Saturday, February 13, 2010
YOU NEVER KNOW WHO YOU'RE TALKING TO!
My employer was married to a Japanese-American woman and in the company there were a number of Asian women employed.
One day at work a sales representative came to give a demonstration of an "improved" version of a product which we used. Two of the women who were Asian were working at the equipment where the demonstration was conducted. After the demonstration, as we were walking away, the sales representative made a repugnant remark about the sexual proclivities of Asian women. My boss saw that I was ready to respond and he motioned for me to leave. I walked away from the site greatly angered not only because one of of my sisters-in-law is Korean, but also because of the women who worked for me. I waited as I saw my boss bid him goodbye. My boss called me to his office and motioned for me to sit down. He calmly picked up the telephone and called the sales representative's superior and told him that we would not be ordering material from them ever again. I could tell from the conversation that the other person was asking for an explanation, but he gave no reason or explanation, just a simple cancellation of the contract.
I was shocked and asked why he hadn't told the man WHY we were declining the material. He answered, "I want that SOB to keep making those kinds of mistakes and for him to explain to his boss WHY he lost the contract." I asked, "Did you tell the sales rep why?" He answered, "Yeah, I told the M-F'er that he was talking about MY daughter and that you never know who you're talking to!" I am sure that I would have told the sales rep's boss the reason, but perhaps my boss' actions were more effective.
However, "You never know who you're talking to" became a defining moment in my life because I knew that I, myself, had been guilty of untoward remarks.
Now, whenever I hear a bigoted remark, I feel it is my moral duty to confront it. "Bigots are like the pupils of the eyes: the more light you shine on them, the more they recede." I am not naive enough to believe that I could ever change people, but at least I can embarrass them. Whenever I hear a bigoted remark, I always answer and say that I am a member of the particular ethnic group being insulted. It's always interesting to see the reaction of people when their bigotry is exposed. Once, one of my fellow managers told a Polish joke. I said, "Obviously, you don't know that I am of Polish descent." He said, "With a name like Raypole?" I said, "Raypolkowsi." He said, "But that's your married name." I said "Shirkowski is my maiden name." The guy said, "Your maiden name was Shirkey just like your brother." I said, "They Anglicized it when we came to this country." He turned and hurried away. He returned later and said, "I went to see your brother and he told me you guys are of Irish descent." I said, "Well, you probably said something anti-Irish to him!" Another time, my brother and I were together at a gas station and a guy there made a bigoted remark about Hispanic people. My brother, who had taken Spanish in high school, immediately began saying things to me in SPANISH! Not knowing any Spanish at that time, I answered, "Si, Jose." The guy slunk away.
But the remarks which constantly stun me are the anti-Semitic ones and I'll relate just a few:
1. All of the management people in my department were together at lunch and one of them made an anti-Semitic remark and I said, "You know, it's amazing that I have never had to resort to those tactics that you ascribe to people of my particular ethnic persuasion." The guy asked, "What does that mean?" My friend John Steinhauer said, "I think she just told you she's Jewish!"
2. A friend of mine has a mezuzah on the doorpost and a visitor asked, "Do you know you have a Hebrew thing on your front door?" My friend answered yes and the offender promptly launched into an anti-Semitic rant. When questioned, the person admitted that she'd actually never even met a Jew!
3. Recently, another person that I see in my aerobics class, made an anti-Semitic remark and after I told her I was Jewish, I could tell that she didn't get the connection between what she said about Jews supposed swindling of people and one's being Jewish. I told her that her term was offensive and she said, "Well, I've said it all my life." and I told her that she's been offensive all of her life. Fortunately, she now avoids me.
4. A woman who was a fellow Board of Trustees member with me made an anti-Semitic remark and when I confronted her she started to say, "Some of.....", I stopped her before she finished the sentence with "Some of my best friends are Jews," and told her, "I can't let you finish that because that's the most ridiculous thing you could say!" I told her that either she would resign from the Board or I would file a complaint. Fortunately, I never saw her again.
5. A friend of mine was driving her car and heard a commercial from a local car-dealer on a local radio station and the car dealer stated that he could be "Jewed down." My friend pulled her car off the road, called the radio station and complained. To our knowledge, it has never been replayed, but I telephoned the car dealership to complain. I was SO proud of my friend.
I am constantly amazed that nearly all of the people who make the remarks have actually never even met or known a Jew.
I've claimed to be of every race, religion and nationality but only recently did I finally have the COURAGE to say that I am gay in response to a homophobic remark. I'm NOT gay, Asian, black, Polish, Catholic, Hispanic, Italian, or any of the many others I've claimed as mine, but "they never know who they're talking to." Thanks to my old boss for a lesson well-learned.