The Language of Race Relations Isn’t Always Black and White
BY KATE STEIN
I don’t understand race relations.
I did, at one point. I recognized that slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws and Ku Klux Klan attacks were manifestations of racism against blacks. I knew that Japanese internment camps and “No Irish Need Apply” signs, although relatively short-lived, were still significant examples of racism in America. So, I understand the deplorable state of race relations in the past. But as I realized one day recently, while at work with a white boss and a black co-worker in a bakery in northern Wisconsin, I clearly don’t understand race relations today.
“If you have any questions,” said my boss, Stacey, as she prepared to leave the bakery at the end of her shift, “just ask the head nigger in charge.”
Prior to this moment, Stacey had always struck me as a nice, well-adjusted person. Currently in her mid-twenties, she wants to be a writer and a teacher, and recently began commuting an hour each way to college in pursuit of those goals. So when she used the phrase “head nigger in charge” this particular morning, I was shocked. I hadn’t ever linked Stacey with racism, and never would have expected her to say anything so…well…I would never have expected her to say the word “nigger.”
Stacey was referring to Dave, a black man in his early 60s who organizes trays of bread to be baked. All three of us were in the bakery at the time, and as far as I could tell, Stacey was speaking loudly enough for Dave to hear her. Dave stood around the corner, out of my sight, pulling bread from the freezer, while I packed hot dog buns into bags, so I didn’t see his reaction. But for me, “nigger” hung in the air as if it were suspended from the ceiling.
After a dumbfounded minute (in which Stacey and Dave kept working as if nothing unusual had happened), I decided Stacey’s comment had been a tasteless joke. But I bit back a comment about political incorrectness because I didn’t know what to think. How could Stacey say something so blatantly racist? Why would Dave let the comment pass? Was he secretly offended, but too intimidated by his boss to make a complaint?
I was too disconcerted by Stacey’s comment to let it go. So, once she left the bakery, I approached (more…)
World AIDS Day 2014:
No Time to Be Complacent; Survivors Face New Challenges
BY JOYCE MITCHELL
Looking back, it’s painful for many of us who lived and lost during the early years of HIV/AIDS.
Faces impossible to forget: Cara, the two-year-old baby I held in my arms after she died. My good friend Tom who I talked with every morning at 7 am. And Cheech. An honor to sit with him in cold silence. The memories make me cry to this day.
Wiping away tears, I acknowledge. Salute. Admire. And love. People living with HIV/AIDS are and have been, and always will be, heroes. They’ve pioneered and continue to do so. The canvas is ever changing. I’d like to paint an entirely enlightened and advanced scenario. But I cannot.
Truth be told, while people infected with HIV are living longer and healthier lives, there’s no avoiding the fact that there’s still no cure. Medications transformed the pandemic two decades ago by increasing life expectancy. But we’re faced with yet another era of challenges.
As people grow older, HIV and the antiretroviral (more…)