Today's dilemma:

COVERT CODE WORDS ARE STILL A WAY OF LIFE

DO THE RIGHT THING!

Getting Along with One Another in a Diverse Society

by Jim Reed

(Editor’s note: This is a monthly column based on YOUR concerns and true-life experiences. All anecdotes and examples are based on actual events. Send Jim Reed your questions about the ethics and manners required to DO THE RIGHT THING in daily life.)


HERE’S THIS MONTH’S CHALLENGING QUESTION:

“I was doing a workshop with Leadership Mobile, a group similar to Leadership Birmingham. During the introductory phase of the session, one White male said several times, ‘I like Black women,’ and everybody would laugh. Just before the break, I asked the person if I could speak with him. At the break, he came over to me and I said to him that I did not appreciate the ‘I like Black women’ comment because I, as a Black man, could not say “I like White women” in that setting. In addition, I pointed out the long history of White man-Black woman interactions versus Black man-White woman interactions...and the results of these two interactions in the former Jim Crow South (Black man lynched).

“He did not immediately respond, but before the end of the day, this person stood and apologized to the group about his comments. Maybe he learned something from all of this!”

—Enlightened But Worried in Birmingham

MY ANSWER:


Dear Enlightened But Worried in Birmingham:
You did a brave and potentially helpful thing in this situation. As you and I know, some 40 years ago this would have been a suicidal act of courage. Today, in most settings, what you did is relatively safe physically, but socially uncomfortable, to say the least.

You and I must spend part of each week listening to the code words and phrases that still float about...remnants of the pre-Civil Rights-Era and the previous 3 or 4 centuries when it was acceptable for Whites to say just about anything they wanted to about Blacks—and get away with it. An unenlightened White person would say to me (and has!), “Well, Blacks can say anything they want to say, too! It’s a free country!” Of course, this White person doesn’t go on to say, “Naturally, Blacks will be punished, shunned or ostracized nowadays if they say those words in polite (meaning White) company...and you know they would have been lynched or molested if they had said anything like that back in the good old days.” Shades of Trent Lott!

You know the list of code words and phrases as well as I do, dear reader. Perhaps you can come up with a list of them and send them to me. We can publish the list in the next column, along with my list!

Do the right thing.

Now, it’s your turn.

What suggestions can you add to this column? What did I miss? How would YOU have replied to this reader?

Send replies suggestions for future DO THE RIGHT THING columns, to:

jim@jimreedbooks.com

(Inspiration for this column came from Michael Calvert, an admirer of the New York Times Magazine’s “The Ethicist” column, and from Jim Reed’s admiration for columnists such as Abigail Van Buren, who tried to help people in small ways each day.)