True stories with a twist!

Everyone has had the feeling, “I wish I had said…” when you hear something nasty, insulting, or hurtful. “I should have told them…” when you overhear anger, distrust or prejudice “If I had another chance to speak up I wouldn’t have let that comment go unanswered.”

UnknownYes, don’t we all wish we had the chance to tell them what we really think of their bias, their small mindedness, their intolerance. You would tell them. Really? And what would you tell them, exactly? What is it you wish you had said? How would you feel now if only you had told them…told them what? It isn’t enough to get into a name calling conversation. You would have wanted to say something meaningful. Something that would make them feel repentant about their statement.

Many years ago in my first job fresh out of college at age twenty one, I worked as a speech therapist in Baltimore’s school system. One day I visited the teacher’s lounge during a break. Several teachers were sitting and talking about colleges to which their children were hoping to apply.

“Princeton is a wonderful school, but I doubt if he could get in,” said the second grade teacher, Mrs. Albano.

“University of Pennsylvania is a great school, but it’s right in the heart of the city,” added Mrs. Golobin, the music teacher.

”Cornell is a fine school, but it’s so huge and it’s so isolated,” put in Mr. Slaughter, the math teacher.

And the conversation continued with the fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Black’s comment, “Goucher is an excellent school; we don’t give it much attention because it’s practically in our back yard.”

And then came the line that has haunted me all these years. “Goucher is a good school, but it has so many Jews.”  images-1

Stunned silence. Did anyone say anything afterwards? Any responses?  I don’t remember. All I remember is being so shocked that I was speechless. I had never experienced such outward prejudice before, and I had no idea how to handle it. But I should not have let it go unanswered. I should not have let it stand unchallenged. And it bothers me even now, all these years later. I hear that comment again and again in my mind and think I should have said something. But what should I have said? I still don’t know what the right thing to say would have been.

What would you have said?

Comments on: "IF ONLY I HAD SAID…" (35)

  1. There is an interesting sideline to this example. If one had recovered enough to call the person a bigoted racist, would it have occurred to one to make quite sure, first, that the remark was not motivated by a pragmatic thought that it is not comfortable to be in an avoidable cultural minority situation?

  2. There is no need to let it bother you any more. Stunned silence is the most natural reaction and will have had it’s own lasting impact. 🙂

  3. Not sure what I would have said if I were younger, but now I would probably say, “and what does that mean?”

  4. Yes so many have prejudices its a hard one, for so many turn a blind eye and walk away while others seemingly get away with their verbal assaults, But some times its good to speak out and make those who speak to hurt or wound others with thoughtless remarks and bring them a reality check that they have a problem…
    Good post Ronnie.. x

  5. When I read your post, memories from yesterday as well as many years ago flooded over me, all the times I “should have said” something but didn’t.
    This is an excellent post, a much-needed nudge to stay on top of biased, hurtful, untrue or unfair comments.
    Thank you.

  6. Anonymous said:

    I might have said “Maybe that’s why it’s a good school”.

  7. I feel that I’ve been trained to remain impartial and not make a comment … both as a reporter and as a teacher. But I’ve had to step in on a couple of occasions where something hurtful and prejudicial was said. One was a comment about homosexuals. I reported it to the principal and we both chatted with the mother and son about what was said and that it was hurtful. Especially as the boy’s comment was aimed at a particular student. (It was my first year teaching and I actually went out in the hall for a few seconds to compose myself. I was stunned by the remark.)

    Another time, just last year, a student said something about some people believing that the Holocaust and genocide never happened in WWII. I was stunned then, too. But I quickly countered that “those who believe that are denying the videos, photographs, and eye-witness accounts of our G.I.s who saw first-hand what happened at concentration camps.” The student had no follow-up comment and I think he said what he did just to be outrageous to gain attention.

  8. It’s a very tricky situation to be in, Ronnie. Sometimes I think we are so stunned by what we hear that by the time that sensation wears off the topic has changed it is difficult to make your point.

  9. fransiweinstein said:

    When I was in grade school I had a teacher who made a comment about Jews. Several of us, who were Jewish, and several who weren’t, went home and told our parents. They went, en masse, to the Principal, and the School Board. The teacher was forced to apologize and was then fired.

