Racial Missteps Aren’t Just For White People

We’ve all done it, haven’t we?

We’ve all said something that was so breathtakingly racially or culturally insensitive, that you can barely believe it came out of your mouth.

God knows I’ve made my fair number of embarrassing racial missteps.

Like the time I told a blue eyed, blond haired Latina that she didn’t look Mexican.

Or when I was in London and referred to a fellow person of color as a “Paki.”

Note:  I had no idea that the term was derogatory.  You know when I discovered the power of that word?  When the whole room stopped, turned around and stared at me.  My host was mortified.  When I asked what I did, several other people heard my American accent and correctly surmised this was my first time outside of the United States.  I’m fairly confident that may have saved me from an ass whooping.

Or the time I assumed a fellow wedding guest was the coat check attendant because he happened to be standing in the coat check room.

He was white, by the way.

Or the time I assumed the name Jerzy was pronounced Jer-see (like the state) and kept using the wrong pronunciation long after he corrected me.

Trust me, that story is much more entertaining if you speak Polish.

People are saying some crazy things to each other right now. What may start as a discussion can wind up as a full blown misunderstanding.

And when I say misunderstanding, I mean a fight.

Amid the continuing national dialogue about race—this time spurred by the events in Baltimore—sometimes all of us need to take a step back and attempt to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.

To be completely honest, I get very tired of being asked about some racial matter only to have my observations and feelings fall on deaf ears.  It makes me wonder aloud why my opinion was ever sought out in the first place.

Yet, in our haste as human beings, we talk when we should be listening and misspeak when anger, ignorance or awkwardness gets in the way of zipping our lips.

When I stuck my foot in my mouth in the examples above, I never meant to be “that” person.  The one who insults someone’s culture or race—I’m black for God’s sake.  I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a “well-intentioned” comment.

I’m not saying give racists and bigots a pass.  I’m not saying you should spare anyone’s feelings if they’re spreading false information.  I’m not saying that you have to sacrifice your self-respect in order to accommodate someone else’s ignorance.

I will say that I’ve been in those situations and it’s mighty uncomfortable when your intentions and your words don’t match up.

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