Today, I read a wonderful post about Martin Luther King Day on The Captain's Log... Tales From the Poop Deck, a blog written by a Alvin Anthony, a friend from Allegheny. Alvin's posts are usually laugh-out-loud hilarious. This one is more serious--but so beautifully written.
The piece is generally positive but in the early paragraphs, Alvin describes the discrimination he experienced in grade school. Specifically, he talks about "being called 'boy' (which doesn’t seem like an insult until
it is shouted in your face or accompanied with spit or an attempt to
trip/push you don a flight of stairs)." This called to mind an experience I had as a freshman at Allegheny--one that made a big impression.
It was spring semester of my freshman year and I was TA for a chem lab designed for humanities majors. (Basically, it was the coolest science class ever)... I was making the rounds through the benches where people were huddled in twos over some piece of equipment (a centrifuge? a microscope? Who knows?)... "How are you girls doing?"... "How's it going?"... "You guys need anything?".... and then....
"You boys doing OK?" One of the guys I was addressing--his name was Ed--gave me a strange look, told me they were doing fine, and then a few minutes later he pulled me to the side. I don't remember exactly what he said (to be honest, I'm having a hard time remembering Ed's last name) but it was something like this: "Nicci, it's pretty obvious that have no idea, but using the word 'boy' to address a black male is really derogatory." He explained why. At that moment, I felt like a total idiot for not knowing this and I feel really badly for possibly having offended someone. Two someones. (At this moment, I'm wondering why I was even calling men and women, who were mostly a year or two older than me, "girls" and "boys.") I must have looked supersad/regretful, etc., because Ed immediately tried to make me feel better by saying (again I don't remember the exact words), something to the effect of, "Don't sweat it, I know you're not a bigot but I wanted you to know because I don't want you to make the mistake again when you're talking to someone who might not know that you're a cool person."
I was--and still am--so very grateful that Ed took the the time to educate me, kindly and discreetly, about something I should have known. Certainly it would have be easier ignore it and just write me off as a dumb fluff-chick. That day, I learned the disgusting history of that one usage of "boy." I also learned that, just like you should tell someone she has cilantro stuck in her teeth, you should let her know (nicely and directly) when she's saying something that is so very wrong. Even--or especially--if she doesn't know it. So, tonight, I thank you, Ed [I'm Sorry I Forget Your Last Name] from Allegheny.