A few weeks back, my sister posted a video of my not-quite-two niece dancing on facebook. As a proud aunt, I immediately watched the video and had to laugh at loud over my niece's gyrations. I have no clue where she gets it from! In fact, the video was so funny, that I went back and rewatched it. I chuckled when I heard my sister's father-in-law call out, from behind the camera "You've got to send this to your mother! She'll love it!" The context made it clear he was talking to my sister, about my mother. And it's true, my mother really does love every video of her granddaughter that she can get her eyes on.
But then, at the very end of that second view, I heard something I hadn't noticed before:
"You've got a little black baby!"
I'm not sure whose voice it was, but someone in the room, unseen on camera, shouted those words. Stunned, I watched the video again. To my great disappointment, I had heard right the first time.
And I had to ask myself what I would do if I were in that room. Would I point out that the comment is culturally insensitive? Would it make a difference, or maybe cause an argument? Would I let it go? After all, I didn't say anything about it on facebook.
This incident got me thinking over questions of how to respond when people say insensitive things. As a teacher, I sometimes have to approach this issue - for instance, a white female student once said that a black writer had no credibility because he "sounded like a black guy from the projects." I said that we needed to be sensitive to how we spoke about race and ethnicity, and that some of the most brilliant people I knew were black individuals from low income areas. She grew very embarrassed, but nobody made any comments along those lines ever again. Another time, a student used the term "negro," and I instantly called him on it - he acted defensive but ultimately backed down.
So, there are times when I know to step in, point blank. But when we're with peers or with people who have authority over us, or when we're with loved ones, and they make insensitive remarks - how do we respond?