Kenneth L. Hardin: Rude comments have no consequences for some

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 7, 2024

By Kenneth L. Hardin

It must be nice to be able to utter thoughtless and ignorant remarks and not worry about whether the receiver will be offended or impacted. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been in a privileged position to where I could allow idiotic drivel to emanate from my buccal cavity. Historically, skinfolk have had to practice caution in all things oratory so as not to feel the ire of those whose goal was subjugation and oppression. Even as a child of the late ’60s to mid-’70s, and free from forced servitude, I recall the cautionary missives from my paternal grandparents about the correct way to address people who didn’t look like me. I remember my grandfather with a bit of sadness back at 10 years old, who was a pillar of strength in voice and stature at all other times, reducing himself to something far less when we went to work with him at the bank. Although he was twice their age and probably more in character, he would admonish us to ensure we spoke to his coworkers in an almost reverent tone. I was schooled in a way of respectful discourse early on even with people who favored me physically. There were certain words my siblings and I were forbidden to utter and every interaction with an adult had to conclude with a “Yes Sir” or a “No ma’am.

As my shoe size grew along with my age and I became an adult, those warnings actually proved helpful although they were born from a time and manifested further when people of color were still regarded as 3/5 of a human for political purposes. Employing respectful discourse endeared me to folks well outside of the boundaries of my hometown as I traveled on Uncle Sam’s dime and more later in my various professional dealings. I often found it disheartening that not everyone was offered the same lesson as I benefited from because there were many times when I found myself on the receiving end of racially insensitive jokes, backhanded compliments and outright hate-filled vitriolic language in the professional workplace. There used to be a time when people would preface an insult or disrespectful remark to me with, “I don’t mean to offend you, but…” and I would respond by telling them I could guarantee I would be offended without even hearing the entire message. Whenever I was asked if I wanted to hear a funny racial joke, I would pointedly say there’s nothing funny at all about a racist joke. When I was younger and a lot less tolerant than I am today with all the gray hairs in my mustache, I would respond as callously and angrily as I could to anyone who tried to consciously or  unconsciously disrespect me. I cared very little about being saddled with the “angry Black  boogeyman” moniker because I wanted them to understand there were real human feelings and emotions involved. Better yet, I wanted them to know I didn’t subscribe to Dr. King’s nonsensical philosophy of loving and praying for those who hate you. While I still abhor that ridiculous belief, I’m a little less inclined to respond angrily today.

That personal growth was on full display last Monday morning as I visited the local State Employee’s Credit Union on Mooresville Road, where I’ve been a member for 34 years and frequent often. As I’ve done over the last several months, I went in to purchase a cashier’s check for a large sum of money from my business account from another institution to pay a vendor. When I handed the teller my debit card and told her the amount, her first response was, “Do you have enough money in the account for this?” I could feel the old me gathering at my toes and working its way up through my body ready to erupt like a Looney Toons character who blows steam from the top of his head. But the new and improved me, the Kenny 2.0, just stood there silent and motionless, refusing to acknowledge the asinine question posed by the teller who didn’t look like me.

As I stood there with a row of people in line behind me and other patrons to my immediate left, I wondered if they received the same question. As she went through the steps of running my card and creating the check, I had a conversation with myself asking, “Why would I be in there handing her the card and conducting the transaction if I didn’t have the money to complete it? Why would I subject myself to embarrassment in a bank full of people if I didn’t have the money in the account? Why didn’t she just run the card instead of assuming I didn’t have the funds? Was the question even necessary and does she ask all patrons this same question?” The interesting thing was she was the financial services manager. As I opined earlier, she felt comfortable and privileged enough to direct that disrespectful comment and never gave it a second thought as to how it would impact me.

I posed the question on my social media page when I returned home, asking if I had a right to be offended. The comment section lit up with messages from the brotherman and the otherman, who obviously felt my stinging pain. The comments ranged from shock that she would ask that question, demanding that I close my account, go to her supervisor, many saying they would have acted out angrily towards her, and a few saying they would’ve quietly pulled her aside. As I shared with a friend as we chopped up the incident, it must be nice to not have to worry about how your words and actions impact other people. We both agreed it’s just so exhausting sometimes being an African in America.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.