Coulda, shoulda, woulda – Day 242

I don’t even know how to begin here, except to say that today I read a Facebook post by a friend that has had me extremely upset.

I work with a man who’s been a friend of mine for more than five years. I’m a middle-aged white woman, and he’s a black man in his twenties, but I’ve met some of his family, he’s hung out in my home, we’ve shared confidences. It’s the kind of closeness that often comes when people work together every day: you gravitate toward who you like.

I got up this morning and turned on my computer, only to find this post from him:

“So, while I was at work, an irate customer who I had not even spoken to compared me to a monkey today.”

I can’t get this out of my mind. I cannot imagine how long it will stay with him: forever, I would guess. I am a homosexual, and an activist, so I know a good bit about prejudice and fear. But nothing like this.

I keep thinking of what I would have done had I been there. This is what I hope: that I would run, race to get a manager who would say to this customer, “You cannot treat people like that in this store. Get out and never, ever set foot in here again.” I know several of our managers would say that — what I hope is that I would have been swift enough and righteous enough to have stepped in and done my part. That I wouldn’t be fearful and delay until it was too late. I wasn’t there, so now all I can do is repeat this sickening story here, in hopes that it gives us all a running start when something like this happens the next time. Because it will, and it does, every day.

Let’s remember, this incident didn’t happen in a drunken brawl at a bar, but in a nice store in an affluent neighborhood in Manhattan. Hate and prejudice live everywhere.

I’ve stopped and started this post several times today in tears, and as many times as I rewrite it, it’s not powerful enough.

There is an ad campaign in New York City right now in the wake of recent anti-gay violence, but it also stresses that diversity of all kinds is our greatest strength. It has the best advice I could offer today:

Love love. Hate hate.

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12 Responses to Coulda, shoulda, woulda – Day 242

  1. lomaurice says:

    It is absolutely amazing that something like this can happen to your friend in this day and age.

  2. Jay Squires says:

    I’m remembering some twenty years ago when Howard Cosell’s world of football “colorcasting” came crumbling to his feet with the words, “Look at little monkey run.” Sometimes prejudice lies just under the surface and it just takes a moment of uncensored excitement for the truth of it to pop up. But, we should not, perhaps, lose sight of the fact that the public outcry and censure against the thoughtless act was enormous. I feel grateful for the progress (slow though it was) we have made over the hundred and fifty-plus years since the close of the Civil War … but progress will only continue while we are vigilant against each surfacing of pustules of hatred. Thank you my dear zit-popping friend for the part you played.

    • Jay, thank you so much for your comment. Cosell was a great example: he — and other sportscasters over the years — have been a source of terrible racist commentary. I think you’re right in siting vigilance as one of the keys — day-to-day, minute-by-minute vigilance.

  3. Ellen Bernstein says:

    I, too, was shocked and my heart was broken, when I read this on Facebook. And you know that I know your friend and admire him for many reasons. Unfortunately incidents like this are not unusual in our fair city and I imagine in other places as well. I have had to have people ejected from stores that I managed for racist and/or homophobic comments which were often obscene. Just a few months ago a middle aged white female customer after asking me what I thought of President Obama (I responded that I thought he was doing his best because I believed that would be a neutral comment) referred to him as a Chicago thug. Now, I realize that she was parroting what she head on the radio, but how could any person, other than the disgraceful people on the radio who promote their own careers by fostering this sort of attitude, repeat such a racist and racially loaded insult? My heart aches for our friend but he is strong and will prevail. Let’s all do all we can to raise awareness on this issue and real people, good people, are hurt, damaged, in pain, because of this sort of behavior.

  4. Liz says:

    Absolutely disgusting. I hope your friend can shrug off that moron.

    • I don’t know how he can. How? All I can think of is how Dr. King stayed nonviolent.

      • Jay Squires says:

        Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “The morons you will always have with you”? I’ve been a moron myself once or twice (okay, probably half a dozen times — but over my whole lifetime), hopefully for not so egregious acts of hatred as Erin described. Thank God and His Angels, though, I’ve more often than not been called to task for my moronities (That should be a word, shouldn’t it?). Hopefully, I’ve grown by it. Is it too far a stretch that we might all become publicly outraged enough by such moronic behavior to trigger our courage by openly outing the offender? I hope not! And, I put myself first on the list of securing the commitment then making friends again with that elusive courage I suspect we all wish we had more of at the precise moment we need to use it.

      • Like I said, Jay: hopefully to walk away with no “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.”

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