I just got called a name that offended me. I am not easily offended.
The name was "boss."
Am I being too sensitive? I'm a middle aged white man. To have a young (20-30 year old) black man call be "boss" made me feel like I had just called him "boy." I don't think I did anything to deserve that. I was stopping by my favorite pizza place to pick up an order for my family's dinner, and I had to ask him to repeat what he yelled to me when I first walked in the door. "HAVE... YOU... ALREADY... ORDERED?" he repeated in comically exaggerated enunciation. Whether or not that was the precipitating event, I was "boss" from that moment on. It wasn't a single time either. Each of the three or four times he addressed me he called me boss.
I said nothing. I'm not a terribly confrontational person. Maybe this was a glimpse into what it's like to experience subtle racism on a regular basis. Maybe he thought I wouldn't notice his subtle slight. Maybe he didn't even realize the implication his words had. Whatever his intent, I felt accused.
Post script: A few weeks later I went back to that same place and observed a white employee calling a black patron "boss."
Language is a funny thing. It has been pointed out to me for years that seemingly meaningless phrases actually have a lot of built-in baggage. When I was a kid it was commonplace to tell others to "get your cotton-picking hands off of me" or something similar. Describing something as "cotton picking" did not have any other purpose than emphasis for us as children, but it has distinctly racial overtones. As an adult I have endeavored to eliminate phrases like that from my speech. I forget that some things just lose their meaning as they are diluted in the culture.
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