When I write I usually enjoy many accolades which sometimes allows me to be lulled into a false sense of writer security. That is until a negative reaction bubbles up. Proof positive is what happened years ago when I got a reaction to something I wrote. My knee-jerk response was to duke it out with the e-mailer. But the truth is that before I could get one punch in I got knocked cold in round one. Here’s a playback of the whipping I got in response to my flippant use of the term “redneck” in a preceding article.
We’re circling each other, bobbing and weaving, looking for an opening to get in the first blow. He struck first:
“I’m a reader of yours, but I take issue with your use of the term redneck without caveat or apology.”
Stung by his jab, I backpedaled, but before I could counterpunch, he moved in with a vicious hook to my head:
“Redneck is a degrading term for a race of people; poor, rural, Southern whites. I don’t see why it’s okay for someone to use this derogatory term about this group when it’s not okay to use a derogatory term about another group. You are not walking the talk on this one, Terry.”
Staggering, I flailed weakly in an attempt to stave off the onslaught. He moved in for the kill:
I imagine you used the term to describe bigotry than taking a swipe at an ethnic group. But often the term redneck gets applied to all rural Southern whites and that’s just not fair. This one hits close to home for me and others who come from or have families in rural areas. Do you not think it hurts?”
I’m on the ropes now. “Rope a dope” wouldn’t work. The onslaught continued:
“In your position of influence won’t this tell others that it’s okay to use that term? I think it’s exclusionary. Isn’t this the type of thing we are trying to get away from?”
Ouch! I’m seeing double after that blow and didn’t see the punch that came next:
“I think we should go after bad behavior but not take swipes that hit innocent people simply because of their circumstances.”
Wham! Lights out! I’m stretched out on my back now, head spinning, spit flying, having just been delivered to “la la land.” Out of the corner of an eye, I could see the glimmer of a white towel being thrown into the ring from my corner.
“It’s over!” screamed the referee over the frenzied crowd. “And the winner by first-round knockout is…” don’t remember much after that.
Now that knockout was a wake-up call. I figured I’d better set aside my bruised pride – and noggin – and get educated on the term redneck. Here’s what I found from The Color of Words, An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Ethnic Bias in the United States (Philip H. Herbst, Intercultural Press):
Redneck – a derogatory term for poor or working-class white people especially male, of the rural South. Supposedly the term drives from the sunburned necks of field workers and other outdoor laborers. It is often used as an attack term directed against religious fundamentalists.
After returning from my sabbatical from common-sense, I figured the next best thing would be to congratulate my conqueror. I shot him an apologetic e-mail.
“Terry, thanks. We’re cool. Keep going man, you’re doing great! Especially liked the bullying article.”
The moral of this story? In many respects, the inclusion journey is analogous to a prize fight. Despite vigorous training and preparation, there will be setbacks. And sometimes you can expect an unanticipated punch that throws you off balance, or flattens you outright.
As for my thrashing, I can relate to the saying, “Even when you fall flat on your face, you’re actually moving forward!”
The same goes for when you’re knocked on your behind.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He is also a member of the Cross Cultural Academy, the founder of the Global Diversity Consortium, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle and the American Diversity Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also see http://mystoriesonlineblog.com