While at the store last week I spied a very ugly word scrawled in blue crayon on the back of a box. It was a racial slur. The worst one, in my opinion. I felt violated by that ugly word and I didn’t know what to do. So I cradled the box in my arm, careful so no one could see the word, and marched to the customer service desk. The woman was smiling, she had just been chatting with her friend and the laughter was still dying out on her lips. I put the box on the counter and pointed to the word. She squinted at the box, perhaps just as disbelieving as I, and then grimaced. The other girl came to take a look and flinched when it registered, as if the word itself had teeth and could bite.”We should go see if there are more,” she said and disappeared. I wondered if they found any more words. Or perhaps the crayon hidden behind a box of cereal or a under a bag of cookies.
I realized later that the word itself only had the power that I gave to it. The shame that I felt was real, palpable, but in part because where I come from. I don’t want to be from the kind of people who would say that word without pause, but maybe I need to explore that side, the bigotry that hides in sleepy towns, still very much alive in the minds of another generation. Have you ever seen an ugly world out in the wild, where you didn’t expect it?