Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Sensitive Matter

By Gail Wallace

How sensitive are we as Americans? I was surprised that people were outraged at President Obama’s slip of the tongue in referring to being in the Special Olympics when it comes to his bowling skills. I took what he said as a joke but not everyone did. Okay, I am not handicapped so there is no way for me to understand the pain that it caused parents of handicapped individuals as well as the individuals themselves and others. But, I found a way to empathize. Let me explain.I am African-American and I cannot count the number of times that I have felt pain over a racially insensitive comment that someone has made. However, my White peers don’t seem to understand why I am offended. Okay, let me give an example. I was offended about the email that circulated around government offices in California portraying the front of the White House as a Watermelon Patch. I thought that this was outrageous. But I was equally hurt and offended by the fact that the stereotype that all Blacks love watermelon was vividly portrayed in a drawing which illustrated rows of watermelons lined up in front of the White House.
I interrogated the basis of my pain and remembered that I was probably still hurt from the surprised looks on everyone’s faces at the office party when a discussion of poverty came up. All of the White Faculty and Students who grew up poor talked about taking items back to stores like K-mart and Thrifty for a refund if they needed the money for something else. I thought to myself: "These people are being very honest and trusting with sensitive information." I eventually opened up and shared how when watermelons were on sale my parents would purchase as many as five at a time and they would take up floor space but not for long. I continued with, "When times were really financially tight, my siblings and I would count who collected the most seeds in their piece of the watermelon." The room grew silent and I felt like I had just confessed to a murder.
Not only was I hurt but somehow I felt pain. It was as if I was admitting that All Blacks like watermelon after all. A Sensitive Matter…?
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