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A week after the attack, there’s a lively gathering  on the porch of the restaurant/bar in our little hamlet. Meat is sizzling on a gas grill,  the local boys are all there, beer is flowing freely. It’s an end of the golf season celebration, I find out later. I swing by and ask a carpenter who has done work on my house, hey, what’s this all about, and he say, in his cups, “We’re going to kill some sand niggers. Want to join us? ”
Sand niggers. I haven’t heard this revolting term in nine years, not since the Gulf War, when the same regulars at the same watering place were hepped up about “nuking the sand niggers.” This term really gets under my skin, because my wife is African, and it’s an ethnic slur that’s built on an ethnic slur. It has twice the potency of your average slur.
I call the guy from whom I recall first hearing the term, back at the time of the Gulf War. He is a college-educated guy from an old WASP family, and he told me a joke about “sand niggers” from the local boys. He thought the term was hilariously funny at the time. I remember him saying, after I told him that the most disgusting term I’ve ever heard, “Come on. You have to admit it’s funny.” But now he doesn’t recall the joke or ever having told it to me. “I would never tell a joke like that,” he says. So he has grown, and is in denial about who he was then.
I realize that this could be another case of the useful, forgetting type of loss. We must forget our previous selves before we can grow out of them. Denial greases the skin-shedding process.
My friend tells me that he heard the term long before the Gulf War. He recalls a Jewish stockbroker on Wall Street applying it to the rich Arab oil sheiks who had America by the balls during the oil crisis of 1973. How interesting. So the attack on the tower could have a karmic, what-goes-around-comes-around aspect. “Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.”