About two years ago, one of my older sisters was with me when I heard someone call both of us n***ers and she was with me when we experienced another memorable incident during our recent vacation in San Francisco. As we ventured to the Buena Vista Café to meet up with a friend for Irish coffees, we waited in the long line for the trolley, but were unsure if we could pay once we boarded or if we needed to purchase tickets beforehand. My sister saw a ticket booth, and asked me to hop out of line to inquire about the tickets at the booth before the next trolley arrived. My sister said she let others behind us go ahead so we could catch the next one. Once I found out the information I needed, I jumped back in line.
Moments later, a man who stood behind me beckoned for one of the transportation employees and said, “Is there a special pass for ‘cutting in line’? These gals may know about that.” He looked at us and said, “Do y’all have a special pass that let you cut in line?”
My sister explained to him why I left the line and why she stayed in line. I interjected, “We’re not ‘gals,’ we’re ladies. Thank you.”
He said, “Well, that’s what we call ‘em in Texas.”
The transportation employee immediately responded and said, “Well, you’re not in Texas. You’re in San Francisco, so show some respect, sir. Thank you.”
I was so taken aback by what transpired, but was even more floored by a response by a former Facebook friend’s reaction when I recounted the incident on my page and advised my Southern friends to refrain from calling an African-American woman a ‘gal,’ based on the history of the use of the word. Here are her exact words:
“Until people of all races can learn to recognize the past and quit holding grudges now and in the future, our nation will never move forward. Picking apart every single thing someone says and turning it into a race problem is ridiculous.
A black girl walked in- looked at my pregnant belly and called it fat yesterday. I guess I should call that racism since that's what this trolley situation seems to have turned into.
I just wrote her off as ignorant, but I guess I should rethink that because she was black.
I hate this!!! It makes me feel like blacks are making whites "pay" for something we didn't even live through.”
I was so saddened and insulted by her lack of sensitivity to my feelings that I immediately removed her from my friend list on Facebook. I am elated to say that posting this incident spawned a healthy (and I hope informative) discussion on my page about not only race relations, but the use of language.
As a Chicago native who spent most of my teenage years and a part of my young adult years living in the South, I have a unique point-of-view when it comes to the topic of race. But, this wasn’t the first time speaking my mind on Facebook started a controversy. During President Barack Obama’s first term, I updated my status that said I was looking forward to hearing my President speak. Within seconds, a college and high school classmate sounded off on my wall as they verbally attacked me for my support of President Obama. Other classmates and friends jumped in and that night, those two ladies deleted me from their friend list (one of which was on the planning committee of my 10-year high school reunion with me that I decided not to attend).
People can close their eyes and cover their ears. But, racism is still very much alive and well in this country. As much love as there is in the hearts of many, hatred and anger continue to fester in the minds and souls of certain individuals. I don’t want people to think I’m throwing shade on the South because I’m not. Hate and ignorance can exist anywhere. Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy ending or an answer. The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted the sons and daughters of America to go to school together. That dream came true. He wanted people to “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Clearly, we’ve still got some work to do.