Stand up in the face of bigotry | Guest column

by Timothy Coffey

Orcas Island

Recently, I was having lunch at a local establishment. Upon taking my seat, I was one of only two tables. As I settled in, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation.

Two individuals who I now know to be locals (who at the time insisted that they were not) were emphatically discussing significant intellectual variance along racial lines and clearly making a case for white superiority. A snippet of the conversation that follows is paraphrased and an incomplete representation of what was being discussed. However, it is essentially accurate and in no fashion embellished.

One person stated: “I think the blacks, coming out of Africa, spent their lives hunting and running from animals. They had to be athletic, not thinkers. While we (I assume to mean all whites) were busy in Europe thinking and being philosophical. It’s just evolution. It’s not their fault that they’re behind us and that they are that way. They need time to catch-up. That’s why they behave the way they do.” The person’s dining partner agreed.

After having heard enough, I pardoned my interruption and provided polite but straightforward statements indicating that the ideas being expressed were both incorrect and indefensible. I told them that what was being said was blatantly racist, thus having no place within our community. In response, I was informed that there is nothing wrong with being publicly racist, as they truly believed whites to be the superior race. They suggested I sit outside if I was bothered.

A group of three visitors who had been sat during this discussion jumped to their defense. I made it clear to these folks that I was upset by a conversation supporting white supremacy. They echoed what the locals had said; if I didn’t like what was being discussed, I should take a seat outside. I gestured toward the ferry and suggested they board the next outbound vessel.

Sensing no opportunity for productive discourse, I boxed my food and ate elsewhere.

My experience at lunch conflicts with my understanding of who we are. The person who walked into that conversation could have been anybody. The possibility that someone could mistake that experience with our communal values is disheartening. We should strive to further espouse equality and acceptance. To achieve this, we must be unafraid to enlighten and correct those around us when ignorance or hate exposes itself.

Do not assume that I gracefully denounced racist ideology to a racist’s face. I was very uncomfortable confronting those people. My hands shook as I gestured, and my voice quivered with nerves as I stated my position. However, had I not taken those folks to task in that moment, the shame of silence in the face of blatant bigotry would far surpass the momentary discomfort of standing up, even if I was the only one.

I firmly believe that in this place, when one stands up for what’s right, they should be unafraid to do so for they do not stand alone.