So today, after once more typing out a passionate reply to an ignorant Facebook commentator who opined vehemently on something he obviously knew nothing about (because, well…I do)—I deleted it.
Not just because I don’t need the fun of defending myself against mudpies for the next 48 hours, but because I’ve been there too, honestly blathering on about stuff I thought I knew about because I was all too-good at parroting the hive mind.
Almost 30 years ago now, and I’m designing some print collateral for a client in South Carolina. It’s one of my first freelance graphic arts jobs in the Upstate, and being relatively young, I’m pretty sure I know everything about everything—including my new home state. I mean, man, I’m living in the Deep South.
And I ‘ve become the resident expert on all things Dixie for my friends and relatives back home.
As my client (a nice, thirty-something white lady) reviews some photos she has on file for the project, I take careful note of her every reaction and Southern inflection.
That’s when a photo (something like the one above) shows up in the pile.
“Aw, shucks,” she says, pulling it out and tossing it aside, “we sure don’t want to use a photo of that one baby.”
What do you suppose I assume?
If you think I’m judging my client as one of the multitude of boneheaded, slavering Southern racists my Yankee pals warned me about, you’d be close.
I mean, I can’t believe it.
But here it is.
Southern racism. Front and center.
I leave the office in a snit and fume all the way home. That night I rave on and on about the incident to my wife and wonder if we should move back to the Midwest. “Maybe you misunderstood,” Gina offers. “Why don’t you ask her about it tomorrow?”
“Oh, I didn’t misunderstand,” I assure her. “I know EXACTLY what she meant, tossing that photo aside.”
The next day I knock on her door. Tentatively mention the photo (like the one above). Again she shakes her head.
“May I ask why?” I say. Snotty.
“Because the little girl on the left is my boss’s daughter. He’s already scolded me once for using his family in publicity photos.”
Then she brings out a new collection.
“How about instead we use one of these?”
A white kid and an African-American kid.
Just. Like. The One. Above.
But professional models. Not the boss’s daughter.
“I like it,” I say.
“So do I,” she says.
Thank goodness there was no such thing yet as the World Wide Web or Facebook, because I would’ve taken to the cyberwaves and made a fool out of myself.
In so doing, I would’ve damaged the reputation of a woman who turned out to become a close friend.
A good woman. A kind person. Somebody who I can now assure you has not a bigoted bone in her body.
Here’s the thing, gang.
Every time I start to type an angry reply on Facebook, I think about that incident.
And then I think again.