Maggie and The Client

February 20th, 2007.

It’s funny how people take things on the Internet.

Yesterday I wrote a post condemning political correctness and I was immediately accosted by random accusations about my motivations behind the article. It was said that I just wanted to be shocking. I was accused of attempting to portray myself as a badass. People speculated that I might be a closet racist who embraced rudeness as a substitute to my secret desire to lynch a man. You get the idea.

The truth is I wrote that vague, meandering post yesterday because I was frustrated.

Originally, when I woke up, I intended to write a story about my old roommate, Phillip. But I was having a hard time describing Phillip. I didn’t want to use the term ‘African American’ because such an overtly PC term on a website that sported pictures of toddlers holding shit just seemed absurd. I considered a flowery approach where I would describe Phillip’s skin as ‘dark as warm mocha’ in a pathetic attempt at pretending I was a real writer who was innovative enough to invent a subtle description, but I kept flubbing that up too. I briefly considered leaving Phillip’s race out of the story all together, but the entire story was about race relations and how weird it was that friends of mine who had never before displayed a hint of racism started casually implying that Phillip might rape me in my sleep after we moved in together, so Phillip being a black man was pertinent to the story, goddammit! I would have just broken down and called Phillip ‘black,’ but I wasn’t sure if that was still OK.

Finally, I just got discouraged with the whole situation and the silliness of it all, so I chucked the story completely. Hence, my hissyfit yesterday.

My aversion to the term ‘black’ to describe someone who is, well, black, started when I was in my early 20’s.

I was working in an office somewhere, on one of the bottom rungs of the company, when I witnessed my very first ‘problem client.’ The client was a middle-aged black woman and she was bitching up a storm to my supervisor, Maggie. The client had some very unrealistic expectations of the duties my company preformed and when she failed to get her own way, she decided to play the Race Card.

She insisted that her unrealistic request was performed regularly for our white clients (It wasn’t) and that the only reason we wouldn’t bow to her whim was because she was of African descent.

Maggie tried to reassure the woman. “Ma’am, I can assure you that no one is being discriminatory because you’re black….”

The woman, furious, spit out a response, “Oh, I’m black now? I’m black! Don’t you know the correct term is African American, you racist bitch!”

Maggie lost her temper. She whirled around and nearly ran into her office and slammed the door. The room was quiet and we briefly wondered if Maggie was coming back. She did, a few seconds later, carrying her purse.

She quickly started mocking the client’s confrontational tone, “I’m racist now! Is that it, I’m racist?

She rummaged through her purse until she found her wallet. She flipped it open and shoved a picture in front of the client’s face.

“You see that? That’s a picture of my husband. A BLACK man. We’ve been married for 7 years, but I guess I hate him, don’t I? Because I’m racist!”

The client attempted to say something, but Maggie yanked out another picture and jammed it in front of her face.

“And that’s a picture of my 3 year old son. An interracial child. But I guess I hate him, too, because I’m a racist!”

Maggie’s voice broke and she abruptly ran back into her office. She slammed the door. This time, she didn’t come back.

A couple of people got up and attempted to pacify the client, but I’m not sure what was said. Instead, I decided to check on Maggie. I knocked on her office door and let myself in before she could tell me to go away.

She was sitting at her desk, clutching her pictures, her swollen face covered in snot and tears, with her chest hitching as she sobbed.

I said, “Maggie…no one really believes that you’re a racist.”

“You don’t understand,” she wailed, “I love my family!”

But I did understand. I understood that for Maggie, being called a racist was as big an insult to her as being called a nigger is to a black man. I understood how it was possible to wound and cut someone with truly no hate in their heart simply by implying that the hatred was there.

The worst part? It was all over the word ‘black.’ The client was offended and Maggie’s character was assassinated all over a silly little word. Black. Ever since that day, I’ve been hesitant to use that word to describe someone’s race.

But I wasn’t really thinking about Maggie and the client yesterday.

I was thinking about Phillip and how I wanted to tell his story…if I only I could figure out a way to describe him.

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