In Focus: Saying nothing speaks loud, clear message

May 23, 2014 

My blood was boiling, my head actually felt hot, I was even sweating but couldn’t let anyone see my anger rising like lava. A woman standing with her two guy friends about 200 feet in front of me had shouted one of the most violent, most vitriolic, most hurtful, most disgusting words in language. “N-----!” She didn’t just utter it. She violently hurled it at me. I didn’t flinch. Even though this word makes me mad enough to take a swing, I also know some fights can’t be won with fists. As I walked closer to them, within about 15 feet, the girl looked up at me, mouth agape and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I softly replied, “For what?” “For saying ‘n-----.’ ” Concealing my anger, I asked, “Well, why’d you say it?” Her two friends were nervously looking, expecting hostility — justified emotions, which is why these situations persist. But I saw an opportunity to educate and convert. She shot back with, “Well, you know how there are some Mexicans who are OK, and then there are some who should go back to Mexico because they are ...” I interjected: “No, that’s not how it is, and that’s not right, can I ask you a question? Do you know any Mexican people who are racist?” “Yeah!” “And do you know any black people who are racist?” “Yeah, lots of them!" she replied, with her friends chiming in. “Do you know any white people who are racist?” “Yes, I do.” “So then you would agree racist people can come in all colors, right?” “I guess so ...” “Therefore, racist people exist in a group of their own, a small group, I would add. And loving people also come in all colors and exist in an even larger group. But most importantly, it’s a choice any person of any color makes, whether to be a part of love or hate. Whether or not to find beauty in the differences of all colors and cultures or to bear the weight of blindly hating each other and missing out on the colorful patchwork of culture that makes up our human race. “It is 100 percent your choice.” The lava in my soul subsided. I watched as her friends’ faces grew soft. Her eyes welled with tears, and she walked into me with her arms out and began hugging me, crying and whispering “Thank you” past the lump in her throat. I wish that every time I’ve been called a nigger ended this way — in understanding and genuine human embrace. She and I were able to walk away with that moment as a lesson in compassion and forgiveness. I’d like to think that her ideas of black and brown people changed. I’d like to think that every time someone slings a racial slur, they could change. It takes patience, a sense of self, and self-control to not retaliate to ignorance in-kind. To not give irrational hate any justification by retaliating with more ignorance. That is the mark of intelligence and compassion. Over time, by them not receiving any valid reason to be racist, they will be forced to battle the irrational urge of it all or at least lose ground and support in their social circles. Racism is doing a very poor job of hiding itself these days. It seems that it is more out in the open than it has been in almost half a century. L.A. Clippters’ owner Donald Sterling’s deep-seated hate has been exposed and to our relief passionately and swiftly decried by the NBA. One friend said “He should have every right to say what he wants; it’s his freedom of speech.” I agree. The NBA banning Sterling from the league is also a freedom of speech in itself. What they are saying is that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of the consequences of what one says, especially if what one says is deemed hateful by the majority. Ultimately, the NBA spoke out against ignorance. A few weeks ago, I was in a Tri-City restaurant, and someone shouted the epithet again. I confronted the group. The situation got momentarily heated but ended peacefully. More disappointing than the slur was that in this packed restaurant, I was the only person who confronted them. It made me aware of why these incidences continue to occur. The bystander unwittingly becomes the racist’s strongest accomplice. “Silence is consent” bears true here. The apathy or fear of witnesses is fertile ground for seeds of hate and ignorance. A hero is simply a scared bystander who cares more about common decency, universal love and respect than the illusion of personal safety. Even though I was the only one who responded, everyone within earshot should have felt obligated to stand up for what’s right. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Speak up. Be a hero. Care. And watch the world get better. w Jordan Chaney is a poet, public speaker and Founder of a youth-leadership organization called Urban Poets Society. He can be contacted via email at

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