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A Familiar Feeling

by Jerry Bader

My daughter has blogged about something that happened to her   while shopping on Christmas Eve day. Of course, it's possible that the woman's words weren't driven by racism, but I don't think any reasonable person could draw that conclusion. My daughter didn't. She told me about this shortly after it happened. She's feeling frustrated because she said nothing. I know the feeling well.

I was in college at UW-Oshkosh in 1981 when I was taking the elevator to my room on 10th floor in Scott Hall dormitory. Another man was in the elevator with me when it stopped on one of the lower floors and a woman got on, took the elevator up two floors and got off. This often bothered people, I wasn't indifferent to how many floors any given elevator ride traversed. This woman happen to be black. After she got off, he turned me and said; "boy, the ni**ers around here pretty much do whatever they want, huh? I said nothing, mostly because I was stunned. He also rode up to the tenth floor. I didn't know him, so I'm guessing he was a friend of a resident. Longest elevator ride of my life. For more than 30 years the incident has haunted me.

I've told the story on the air, and how it nags at me. A listener and friend of the show told me engaging the guy would have been pointless; I wasn't going to change who he is. But that's not the point; I feel that my silence suggested agreement and it continues to gnaw at me. My daughter is essentially feeling the same way. If it's the racist remark it appears to be, I guarantee confronting her in a busy store on Christmas Eve wouldn't have ended well. So, discretion clearly was the better part of valor. Of course, that's what I told myself some 33 years ago; the guy was physically imposing and I don't know how it would have ended. Somehow, three decades later, that has never satisfied me. My advice to my daughter is to let it go; it won't be the last racist she deals with. Which leads to another issue.

I've been seeing more racist comments in show email lately and my producer seems to be dealing with a higher volume of off the air racist calls. As a father to two black children it's a tremendous struggle for him to remain civil to these callers. I've long lamented on the air that per capita racism is a bigger problem in the black community than the white community. I still believe that. But I cannot deny the evidence that I'm seeing more white racism. They're either growing in number or boldness. I suspect it's the latter, but neither is a positive sign.