Stop pretending we can’t do better

Published 6:45 pm Thursday, August 22, 2019


Contributing columnist

There was a post on Facebook earlier this week that made me sick and sad. An instructional assistant at a local high school was video recorded telling a Hispanic student, “In America, we don’t wear hats inside buildings.” I happen to know that this young man is not new to America or the high school. The comment was insensitive, inappropriate and unprofessional.

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It made me sad for the student. What must it be like to have an adult who is an authority figure say something demeaning to you? Is this the first time he’s ever heard someone say something like that? I don’t know. I do know he should not have heard it at all.

Last spring, a coach at another local high school was exclaiming about a student winning an important match. He said something to the effect of, “The headline should read ‘Hometown girl beats foreign exchange student.”’ What difference could it have possibly made that the student who was defeated was a foreign exchange student?

Many, many have come to the defense of both people. “He is a good person.” “She didn’t mean it in a bad way.” “He didn’t mean anything by it.” “She was just enforcing a rule.”

There is a term for these types of comments from the adults. It’s called microaggressions. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines microaggression as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).”

What is the point of these comments? There are a million ways to ask a student to remove a hat. “Please remove your hat. You know the rules.” “Hat. Off. Thank you.” “I like your hat, but you know the rule.” “At our school, we don’t wear hats inside buildings.” What was the point of saying, “In America”?

I asked a dear friend of mine to share microaggressions she’s experienced as a professional, multi-degreed African-American woman. She related that she was just followed in a department store this week. She shared that she was asked if she was using an EBT card when making a purchase. The clerk asked my friend this but not the white lady who was in front of my friend who also used a credit/debit card for her purchase.

These examples gave me a knot in my stomach. The one that really hurt was one that happened to her at work. She has just earned a promotion in her job in the academic world at the college level. A white woman she will supervise said she didn’t think she could work under my friend’s supervision. Really?

I’ve heard many people complain that political correctness has gone too far. We now must be sensitive to people’s gender, religion, race and ethnicity. Do we call a transgendered person him, her, them or they? How do we know? When two men are married, do we call them both husbands? Why?

We know how to address a transgendered person by asking what their preference is. We call two men who are married to each other husbands. We need to learn and respect those who don’t look like us, talk like us, live like us or worship like us.

It’s the 21st century in a worldwide culture on a small blue planet in the middle of an infinite, ever expanding universe. It’s time to stop pretending we don’t know. We know right from wrong. We know better. We need to do better.

“We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but as all belong to one human race.”Kofi Annan

G. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.