I was in the company of someone recently (a friend of a friend at a small gathering) who, after a few drinks, said something hideous and not worth repeating. She said she was kidding, of course, but I cannot think of a situation in which it would be remotely funny or appropriate to say what she said. That is, I think she wasn’t kidding; she was caught. The look on her face told me that as soon as the words left her mouth she wished she could shove them back in—but not because she didn’t mean them I believe, rather because she knew how unpopular and unthinkable they were to the rest of us in the group, to me especially.
I confronted her, of course, as my heart sank with sadness, astonished and revolted that in 2010 people (never mind someone I know!) can still have such hatred toward others. They may deny it, knowing it’s unpopular, or they might call it “politically incorrect” with a sneer, but the feelings are there—ready to sneak out and expose them when they are relaxed, perhaps inebriated.
I have known many people, who by virtue of making the acquaintance—being forced really to make an acquaintance— of an African American neighbor, a gay co-worker, a Jewish classmate, will claim “I’m not racist/homophobic/anti-Semitic…I have a black/gay/Jewish friend/neighbor/co-worker.” But the truth is they have only made an exception, exempting that one person they know from the larger group about whom they still harbor their ignorant fear.
I wish I could take comfort in such exceptions as baby steps forward rather than anomalies in their thinking, but today I’m still shaking my head and grieving.