I’m late to the party, but by now everyone is familiar with Bill Maher’s incident on his show recently. The casualness with which he used a racial slur made me think of an incident that happened a few weeks ago, and one that I’ve been meaning to write about, but hesitated because it brings to the surface the kind of person I was, and the kind of person that I am, and I’m not happy with either one.
I attended a lunch meeting a few weeks back with a group of people I had to meet with because of my job. During the course of the meeting one of the guys made a joke using the N word.
Most everyone laughed.
I remember shaking my head and thinking, “Jeeze, glad I wasn’t raised to be like that.”
But I was. I was raised to be like that.
My father had a problem with black people — specifically black men who dated white women. He also had some very strange beliefs, such as the reason black athletes are superior to white athletes is because their bodies have extra muscles and ligaments, which give them abilities white athletes don’t have.
Neither my mom nor I know where dad came up with this stuff. But I imagine it came from his childhood and his friends with whom he grew up.
The same way I heard it.
I grew up in an all white, middle class neighborhood. I went to Catholic school for 12 years, which was probably 99% white. And everyone I knew — all my friends, and my parents’ friends — said racist things.
It was normal.
It was normal to make racist jokes and it was normal to refer to blacks as, well whatever you can imagine. And I’d like to say that I didn’t participate, but I’d be lying.
So, yeah, I was a shit. Some would say I’m still a shit, but I’m trying.
Trying to not be a shit, that is.
The point is, having lunch with this group — many of the guys much younger than I — further demonstrates that we’re not making much progress when it comes to the issues of racism; it’s like a diseased gene that keeps getting passed on from generation to generation. I think we like to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re getting somewhere, and maybe we’ve moved the needle forward a pinch, but I don’t think our attitudes are much better than they were 50 years ago. We bury them, hide them, but they’re still there. And when we’re with a group of seemingly “agreeable” people, that’s when we let it out.
While the lunch meeting bothered me because of the language that was used, I was bothered much more by the fact that I was too much of a coward to say something. I was afraid I’d be the one to look like a dick. That somehow I’d be the asshole. And I would have too. In that group, I would have. But it would’ve been the right thing to do, and my failure only helps to perpetuate the problem.
So I guess in many ways, I’m still a bit of a shit, and like a lot of us, I still have a lot of work to do.