Old Timer Racism – What Would You Have Done in this Situation?

by Guest Contributor Ryan Barrett, originally published at Cheap Thrills

Last night I got together with 5 friends to watch the Celtics game. We decided to head out to the only “bar bar” in Boston’s South End (which also happens to be an Irish one, go figure) because we wanted to yell at the T.V. and scarf down semi-disgusting seven dollar finger food. Watching sports requires such things, after all.

We found a great table in the corner – right in front of a smaller T.V – and settled in for a night of Kobe shutdown. A few other people from the bar were also gathered around our T.V., talking to each other about the game.

Two men in particular were quit vocal. They made interestingly oblivious and strangely inappropriate comments like, “I sweeah (that’s Boston for swear) that has to be Whitey Bulgah sitting next to Randy Moss” and “Magic Jaahnson – shouldn’t he be dead by now?”

We chose to ignore the guys… until we heard this: “C’mon, make the shot you f*cking spook.”

Our table began bouncing questions off of each other – “Did he really just say that?” “I think he just called Paul Pierce a spook!” “WTF?!?!”

The guy overheard our table talk and started rambling to himself about how we didn’t understand his life and how everyone called Black basketball players “spooks” in Roxbury in the 60’s.

So then we engaged him. And it was strange; each person at our table handled the situation differently. One person berated and belittled the guy, one tried a rational approach, one furrowed her eyebrows and just stared straight into his eyes – a look that demanded the man acknowledge her presence (that would have been me – the only Black person sitting at our table), and three ignored the whole situation. When the conversation escalated and the guy got in one of our faces, decisions became tricky. Do you actually throw down with a 65 year-old dude? Or do you just tell the bartender what’s going on?

I really don’t know the right way to handle this kind of situation. I don’t know whether it’s worth it to get angry. I also don’t know whether it’s worth it to try to rationalize with someone whose racism is so ingrained in his way of speaking, thinking, living. But then I think it must be worth it, because 1) this guy is openly validating racism, embedding it in the outlook of his children… who are then bringing said racism to theirs, and 2) perhaps people who only know racism as a way of life don’t see their ignorance.

Because here’s the funny thing: after all was said and done, the guy tried to apologize and buy us a round of drinks (and then, of course, went on to repeat that we didn’t understand his history).

Our response? Thanks but no thanks.