Normal everyday racism

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.

True story.

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.

  • I don’t care for the phrase “The N Word” and consider it childish for everyone to be afraid of it. It should be used in context, such as “The word nigger is a disgusting word.”

    • rg57

      You get points for being straightforward. I self-censored in the hopes of not getting my whole comment erased. Best of luck to you.

  • rg57

    You aren’t actually buying the idea that Bill Maher is a secret racist who slipped up, are you?

    Perhaps you had time to see the film Moonlight.

    That film was full of the N-word, my ni—- … uh… I mean…. N-word (I only censored this to prevent the entire comment getting censored, but I assure you I would otherwise have used it, just as Bill did, and in the same sense of acceptance)

    It is, by definition, racist to say that there is a word that you can only use if you have a particular skin color.

    By the way, as a gay man, I explicitly give you permission to use the F word (long- and short-form). Censorship is what we fought AGAINST, not for. That’s why, despite the history of suicides, castrations, honor killings, silent screams, shunning, and imprisonment, you can still actually say the F word in most venues and you won’t be censored. We (most of us) aren’t here to police the language. So please don’t.

    • Funny but I honestly had to think for a while what the F word was. I wish more people understood words aren’t inherently bad but context and intent are what matters. Thanks for your post, that was very uplifting.

  • Ten Bears

    Bill Maher, the guy that claims to be atheist but regularly reminds us of his status as one of Dog’s Chosen People?

    At times I can’t help but think the Y2K nuts had it right, they just didn’t quite qet their stubby little fingers wrapped around it: till then I was pleased with and proud to be a part of what I perceived to be fifty years of progress. The Mad Max reversion to barbarism within a generation may not require a dystopic end of the world.

    I confess I, of red white and black ancestry, use the word more than I should, and that it is invariably addressing the motorists of my 99.9% white bread corner of the world is no caveat.

  • 4n1m4L

    In the past 15 years technology has advanced at break neck speed, but we as people have stopped, even gone backwards in some ways. It is our duty to throw down the prejudices of our elders that we may progress as society. School yard violence, or bullying is still a very real problem, and children enjoy such prejudices. I fear we may never continue forwards.