A month or so ago, the brilliant Morgue wrote a wonderful piece about online call out culture. I’d like to take a look at something similar but not the same. Real-world call-outs.
A few years ago, my wife and I did a big trip round the United States, on one flight, from New Orleans to San Diego I was sitting next to a guy from New Orleans.
“Was it your first time in N’orlins?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, “I loved it”.
“Did you get up Bourbon Street?”
“You wouldn’t want to have gone too far up Bourbon Street” he cautioned, “that’s the fag end of town”.
The fag end of town.
This was 2010. Fag was not a cool word then. And yet that’s how he described the gay quarters of New Orleans. The fag end of town.
I was fucking horrified. But I was also seated next to this dude for the next few hours, so I laughed awkwardly and buried my face in my book (it was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road if you’re wondering. Good book.).
Ever since then I’ve felt uncomfortable thinking back on my behaviour in that exchange. I wish I could go back and do it all over again and call him out on his choice of language and warning that I wouldn’t want to go somewhere gay. Because bigotry is shit. And it will only change if we do something about it whenever we witness it.
This very long pre-amble brings us to last week. I wanted to buy a new suit. So I went into one suit shop and spoke to the manager. He asked me if I owned any other tailored suits. I said yes, three. He asked me where they were from. One was from a local tailor while the other two were, as I told him, “likely to be from some slave sweatshop in Bangkok”.
“Oh” he said, pointing to his Asian colleague. “We have one of those”.
This was the New Orlean’s guy all over again. But this time I was prepared to call him on it.
“Did you know, that casual racism doesn’t actually endear you to customers?” I asked.
Then his Asian colleague said “I’m actually from Vietnam”.
“Oh” I said, “then it’s not casual racism, it’s actual just flat-out racism.”
Having called him on it, I then gave him a chance and we continued talking about suits.
But then he started making sexist comments towards the young woman who worked with him too. I said “Casual racism and sexism? I think you’ve really badly misread me”.
He said that it was fine because they “made comments like that all the time”. Oh well in that case…
“Don’t we darl?” he asked of the woman colleague. She laughed. Politely.
I said to her “You don’t have to laugh because he’s your boss you know, this isn’t really acceptable.”
And I walked out, telling him I’d be in touch. And I will. I’m going to email him and say that I’m choosing not to shop at his store because his behaviour wasn’t acceptable.
But I’m the exception here, I know that. I have an ego the size of a house and I’m prepared to plough through socially awkward situations like publicly calling someone out for this. And not everyone is prepared to do that – and I totally get that. So I don’t really know what the solution here is, hell I don’t even know what the point of this post is. I don’t want to publicly name the store because if there is a backlash, then that will probably be disproportionate to the crime.
I guess this post is a warning to people who deal with me, if you say shit that is bigoted, I will call you on it. Because that’s the only way I know how to try and change it. But I’ll take alternative suggestions. Actually that’s a better angle, how the hell else can we stop people being bigots if we’re not comfortable calling them on it (which is a totally fair response)?