We hurried down to baggage claim because we wanted to get home as soon as we could. We had an hour and half drive ahead of us and it was already 9 o’clock. My wife and kids waited off to the side, while I waited right next to the conveyor.
Everyone was tired and just ready to go and it seemed as if it was taking longer than usual for the whole process to simply begin. I waited towards the back of the line. I am not the type to just jump right in the front. Looking to my left I noticed a tall African-American gentleman who if I had to guess, was about 35 years old. We struck up a light-hearted conversation and in so doing I discovered that he had been to Cambridge, the small town where I live. He told me that he had done a wedding there.
Before I knew it…
Words came out of my mouth that I regretted the moment I heard them. But it was too late.
I asked the gentleman if he was the dj.
Why would I ask that!?
He very easily could have been the dj. But he could have just as easily have provided an assortment of other services at the wedding. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It turned out that he was the minister that had performed the actual ceremony.
I spent the next five minutes trying to engage in polite conversation. And it was. He introduced me to his wife and never once did he let on that he was offended by my ignorant assumption. I was so concerned with saving face and trying to make-up for my remark that I didn’t even notice that my wife and kids had gotten all four of our suitcases off of the baggage conveyor. Two of which were quite heavy.
I’ve shared this incident with my wife and a friend of mine, who happens to be African-American. Maybe I felt that sharing this with him would absolve me of any guilt I should feel. But it shouldn’t and it didn’t.
To this day I still can’t get over why I made those remarks. I think of myself as someone who is very culturally proficient and values and respects everyone for who they are and where they’re from. And I still think that I do. But I am owning my ignorant remark.
I have complete control over the words that come out of my mouth. Yes, social media is pervasive. Yes, we are bombarded each and every day with stereotypes. But that is no excuse for someone who considers himself above making remarks like the one I made.
The crazy thing is I know many more African-American ministers than I do African-American dj’s. So why? Why did those words come out of my mouth? I don’t know. No excuses. Just moving forward.
In moving forward I am trying to become as cognizant as I can of all of my actions and all of my words. The only thing I can do now is aim to be better than I was yesterday and lead by example.
A week after my airport incident I went into a Mexican restaurant to pick up a carry out meal. When I opened the door to the restaurant, right away I recognized the young girl working at the front desk. I smiled and said, hi Jennifer, it’s good to see you. I picked up my food, paid my bill and walked to my car.
As I sat down and got ready to drive away it hit me. The girl that I had spoken to was not Jennifer. Her name was Najeli. Jennifer was the name of another Hispanic student who had I knew from the school where I last worked. While both girls are Hispanic and about the same age, they look nothing alike.
I then thought to myself, what must this girl be thinking? That I didn’t remember her name? Or worse yet, that I simply confused her with Jennifer because they are both Hispanic? I didn’t feel good about either possibility. So I did what I felt was right. After a minute or two of self-reflection, I went back into the restaurant. Apologized to the young girl. And made it clear to her that I knew her name.
My apology did not excuse my airport incident. But it was a step in the right direction towards becoming a better person. That is all I can ever hope for.
I will be better tomorrow.
I actually shared this mistake on a past episode of My Bad. I share many of my big mistakes on My Bad as do many other amazing educators. The next time you have ten free minutes, check out an episode. I think it will help you realize that you are not alone. We all mess up. Big time.