Friday, July 20, 2007

The Social Justice Center

In 1977 I looked pretty hot. Slender again after the birth of three children, I had great legs and better curves. I was sitting in the bar of a hotel in New Jersey waiting for my husband. I was chatting with the bartender and trying out a new drink he had recommended that involved amaretto and cream and strawberries. I was wearing a very snappy red and black suit with red pumps (sorry, folks, but it was the 70's). It was mid-afternoon and I was trying to tune out the revelry from a table of six business-types in suits who were ending their day with libations. They kept shooting glances my way. One of them got up and approached me. "Can I buy you a drink?" he asked. Politely, I said no, thank you. He persisted. I continue to refuse. Finally, he made a crude remark about me sitting in bar alone in the middle of the day, implying that I was a working girl. Flustered and furious I got up and left the bar. In my room I cried and stewed for a few minutes until I calmed myself and went back downstairs. Resolutely I approached the table where the men were still whooping it up, and proceded to give them a piece of advice. I am a married woman with three kids, I informed them icily. I am in this bar to meet my husband who is here on a business trip, probably the way you guys are. How many of your wives are home being accosted in a bar right now while you are out of town hitting on other women in a strange city? You are totally out of line, as well as obnoxious. Surprisingly, profuse apologies followed, from all the men and I stalked back to my room feeling proud of myself for not letting the moment pass to speak out.

Last night at the dumb poetry reading at the Social Justice Center, with Tim and Dennis and Obee and Mimi and Tom, I read my Las Vegas poem which mentioned being married by a judge holding a white Bible. The Bible I had in mind was one I had (and read) for many years, with a white leather cover. Following me, some goofy black dude got up to the microphone and in front of the whole crowd, challenged me to read my "white" Bible more because I would find that it was a Bible for black people, too. I was stunned and not sure if he were joking or not. I felt much the same as I did that day in the hotel. After the reading I approached the man. At first I spoke calmly and asked him if he was joking or serious. He was totally serious and resisted my efforts to explain about the cover of the Bible as opposed to the content. As it became obvious that either he wasn't wrapped too tight or was just fixated on this race thing, I chastised him for his mistaken assumptions and his rudeness. We parted without coming to an accord.

Dennis challenged me about the encounter, accusing me of having an anger issue. He was right that I was angry, but it was not uncontrolled. It was a matter of confronting injustice, which Dennis, I thought, would be sympathetic to. If we do not confront racism (or abusive parents or obnoxious salesmen or whatever) and attempt to defend what is right and true, then we are not fulfilling our responsibilites as citizens of the world. I used to be a non-confrontational person. I avoided the unpleasant and swallowed a lot of stuff I should have spoken out about. No more. I was angry and I made the effort, despite my innate aversion to it, to go to the root of the problem and make it right. I did the right thing.

Not a Racist


Anonymous said...

Barbara - I wish I had your hutzpah - I am also one of those people who just lets things slide, and unfortunately, when provoked, the swalloed anger will come out sideways or at inappropriate times. I felt terrible that you were humiliated like that, even though I suspect no one took Moses seriously. I will certainly watch more carefully my interactions with him - I assumed him harmless, but now I'm not so sure.
Anyway - the poem was wonderful and I only wish you could have enjoyed the evening. Mimi

Anonymous said...

Actually, I did had a good time, but only because I confronted that guy and didn't let the incident poison my evening.