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
(Editors 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.)
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
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 Blacksand get away with it. An unenlightened
White person would say to me (and has!), Well, Blacks can say
anything they want to say, too! Its a free country! Of course,
this White person doesnt 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
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:
(Inspiration for this column came from Michael Calvert, an admirer of the New York Times Magazines The Ethicist column, and from Jim Reeds admiration for columnists such as Abigail Van Buren, who tried to help people in small ways each day.)