Seyram A. Butame

You see the Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys/ They ain't gonna fight no wars.

Racism still lingers

17 June 2022

Tallahassee skyline

Source: - Things to do in Tallhassee.

Last night, I encountered a bit of noxious racism. I picked up a handful of young men from a university in my town (I have been driving for Lyft over the last couple of weeks). They were heading to a local night spot to enjoy the evening (dancing and drinking), the things others of their age look to do on a Thursday night. It’s summer (technically late spring), but the school session just started, so these men were new to the school, and perhaps the town? During the short trip, they discussed roommate assignments and their experience meeting new people for the first time, especially new people from different cultures or countries.

One mentioned how his roommate had not arrived yet, and he’d been unable to get in touch with this person because they did not use one of the more popular social media services, I think it may have been Instagram. The fellow then mentioned the roommate’s name and how it rhymed with the joke phrase, “That’s what she said.” So, at this point, it’s not particularly racist, culturally insensitive sure. These young men are a product of an environment that limits cultural exposure. For many attending this sizable public institution, being away at university is the first time they’ve left home to experience a somewhat different environment.

But what followed this insensitive observation was a string of jokes that would typically use the phrase, “That’s what she said,” but now replaced with the unknown roommate’s name. It got progressively worse with jokes about getting the roommate to do specific assignments in mathematics or physics, followed by giggles and guffaws (context clues point to the roommate being of asian descent, I would guess China or one of its territories). I could only sigh heavily inwardly as I dropped them off at their destination.

Living in the US, you hear talk from those who claim to be progressive about moral arcs and universes and how things bend toward justice. There is also talk about how the younger generation is getting better. More aware of race, misogyny, and gender minorities, and are more accepting of a diverse world. But frankly, I am not sure any of those things hold, perhaps in select circles. However, cultural isolation and homogeneity continue to foster racism for a significant segment of the populace. By the way, this is a well-educated town, but where the historical evidence of brutal and violent racism linger, even in the built environment. There is a literal dividing line between the former all-white university and the one built so others of another race could receive an education.

As I was listening to these young men spew their racist jokes, I briefly wondered if I should intervene. What would that intervention look like? I didn’t know these men from Adam. In the light of day, I would not be able to recognize any of them if they were placed in a lineup. In all likelihood, I wouldn’t see them again, even through the magic of the Lyft app. As a Blackman who has lived and worked in mainly white spaces for several years, I have encountered this behavior before, so I am not new to it. And it can go very quickly from a group of men laughing it up to one that is openly hostile at the snap of a finger. What would be achieved by inserting myself into this racist joke scene? Would they benefit, would I benefit? I would like to believe that they would reflect on my words and understand that they were perpetuating a world where the nonwhite are ‘otherized’ in service to poorly crafted jokes (racism aside, the jokes were poorly crafted, derivative, and lacking in imagination). What would my intervention look like? Then I had to consider that I was on the clock, slaving away for an unfeeling algorithm that would not hesitate to replace me and cut my revenue stream. Ultimately, I chose not to speak up, it was a sour evening.