Thursday, April 14, 2011

Surprisingly Offensive

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.


  1. I wouldn't read too much into it... I've called people; boss, chief... It doesn't matter what colour they are or the colour I am - it's like the blue collar "sir" - something I would call my mechanic, a security guard or the guy behind the convenience store counter. At least that's how I think of it/mean it to be taken (no one has ever complained) Maybe he's been asked to stop calling all the customers "dude"? (which is what I would probably call them otherwise - LOL)

  2. Did you ever see megamind?

    The part where Roxanne is first bumping into Bernard? He answer her question with "We are not allowed to directly insult our guest" or something like that. I do find that anybody in a service position that says a word over and over isn't actually insulting me with their words. It's the lack of intelligence that really hurts!
    I had a guy at a phone store say "bonus!" about 15 times in a 10 minutes conversation. He used it like this.

    ME: "I think I want to get the unlimited texting"
    HIM "BONUS!"

    And when people do this, it seems like - to me - that they are on autopilot and not actually engaged in what I have going on. Sometimes I think about slipping in something to see if they are paying attention.

    ME: "And you are a complete ass-hat."
    HIM "Bonus!"

    Mike, seriously - the pizza guy, black, white, yellow, brown. Forgot about you two minutes after you left. Your the one still carrying this story around, and it's through negativity. So what you should do with it is what I have done with my "BONUS!" guy. Just have fun next time and pull a "just seeing if you were paying attention."

    "And can you add tin foil button Hammers to the crust?"
    "Sure thing BOSS!"

  3. Haven't white people suffered enough?