    Prejudice and racism exists and I’m sorry to say it probably always will. What would I have said had I been in your place? I don’t know. It’s hard to ‘imagine’ what one would or would not do. There’s a big difference between being there and imagining you were there.

    If I had decided to get involved I probably would have said it was an offensive comment, as a teacher he should no better and then I would have asked if he was teaching his students to be prejudiced. I would then have had to decide whether or not to report him to the Principal because I do not think racists should be teachers.

    • But can you think on your feet so quickly to say that at the time? I think you have a very good answer, and one I will try to keep handy in case I ever am unfortunate enough to come across another bigot.

      • fransiweinstein said:

        Don’t always think on my feet as quickly as I would hope to but I am not bad.

  10. I’ve been there and I have spoken out. When I worked in banking, one of my co workers mentioned that she had to go meet a client but that she did not want to go because it was in the Puerto Rican section and “well, you know how they are”. I too sat there stunned. Somehow I composed myself and said, “I am Puerto Rican and I am offended by your comment.” She was shocked and began to back pedal and said the typical, “Oh, I have a friend of a friend who is Puerto Rican and I don’t have anything against…” I got a lot of joy out of seeing her sweat it out.

  11. Excellent and thought-provoking post, Ronnie. I have been in that same situation many times — of being the only Jewish person in the room when someone utters a slur like this (not realizing that I ma Jewish) and not knowing how to respond. For me, it’s particularly difficult as my family and I survived the Holocaust and I am dumbfounded that such prejudice still exists. But it does, and maybe “Excuse me” as suggested by Bela’sBrightIdeas above is a good way to start a conversation.

  12. “On the plus side, Goucher has very few racialist bigots”

  13. Guess I would have said, “Excuse me?” When what might have been better to say would have been, “Excuse me, but I think your ignorance is showing.”

    That being said, it’s difficult to educate the ignorant. I can’t let comments like that go unchallenged, but I don’t get into a ‘pissing contest’ with them. No one wins. “Excuse me?” allows them to reframe what they’ve said – bounces it back for them to either say it again or think first. Which is often what is missing.

    Aloha, Ronnie.

  14. Disturbing. And such a tricky situation, isn’t it? The kind that haunts you forever.

  15. But sometimes by doing that I feel as if I missed an opportunity to confront prejudice head on. As we approach the anniversary of Kristallnacht and read about the growing anti-semitism around the world perhaps we should not let these comments stand with comment…

  16. Since I believe in speaking my mind. I probably would have said: It’s a good thing you didn’t go there, they might have thought you were a Nazi!

  17. Lola's mom said:

    Stop beating yourself up! You were young and this was at a different time where tolerance was not as prevalent. The more important question is what would you say if it happened today, and my bet is that you would say something, even if you hadn’t planned out what that would be. xo

  18. When I was in my late teen (in the 1970s), I was working as a temp in a town office, and the head of the office used a horrible slur word about Jews. And I’m Jewish. I had NEVER heard anybody use that term and I froze, in fear and horror. Somebody else who worked there came over to me soon afterwards and said, “Ann, are you Jewish?” And I said,”WHY?” because I wasn’t feeling particularly safe at that moment. He said, “I know you are. I saw the look on your face.” And he told me that people in the office probably assumed i was Italian. He must have told the manager, because the guy approached me later, looking really uncomfortable and talking to me about how much he supported Israel. What should I have done? I told him I didn’t agree with some of the things he was saying. Perhaps I should have said more.

    There have been other times I could have spoken up and said more, regarding prejudice. Often, in the moment, I’m shocked and speechless. Some times, I’ve gone back to the person and told them how upset and disturbed I was. That, surprisingly, has sometimes gone well.

    I think the best we can do is express our experience, authentically, and hope that the other person can take in our reactions. And maybe even change, a little.

    • Perhaps that’s the best way; describe how you felt by their comments. That could lead to a discussion, or at least inform them that their words have an impact, and they shouldn’t toss them around so thoughtlessly.

  19. Excellent, provocative post. And I’m sure I’ve heard similar comments over the years — and not sure what the correct response is expect to walk away. Saying noting sometimes says it all.

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