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OH … What’s in a name afterall?

September 17, 2011

It’s not like I did not know it could happen.  I’ve been around enough to know that some people will never change … some people will always hang on to “their ways.”  And it’s not the words that I find offensive. It’s the tone and the perception of arrogance behind the words. 

I know that words are powerful tools. I also know that “in this day and time” people know better! There is too much available knowledge and educational opportunity … and basic common sense perspective out there that should help anyone overcome “ignorance.”  So, I really can’t excuse rude behavior, lack of tolerance or choice of labels as “just our way” at this point in time.

I remember back in the early 1990’s, during my first few days working at the Boys & Girls Club, a little boy (who happened to be white) came up to me to tattle on another little boy (who happened to be black).   He pointed and said, “That black boy took my ball.”

I looked around only to see a gym full of boys who happened to be black playing with basketballs. So I asked him, “Which boy?”

And his reply was, “That black one.” 

I was at a bit of a loss for what to say next, and then another young man (about 15-years old) said to the boy, “Hey Kid, why does he have to be black?”

That seemed like a bizarre question to me — one that I’m certain this 8-year old could not answer.  I questioned the teenager about what he meant or why he was asking him this, to which he replied, “Carole … he’s been playing with this kid all afternoon. He’s got a name!  He’s not just a color.”

Then he turned to the boy and said, “Go find out his name and come back and tell us.”  The boy ran off, and never came back.  A few minutes later, he was back playing with “Josh.”

It’s not just the color of someone’s skin that causes us to dismiss “who” they are and focus solely on “what” we perceive them to be.  For example, “old”, or “fat” or “gay” or “retarded.”   I would say that any one person who finds themselves being “labeled” with one of those words would much rather be called by their name.

Yesterday, my son, JACK, was trying to get the attention (speaking to) one of our new neighbors, when another neighbor called out, “That little colored boy is talking to you!”  Now, I’m sure her intentions were to be “helpful” — but I still find her choice of words unacceptable.  And I immediately go back to my conversation at the Boys & Girls Club and Jonathan Smith’s logic, “Why does he have to be “colored?”

Certainly he’s a boy!   She could have said, “That boy is talking to you.”

He’s not altogether “little” — but I guess I would find, “That little boy, “as being less offensive.

But if it had been me, I would have simply said, “This young man is talking to you.”  Then, I would have asked him his name and introduced myself.  I’m sure this neighbor woman would not appreciate my using any first impression labels I may have about her.  Why, it would be completely unacceptable for me to refer to her as “that ignorant woman down the street.”  

Therefore, I’m going to take the time and make the effort to go down there today and introduce my “middle-aged” ‘fat’ self and my “caramel-colored” son to her.  I fully expect that this will resolve any future issues with labeling … and she will simply refer to us as Carole and Jack.

I know … I KNOW … that some will read this and say, “Carole is too sensitive” and this woman probably didn’t mean any harm.  I just don’t like it that there are so many ways that we can “marginalize” people, and we do it so often that it becomes normal or commonplace, and we excuse it as such.  It is really a subtle (seemingly invisible) form of prejudice or racism (inferential racism).  It rears its ugly head all the time … by many supposedly fine, upstanding, educated, well-meaning, Christian folk who watch enough TV and read enough newspapers and books to KNOW BETTER!

My son … is so much more than a “little colored boy.”  He’s smart. He’s witty. He’s talented.  He’s an excellent reader, a great tree-climber and is more often barefooted than sporting any shoes (even in winter).   He’s strong.  He’s a picky-eater.  He is technologically-savvy (though he spends too much time with his gadgets).  I believe that God has endowed him with the gift of mercy.  He cares so much about people and animals … he’s very tender-hearted.  He’s funny.  He’s artistic.  He likes to play sports.  And he’s proud of his heritage … which we deem as “Affri-lachian” (a savory and colorful mix of Scots-Irish, American Indian and African American descent).  WOW! What a “special” boy he is.

This neighbor doesn’t know it yet, but her vocabulary is about to expand with all kinds of words to describe Jack Hicks … and none of them have anything to do with the color of his skin, but instead more to do with the content of his character.  I hope she appreciates that!






2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2011 4:32 pm

    Very nicely said… I hear ya Loud n clear. Have hit similar situations… Then add…. Special… Into that mix. And sometimes, it is Hard to handle…

    I picked some morning glory seeds, yesterday. I need to see this yard of yours… To help pick out some transplants. Btw, Seriously….. I garden with and for coffee. Thats my only request! 🙂

    • September 17, 2011 5:40 pm

      GREAT! I’m not much of a coffee maker (I drink more creamer than coffee) But I’d just love to have you come over and help me with my flowers, drink some bad coffee and talk a philosophy. I work during the day, but if you are available one evening, let’s make a plan. I’d love to meet Kathryn in person too. We’ve chatted on Facebook. She thinks she knows me, but I’ve never met her. Bring her too. I’ll message you my number/address in Facebook.

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