That time I got written up for racism at work, code-switching and the power of your words

Reconciliation;

  1. the restoration of friendly relations
  2. the action of making one view or belief compatible with another
  3. the action of making financial accounts consistent; harmonization 

Saying something stupid, uninformed, and yes, even racist is something I am no stranger to. It’s likely that I’ll say something ignorant in the future. I’m sure I’ve already wrote something along those lines to some of y’all on this blog. The big difference now is that I’m much better about talking openly about my mistakes and committing to grow from them.


My research patient was running late to their appointment when a tech from the private practice asked where they were. “Oh, she called and she said she’s on BPT and she will get here when she gets here” I said jokingly. “What’s BPT?” asked the tech. I was kinda thrown off balanced. This clinic was near Kennestone Hospital and I had only been there for about 2 months and wouldn’t last much longer. To say I was a fish out of water would be an understatement. I did a thing I now recognize as a sign or type of code-switching.


I looked around first to see if the coast was clear. Before leaning in to tell her “ it means Black People time.” The patient who had called and made the comment was clearly joking around. But I messed up. My recognizing that I had to make sure the coast was clear before telling her what the joke was is confirming that it wasn’t right for me to tell to begin with. At least in my mind. Even if it seems minor. Someone at that office overheard and thought it was offensive enough to complain to HR on me. I was written up for making racist remarks. I was embarrassed to say the least. I called my best friend, who is Black, on the way home and he thought it was hilarious – as he normally does when I do stupid shit like this. Thing is, I’ve said way more racist stuff than that in the past and this isn’t even a good description of code-switching.

Code-switching; the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.

Before I go any further I want to say that code-switching is something that happens in all languages and cultures. But, down here in the Deep South there’s a special kind of code-switching. White code-switching. I don’t believe this is a particular Southern thing but my experiences growing up down here is that I’d hear conversations that I would of rather not heard. Sometimes even participated in them. Some people had worked hard on these jokes for weeks. They were, or rather are, cringe-worth and incredibly disheartening. I’m not writing this to shame anyone for the past and I’m only focused on how we can heal moving forward. My take on code-switching is that it’s lead us into a modern time where we can’t be so subtle about it anymore and it does need to be called out. Below is one of the best examples of calling someone out in recent memory:


Kendrick Lamar stopped his show after a girl he brought on stage to rap along with him used a word she shouldn’t of. She used the n-word. It was no doubt embarrassing for her. But, I applauded Kendrick for doing so because it’s the only way we are going to get past this. He was incredibly polite about it and started the song over again and didn’t even kick her off stage. She apologized realizing that she was wrong. He let her stay and perform with him, just asking she not use that word. And then he told the crowd to give her a hand even though some were booing her. But this outraged a lot of White people including friends of mine and I heard arguments that Kendrick was the racist for stopping her. As if they could understand what a Black Man feels like having a White Woman yell the n-word into a mic on stage with him is like. Let alone the power that the word carries. Before you respond with comments about it just being the lyrics, go listen to his album, “To Pimp a Butterfly” in it’s entirety – reading the lyrics – then come back.

And I want to talk about what words can do. I won’t sit here and lie saying I’ve never said the n-word in multiple different contexts and implications. It’s insulting to my Black friends to do so. A big problem we are having right now is people acting as if they’ve never said or behaved in a racist way. This is about being anti-racist. I understand how I code-switched in the past and try and be better today. Meaning I consciously knew there wasn’t anyone Black around who would be offended from hearing me using words or phrases I knew would offend them. That tells me everything I need to know. It’s wrong. If I can’t say it in front of everyone then what am I doing? That’s a policy I HAVE to live by today.


In the past year alone, I’ve heard people that I have love for say things, including that word, behind the backs of people they claim to be friends with. I’m not talking about gossip. This is a societal problem and I’m not trying to shame anyone here. I do want to talk about my own experiences and hope that it encourages other to do the same. Your words carry weight. And many words were designed to denigrate whole communities for purposes of inequality. Fear keeps us trapped in hateful places and makes us unwilling to change.


I’ve had clinical depression since I was a child. I fell into a cycle of years of alcohol and substance abuse and only broke that cycle a little over 4 years ago. I talk freely about these things now because the compartmentalizing of the pains I grew up with nearly killed me. The actions of my reckless behavior could of easily taken others with me. The least I can do now is try to share some of my recovery. That’s how it works.


Traumas I went through cut deep. But the words of peers and loved ones often cut deeper. It also lead me to develop a sharp pen and tongue and I won’t lie that I’ve done more than my share of damage with my own words. Some of the ones that stung me the most were fatass, bastard, white-trash. I could elaborate along those lines but I won’t. There are two that left deep scars and I see why now. Faggot. Nig*er-lover. I’ve been called both of those by people I’m close with. To my face and worse, under their breath.


My stance against racism over the years and fights against bullies earned me those two quite a bit. They hurt. And especially when someone says them behind your back. I’m a big softie at heart. I‘m going to write about this more in the future for sure, but on my path in recovery I’ve figured out my true self and been comfortable identifying who I really am. I’m Queer. I identify as Pansexual. I have a girlfriend who understands and a few friends who get it now. I don’t talk much about this openly as I’ve been working through my past in recovery. I was sexually abused as a child and didn’t talk about that with anyone for more than 20 years. I say this now because I realized that growing up maybe I said or did things that were seen as “queer” that got that F-word thrown out. And that’s why it cut so deep. Honestly, it’s never been a problem with some of my closest friends but it is a truth I’ve been hiding from for a long time. I thank God that we have a society now that makes it easier to talk about these things openly. And I understand that I can’t even begin to feel what it’s like to be called the other word.


So, I wrote this because my own fears and insecurities put me in a place of hiding from who I really was for years. I caused a lot of damage with my own words and actions from lashing out in fear. I attempt to clean that up now by being as honest as I can and being true to who I am at heart. If sharing my experiences can stop just one from going 20 years of compartmentalizing that pain then it’s imperative for me to do so. Breaking the cycle of generations of injustice, alcoholism, addiction, abuse and mental illness is paramount. So, choose your words carefully and think before you speak or write AND if you won’t say it in front of everyone, THEN DON’T SAY IT ALL!!! ❤️❤️

James

Published by Thoughts for Healing Hearts

I’m an aging punk who wants to use my words and art to express my journey in recovery by speaking from the heart. Hopefully it helps others along the way.

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