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Published November 5, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Tips on how to respond if you’re blindsided by a racist

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

It seems to me that hate is coming out of the closet.

I see it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. I hear it on the radio and television.

Last week I ran into it in the locker room.

I was by myself getting dressed when another man walked in.

Although he was a complete stranger, we struck up a conversation. It was not your typical men’s locker room conversation between two elderly white men. No talk about the weather. No Astros. No health crises.

We discussed books we had read. He seemed to have read books with religious and philosophical themes. It was refreshing.
I told him I had just finished “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” a book about Africans trying to save valuable ancient manuscripts from destruction by Al Qaeda.

This stranger then walked over to me, leaned even closer, and in a whisper, asked if the book was about a bunch of (racial epithet).

I was stunned.

I have seen my share of racism and probably have said a few stupid things myself in 73 years, but seldom have I been confronted with such overt in-your-face-racist talk by a person I had known for only five minutes.

Are we now at the point in this country where the type of words and thoughts we see on social media are becoming so normal that one stranger feels comfortable talking that way to another? Have we replaced political correctness with political crudeness?
I dressed as fast as I could and made clear that I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to talk any longer.

From the time I got in my car until this very moment, I have replayed the incident in my mind.

I wondered why a stranger had felt comfortable using that language with me – a person he knew nothing about. Had I inadvertently said or done something that made him think he could talk like that to me? I knew I hadn’t, so I dismissed that thought.

But what I can’t dismiss so easily is the idea that maybe I didn’t react properly. Maybe I should have done more. Maybe I should have said something.

The Southern Poverty Law Center suggests options for dealing with a stranger’s inappropriate remarks.

ASSESS SURROUNDINGS: Be careful an argument doesn’t escalate into something more serious. Before responding assess the situation. Are you alone? Are children present? Is the stranger with friends?

SAY NOTHING: A questioning glance may be an effective and non-confrontational response in a situation in which you feel unsafe speaking directly.

SAY SOMETHING: If you choose to raise the issue, state your beliefs clearly. “I find that language very bigoted. It offends me.” Or, “I think it’s wrong to stereotype people.”

I think if I ever get in that situation again, I will say something.

As the 18th Century philosopher Edmund Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)