Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Stasi would have loved her

Everybody's had this, so I'll just pile on. Post columnist Kristen Browning-Blas channels the civil-rights stalwarts of yore (and mine):
Have you ever been in that awkward situation where someone makes an off-color joke, or worse, a blatantly racist one? People laugh uncomfortably, or look away, or pretend they didn't hear.

Maybe your son's new coach makes a subtle racial slur and you don't want to make the other parents uncomfortable, so you stay quiet. . . .

After a week of hearing stories of incredible sacrifice leading up to Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration of our first African-American president, I had the chance to test the courage of my own convictions in a small way.
A very small way.
On "Fresh Air" Jan. 19, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told the radio show's host Terry Gross about being beaten by Alabama state troopers as he and 600 other voting-rights protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in 1965. They knew they might be hurt, yet they stepped on past the fear. . . .

Moving, yes, but I had no idea how much that call to action would resonate on Inauguration Day. After watching the swearing-in on TV, I hauled myself to the gym, thinking I'd march on the Stairmaster along with the parade. Our gym has a cafe/bar, and I stopped to have some soup first.

One of the employees was checking the tea and noted out loud that they were out of black tea. To the other server, she made a joke about ordering some more "Obama tea."

On this day, of all days, I could not turn away, pretend I didn't hear.

My pulse raced a little. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach. In the larger scheme of things, calling her on it was a small act.
Petty, even.
I did the uncomfortable thing and spoke to the server (the jokester had disappeared), and to the club manager. "What do you want me to do?" the manager asked, when I said I thought it was not a harmless joke but a racist statement. I suggested racial sensitivity training at the very least. He said he would "take it under advisement." I found out later he spoke to her about the incident.

That day, I left before the tears of frustration spilled over. You might expect to shed some tears watching Obama take the oath of office as our president, for whatever personal reason.
For whatever personal reason.
But tears of anger and fear? Anger at others' lack of outrage. Fear at being singled out as the trouble-making complainer. . . .
She should have feared the ridicule. Read whole thing. Her kid is a Young Pioneer in training. Read the comments, as well (something I almost never recommend for newspaper threads). Here's one:
OMG! This is the bravest thing I've ever read!

As a "person of color", it's great to know that sensitive, caring people like you have my back. While I can never truly repay you, I promise the next time Macy*s has a "White Sale", or my office mates propose a "white elephant" gift exchange for our lame holiday party, I will give them a piece of my mind in your honor.

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