Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Conversation with a Non-Racist

I walked into the utility room and four of my co-workers, ER techs, were there.

Two were doubled over with laughter, one was sputtering, and the other had a pained, but game, smile on her face.

What was so funny? The one co-worker had walked into the room and announced loudly - "I'm tired of being the nigger around here". Which the two convulsed in laughter found wildly inappropriate, since the fourth co-worker was in the room, and she is African-American.

I expressed mild disapproval, and "D", the first one, explained, in her defense, "I didn't mean "nigger" in a bad way. I didn't mean Black! I meant that I'm treated like a pack mule around here".

My Black co-worker kept smiling, but it looked more strained. Luckily, her shift was over, and she got to go home.

Later, D came out to explain herself further to me. She again said that she didn't mean "nigger" in a bad way, not as a term for Blacks.

I said that she actually used it in a revealing way, that she was acknowledging that Black co-workers were treated with disrespect and asked to do a lot of work.

"No!" she said. "I've heard all that 'victim' stuff. I don't believe in that. That's bullshit."

I again pointed out that the way she used the term had justified the "victim" label.

She became agitated and told me to look up "nigger" in the dictionary. I would find that the dictionary definition of "nigger" is "low-life", not black person.

I refused. We don't have a dictionary in the ER, but I actually am quite sure that if the word is in the dictionary, it won't be defined as "low-life".

(Another of my co-workers, in 2008, informed me that Obama and Clinton, then running against each other in the primaries, had both voted in the Senate to make English a second language in the USA. I challenged that statement, and she told me she read it in the Congressional Record, and I should look it up. I didn't do it. Sometimes you just don't have to).

But here's the kicker. After we discussed it a little more, "D" said "I'm not racist. My best friend in high school was black. And I didn't like it when people insulted her. We're all just people".


charlie ehlen said...

Good commentary. Nice blog also.
I find it odd how people feel they can use certain words that are very offensive, but "they" can explain that "they" don't mean any harm by it. Well, if they don't mean any harm, why use harmful words? I keep waiting for an answer from them, but of course I never get one.
It is hard to defend what is defenseless.

wagelaborer said...

I agree.

If the words are open to misinterpretation, they shouldn't use them, then they don't have to explain themselves.

David G. said...

Words can be lethal, can't they, especially in the mouths of humans?

Your words are always true, Wagelaborer, and, what's more, they're worth hearing.

Good luck with Xmas and all. I hope we all survive what's coming next year!

Flimsy Sanity said...

And almost all jokes reveal a person's hostility. She was wrong, but cliches are seldom examined and when you tried to, it was a shame she was so mulish. I guess I have said the same thing in my life, but it wasn't racist, just ignorant also. And the "my friend was black" is also a overworn cliche.