I believe in freedom of speech. After all, as a journalist, that concept helps keep me gainfully employed.
But I also believe in calling people out when they abuse that freedom and what I witnessed a few nights ago inside a Bryan store qualifies as such an abuse.
I was one of two customers inside this particular business, which will remain unidentified to protect the innocent.
The other customer was a Bryan business owner, who will also remain unidentified — although I'd be happy to name them to anyone who asks me privately.
As I placed my purchases on the counter to be rung up, this other customer —standing behind me at least six feet, to their credit — began spouting racist remarks. Their point was most unintelligible although I clearly understood that he wanted to ship Mexicans back "over the wall."
Perhaps the language was directed at me, although I couldn't imagine why. But more likely it was directed at the store clerk, who, to my perception, could very well be Latinx.
Perhaps this was not the most incendiary language this other customer could have used. I'm not so naive to deny that illegal immigration is a hot-button and multi-faceted political issue.
But — and this is a big but — this wasn't the first time I'd seen this individual use this type of language, in this particular store, in front of this particular clerk. On the last occasion, maybe a year or so ago, this person proudly proclaimed that "God is white."
Maybe these comments were his way of making a joke. But I have a pretty broad sense of humor, and this wasn't funny.
I'd like to say I called them out on his offensive behavior and gave them a lesson in race relations. But instead I ignored them and gave the clerk a knowing glance.
Maybe it's cowardice to make this point from behind a keyboard. But we are currently in a moment when shining a light on America's ugly underpinning is growing more common. A decade ago — heck, even a year ago — I'd roll my eyes and let it be.
But we shouldn't do that anymore. And we never should have.
I'm publicizing this incident for three reasons. One, I want to shame this person and discourage the general public from supporting him. Obviously.
Secondly, and more importantly, I hope to show that these kinds of attitudes are present in our town. And they're most certainly in people who hold positions of power — business owners, government officials and other community leaders — and not merely the uneducated or destitute.
And lastly I hope to inspire others to speak up when they see something or hear something that is offensive. The first goal should be to educate and enlighten (if the offending party is reading this, I'd be happy to speak to you about why your words were offensive). But when someone simply doesn't want to change their behavior in order to produce a more fair and inclusive society, our best recourse is a swift and unyielding trial in the court of public opinion.
The prosecution rests.