no joke, this just happened: a colleague i’ve never met was organizing a meeting at a client’s office and was asked by someone on our side what we were doing for lunch, since the meeting would run from 11:00-3:00. his response: “They are in the middle of the inner city, it looks like Popeyes Chicken 🙂” oh yes, he did. obviously, i was appalled.
like so many others, i have been struggling so hard over the past week or so with the violence, racism and ignorance at the forefront of seemingly every news cycle. last week i was supposed to be enjoying our annual family vacation and celebrating the epic greatness of America. i spent much of that time glued to my phone following Facebook and Washington Post to see what people were saying about the shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas, and wondering what the fuck is happening to our country?
i’ve wanted to write more than this, but have struggled with focusing all my thoughts and emotions into something that would actually be meaningful. in this time, i’ve read so many thoughtful, articulate and impactful pieces on white privilege; the history of our country’s institutionalized racism; the casual, everyday racism that is just accepted and the utter failure to recognize our country’s racial inequality by the #alllivesmatter crowd.
i read a repost of a Facebook post by Laura Simms calling out The Need for Southern Heresy. be willing to ruin the party. (read it. really.) and it so spoke to me. she talks about how, in the South, it’s utterly ingrained in us to just always make everything okay. better to stay silent than ruffle feathers.
i wasn’t raised in the South, per se, but growing up technically below the Mason-Dixon (DC suburbs but worlds away) with Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina lineage and the living relatives to confirm it, i learned that Southern women act a certain way. don’t draw attention to yourself. don’t cause a stir. be smart, but be pretty first. and don’t disrespect your husband. (and, props to my mom, who was uppity as they get and taught me to call bullshit when i see it).
i then married an old-school Virginia Episcopalian. they don’t like drama. don’t ruin the party. (no, really. read it.) and so, i have, my entire life, gone along to get along. in the South, you can bless her heart and mean girl it, but but for god’s sake, don’t you dare ever rock the boat and make anyone uncomfortable in the process.
when i moved to Atlanta from Richmond, nearly 10 years ago, i was surprised at how integrated it was. and yeah, i feel icky even having to write that word or think that concept. integrated. Spy and i brunched at American Roadhouse in the Highlands after a night at the bars and, unlike my typical Richmond Fan haunts, the brunch crowd was not all straight-white-mostly-single, but a cosmos of Midtown Atlanta: black, white, gay, straight, single, family . . . everyone. and, y’all, their cheese grits are amazing. i felt like i had entered the 21st century, truly. The Staple Singers were my background soundtrack . . . I’ll take you there . . .
it was all good.
then last week happened. and i got to be proud, again, of the City Too Busy to Hate. i was still high in the hills of North Carolina when they staged a march to honor Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. and, with 10,000 strong, there were fewer than 10 arrests.
and i was feeling good, like the crazy-these-days world might right itself. like people were going to maybe stop doing and saying stupid shit.
and then i got that email last night. and my heart broke that that guy didn’t even know that his “joke” was so wrong. do you guys know the whole fried chicken/black thing? (and obviously, “inner-city” is code for “black”)
get this: i love me some fried chicken. my lily-white husband loves him some fried chicken to the point we pick it up from Publix (with 2 hot sides, thankyouverymuch) nearly once a week. Miss Girl has been a loving joke with black friends/teachers/care-givers/camp counselors about how she can put down some fried chicken.
what’s not to love? when done right, fried chicken is one of the most delicious foods on the motherfucking earth. i remember my mother lovingly frying chicken in an avocado-colored deep fryer. in Crisco. only Crisco. i have only maybe once recreated that sitch and there is a fine balance to be achieved between the milk/lemon dip (or buttermilk if you are really going there), flour/seasonings dip and fry time. perfect fried chicken is truly an art. but i digress . . .
the whole fried chicken/black thing goes back to way uglier times in the South when that one dish became an image that the Klan used to stereotype blacks. true story. (really, read it.) and it stuck. and it is so fucking stupid that fried chicken equates to blacks, which are obviously the inner-city inhabitants. which brings up a whole bunch of other stuff that was wrong with this simple email interaction.
so, is this guy racist? i don’t know. i don’t know him. and i don’t know his heart. but i sure did judge him that way, based on that one comment he made without even knowing his audience. and i sure did think twice about how close i will keep him in the future.
if it looks like a chicken . . . if it clucks like a chicken . . . for now, i’m sayin’ it’s a chicken. though also truly believe that when people know better, they do better.
so, what did i do? sadly, nothing. i judged this guy from afar. which is sadly what the officers in the Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile cases did. i immediately dubbed him a racist moron that i’m going to have to endure for the remainder of this project. but to date, i have not yet physically or metaphorically shot him to death just because he scares me and i think he *might* be a threat.
i also thought long and hard about Laura’s post. gaaaaahhhh. i so wished i could have called out this behavior. but he was someone bringing my company in on some work, whose revenue and long-term relationship we need. with a company i’m brand new to and where i have not totally solidified my value. i’m in no position to ruin this party. all i can do right now is go along to get along. (and write about it.)
in this instance, in this moment, in my silence, i feel like i am part of the problem. and it fucking sucks.