word, he’s a good dog.” Everyone on the base seemed to know the name of the dog, and delight in saying “n-word”.
My husband-“Perhaps at that time, it was common in England to call a black dog the n-word”
Me-“When I was young our neighbors called their black cat ‘Sambo’. That’s pretty bad but not n-word bad”
My husband-“Well, your grandmother called your white cat ‘Blackie’ if I remember.”
(This is when the guilt began to creep in. My grandmother had called our white cat “Blackie”. She thought it was funny. I remember the veterinarian would call us back and would always chuckle at the looks on the faces of the other people waiting when he call “Blackie” and we would bring up our snow white cat.)
Me-“My grandmother wasn’t racist,I think she was being funny. But it’s probably not very funny.”
My husband-“I just remembered, our cat, ‘Othello’!”
Me-“We weren’t being racist! He was a black cat, if we were racist we would have named him ‘Sambo’ or something worse!”
My husband-“I don’t know, I still feel pretty badly about it now. Though that dumb vet’s assistant thought we had named him after a board game.”
Me-“Well and Shakespeare was English! So maybe it’s OK, because Othello is a English name. I don’t think Wing Commander Guy Gibson was a racist, he was just English! Same with Shakespeare! Othello was too dumb to answer to his name most of the time anyway.”
I hope I’m not giving anything away when I say that right before the big dam busting, “N-word” the dog is hit by a car and dies. It’s tragic. Still, without hearing the n-word over and over, my husband and I were able to focus on the movie. It was quite good, and well worth a look up on netflix. I have heard the movie is being remade. The original has the same type of plane that was flown on the mission, which I’m sure will not be available for the remake. I also wondered if not only would the original planes be missing, but the original dog’s name, There is history, but there is also a modern audience listening to a movie and saying “Wait, did he just call that dog what I think he called that dog?” Distraction is just one reason this bit of history will probably be rewritten for the new film.
My husband and I also agreed to stick to non British names for our pets from now on.