There was a smile on her face when she said it, shortly before we exited the golf cart to play the 18th hole. Her mild matronly face was soft when she said, “I think nigger is a state of mind that could apply to anyone.” I looked up at her startled and disgusted and said, “That’s such an ugly word.” She shrugged that comment off and launched into a diatribe about Serena Williams the tennis pro then segued into a slur against first lady Michelle Obama. In one moment this nondescript woman in her 70’s morphed into a racist Republican. The transformation was completed in the time it took her to say the first sentence of her rant.
Even after 24 years the south, I am still amazed by the blatant, raw racism I encounter on a fairly frequent basis. Maybe it’s because I have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances and I am approachable but I seem to sending a message that as a white woman in my 50’s I’m probably in agreement with your narrow minded bigoted beliefs. I wish I had said more in response and in defense of our first lady and Serena but I was selfishly focused on my golf game and wanted to finish the round without verbal fisticuffs. Civility prevailed and if you know me that’s quite an accomplishment. I’m not going to change that woman’s mind no matter how eloquent I was in my response.
The irony is that just the night before this incident while attending a Democratic Women’s meeting, I was listening to Furman professor Sean Patrick O’Rourke discuss free speech in a civil society. I spoke of my belief that to remain silent in the face of racism, sexism and the like is to be party to it and that your silence signals your agreement with repugnant prejudice espoused by our companions. The truth is it’s difficult to be a liberal progressive in the deep south. I feel marginalized and oppressed. Perhaps that’s why I identify with minorities because as a non-church going, liberal in the south I am a minority.