My Shameful Behavior
I should’ve reacted. I didn’t.
I should’ve reacted. I didn’t.
My parents raised me to be open-minded and disregard things like religion and race.
One of my father’s closest friends, when I was a kid, was a black man named Hank. Our families were tight. Pop traveled a lot for work and it wasn’t uncommon for Hank and my mother to go pick up my Dad from the airport when he returned.
While I have no recollection of this, my mother told me a story about one particular time — since I don’t recall the event, it’d be impossible to say the year, but I’m guessing around 1972/3. We lived in Virginia at the time and my mother, Hank and myself went to pick up my father at the airport.
My wee self was walking in between them holding their hands as they were swinging me through the concourse to the gate. It being Virginia in the early ‘70s, apparently, people were aghast. Here was a white woman, walking with a black man, laughing as the swung a little kid.
When I noticed the people were staring and pointing, I asked my mom why everyone was staring.
Hank said, “Because I’m black.”
I looked up and asked, “What’s black?”
Fast forward to a few months ago.
I was in a Wal-Mart around where I live in New Haven, CT. The home of about five colleges with liberal bellwether Yale University being the crown jewel. As I was making my way to check out of the store, I saw two adults exchanging words. One white middle-aged white guy and a black woman. I have no clue what they were arguing about, I just went walking by.
Adults fighting in a Wal-Mart is as common as a disgruntled DMV worker.
The woman turned to walk away as I happened to walk by the guy. As I did he said, “Yea, that’s right, walk away n*gger.” She whipped around and said, “What did you say?” I looked over my shoulder and just shook my head and carried on.
What I should have done is turned around and said something like “Yo. Dude. WTF? There’s no need for that type of talk.”
Or perhaps turned on the snark and said, “Hey man, if you’re looking for the white sheets, they’re over there.”
But I did neither.
The rest of the day through to this very moment, I have wrestled with my inaction and silence.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
I believe that we’re living in an era when that phrase holds as much power as it did when it was first spoken.
When I, you, or anyone, witness an injustice to someone, anyone, regardless of gender or race, it’s incumbent upon me, you, us, to say something . . . at the very least.
In that particular situation, I did not.
Now, I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t encountered a situation like that since then. But I’m not naive enough to think it hasn’t taken place at that Wal-Mart, and far too many other places, since then. In fact, given the current climate of the country, I’ve no doubt it’s gotten worse. . . and that was only six months ago.
My fear and/or cowardice was the power that kept me silent. I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s the truth. Never again will I let my fear or cowardice override what the truth is.
And the truth is, race exists, racism shouldn’t. Staying silent and doing nothing feeds oppression.
“Racism isn’t born folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. Do you know what he hates? Naps. End of list.” — Denis Leary, comedian/actor.
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