Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | April 24, 2008

The Indident Along The Way

Well now. This is about the longest hiatus in my blog since I began blogging last fall. It has been a busy last few weeks. A little over a week ago, I returned with my whole extended crew in tow from beyond the deep south, i.e., Florida. We piled seven of us into a rented mini-van for the round trip. With the aid of a soft-sided car top carrier, we managed to make this work. Despite a few trials along the way, I think I can say that everyone enjoyed just about everything about this trip, from the long stretches of highway traveling, to those long days at Disney theme parks (we did three of them in six days), to the few hours spent in and around a pool or two.

There were so many good things about this trip that I hate to focus on a negative, but I do have an incident to relay here that needs to be brought to the light of day—I will get back to the good at a later time.

On the next to last day of our trip, I witnessed a series of exchanges between a young man—who was an employee at a McDonald’s in Huntsville, Alabama—and his apparent supervisor, and two other acquaintances of his. I have spoken highly of the town of Huntsville over the past few years. I spent a couple of days there a few years ago and found it to be a very modern town, with an educated and technically adept workforce (thanks, in part, to the Marshall Space Center and all of the technology companies that abound around it). I love the topography of the area. Huntsville is located in the foothills of the Appalachians, and is a location central to many eastern and southern U.S. destinations. It has moderate weather (compared to Michigan). All of these desirable features have caused me to think that this might be a great area to retire to someday.

My impression of Huntsville on this visit, however, was decidedly different from that earlier one. While waiting for my meal (and I use the term “meal” loosely considering this was McDonald’s food), I began to notice some banter between the young black man who took my order and a young white guy and his apparent girlfriend who were on my side of the counter. After a minute or so, I started picking up on a few elements of the discussion. It seemed like that black fellow owed this white guy five dollars, and the white girl two dollars and some change. At first I thought that they were all just joking around and trying to be sarcastic with each other as friends often do. The white guy kept saying things like “I’m your brother man; why do you want to stiff a brother?” Then the white guy began to call the black guy a deadbeat, and things had escalated to the point that I knew that this was all very serious—and it was about much more than a five dollar debt.

The black guy kept trying to do his job behind the counter, while at the same time quietly responding to what was gradually beginning to occur to me to be blatant racial taunts. At some point, a white woman employee, who I am assuming was a manager and the black fellow’s supervisor, started demanding various things from the black guy. He seemed to be very compliant, and did not look at any of these people directly in the eyes as he responded with quiet, measured replies. Whatever it was that the supervisor wanted from him, however, he wasn’t getting to it quick enough to suit her. Before long I realized that this was not at all about trying to get a response; rather, she was engaged in a series of aggressive verbal assaults on this guy as a person. She was being mean for mean’s sake. I have no idea what she may have perceived to be her end game with this behavior.

Finally, this angry white woman swung around and said to the black guy, “I’ll do it myself; get out of my way . . . BOY!” I am surprised that the sound of my jaw hitting the counter didn’t cause every customer in the joint to spin around to see what the noise was all about. I was absolutely dumbfound that, first, someone could treat another person in this way, period. And secondly, I was aghast that anyone in this day and age could feel “safe” enough (due to geographical/cultural location or some other reasoning) to vent such blatant racial hatred in a public place, and as an employee of a major American corporation, toward an subordinate employee, in front of customers, God, and the whole world!

The term “Boy,” when directed toward a black man, is among the most abhorrent racial slurs that one can utter today. It is a vile and demeaning term that hearkens back to Jim Crow and a much uglier American society. This supervisor was one angry, hate-filled woman. It was painfully obvious to me that the source of the rage and venom that welled up in this woman and exploded in public was the result of one thing and one thing only: overwhelming and all-consuming racial hatred. I have never seen anything like this firsthand in my life, and I was shocked that in the 21st Century South, things like this still go on.

I had thought about handing the black man a twenty dollar bill, mainly to show some sort of solidarity with him, but also to help him settle his debts. Then I thought better of it. If security cameras showed me handing him money, and then showed him putting the money in his pocket, he would probably be out of his job at the very least.

I know that the South by and large is comprised of good people. The hospitality that I find every time I visit the South is unequaled in any other part of the country. And I am sure that these kinds of things go on in the North as well. But this incident was a eye-opener for me. This is a new experience for me; one that I wish I had not been witness to on the one hand, but one that I needed to witness on the other hand. The experience violently and permanently yanked my head out of the sand and into the ugly undercurrent of racism that still flows with few obstacles across this land.

Will we ever arrive at a point where each and every person on Earth is afforded basic human dignity, and respected by each and every one else, if for no other reason than that we are all a part of the brotherhood of humanity and fellow travelers along the path of life? Are we as a species at least as good as this?


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