What would you do?
by Linda Okazaki
What would you do if you were in a class of 40 colleagues, and one person used a racial slur, thinly veiled as a joke? Would you have the courage to stand up to that person? Or would you sit silently? Would you carefully explain why the words were offensive? Or would you laugh at the so-called “humor?” Would you tell that person that it doesn’t matter if the room is all white? Or would you agree that it is ok to use derogatory language, as long as there are no people of color present?
It shouldn’t matter if the room is all white. Racial slurs are always offensive. But we also need to realize that we really never know who is in our midst. Despite appearances, we are not all white or straight or Christian. We are Jews and Buddhists, we are Asians and Blacks and Latinos, we are in mixed-race relationships, we have mixed race children, we are LGBTQ.
I am proud of the colleague who stood up to racism. What would you do?
There is nothing more one can do than call it. After that what happens will depend on the community involved. Silence can read as complicity. Thanks for opening the door to a long needed conversation Linda!
Thank you, Ellen. My goal was to get the conversation started. I only wish I had written it before the situation arose. Janice Lovelace has an excellent presentation on this topic.
Replying from a similar experience, and not particularly proudly. A few years back I was at a board meeting where a highly respected, credentialed member of our society said she couldn’t get through a book she had bought from a speaker who recently presented at our society because, “I got sick of reading about rich Jews.” I was utterly stunned, but did not speak out and still the words I needed then escape me. I feel shame to this day that I did not speak out right then and there. Another board member stood up and quit the board at that meeting over that and a second issue, and came to me after to discuss the comment and that no one had reacted to. To this day I’m angry (at myself as well as the others) and ashamed every time I think of it. In the years since, I have discussed this event with many people within and without the genealogy world, and asked what is the right thing to do in an instance like this. Many people have felt free to joke that I am awfully thin skinned or making too much of these words which I find even more shocking. So I make my case then the conversation moves on. I guess this is where education comes in, though who is getting educated I’m not sure. But do I leave the society and these individuals behind? Do I quit the group never to return? I know we all live in glass houses. So I’ve mulled this over many times, and chosen to tell the story and why I still think the comment and the lack of reaction to it is shocking and wrong. If they go home thinking the onus is on me, or the comment meant little, I have done what I can. Maybe, just maybe they will think about it more. One thing I know is that I never again trusted the person who blithely spoke those ignorant words.
Thank you for sharing your story, Vinnie.
The goal is to keep bringing attention to those who feel it might be funny, no harm, and not viewed as racist remark. I am really sadden to hear this. But more sadden that the gathering included folks that might of heard this and didn’t feel they could not say anything or just agreed. Genealogy really has no room for a racist, racism, and etc. We have enough to deal with from the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and even more so now in the 21st century. The evidence & DNA will always tell the story! Thanks you for this.
Thank you, Shelley.
Another concern is if there were a person of color in the room-I would like to know if they said anything or how it felt to hear what was said. The would be heart breaking if they heard it and said nothing.
[…] specifically at the Latinx community. The slur was used in a joking manner. Based on accounts, only one person even bothered to say anything to the attendee when the class had 40 people and an instructor […]
I’ve had to deal with this type of situation at a jpb where I was the minority being maligned. Because I had to continue to work with the person making the comment, I turned it around and made a joke of it. The person not only immediately quit making those comments but also didn’t talk to me for a year, probably in fear of the fact that the employer had a fairly strict workplace nondiscrimination policy in effect.
I had this type of situation occur at a job where I was the maligned minority, even though that employer had a fairly strong nondiscrimination policy. Because I was going to have to work with the person in the future, I turned the comment back and made somewhat light of it to lessen the tension. The person not only immediately stopped making the disparaging comments but also did not speak to me for about a year, probably in fear of being reported.
Remaining silent is wrong, no matter who is in attendance. Until we all stand up and say it is not okay, it will never stop. I am the last one to remain quiet. I believe that all of us have a voice and as Martin Niemöller said…
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out.
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out.
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out.
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.
A valuable lesson that all should keep in mind.