Nor later, in a crowded teacher lounge, when a staff member referred to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as "Tony Homo." It was an awkward moment, as I had not been part of that conversation and was on my way out. Mostly, though, my failure to respond was out of surprise and not being prepared to answer.
I did slightly better on a different day, during a phone call with someone from the Fraternal Order of Police who called to raise money. Again, it was an awkward moment, as I was heading out the door. For some reason, I mentioned my wife, and he made some sexist joke about wives. This time, I said something at least, pointing out that of the two of us, my wife is far more competent when it comes to handling money.
On reflection, one of the things that bothered me -- besides the open prejudice itself (and in a school, no less) -- was the assumption that I would share their sentiment. Thus, they felt it was socially acceptable to air these remarks. By saying nothing, I accommodated. In other words, I made it socially acceptable, too.
Today, an email arrived. It was one of those things that gets forwarded all over the internet. The email complained about the post office's first-class postal stamp commemorating a muslim festival day. It aired a bunch of anti-Islamic claptrap about how we should not honor anything related to Islam because of various acts of terrorism in which muslims were implicated. It gets better at the end, when the email accuses President Obama of ORDERING the post office to issue this stamp. It recommends that "patriotic Americans" go into the post office and loudly proclaim that they do not want "a muslim stamp" on their mail. It also works in a little bit of disgruntled Christian persecutionism in there -- post office honors muslims but we can't have a creche in the courthouse, that sort of thing.
The stamp, by the way, was issued in 2001, long before most of us had even heard of Barack Obama. It is pictured above -- notice the old postage rate.
Sometimes it is easier for my typing fingers to be eloquent. Also, I had been feeling some embarrassment about my failure to say something, or even make a face, in the face of unconsidered bigotry. I copied every address I could find on this forwarded email, and wrote a message. While rejecting the email and its sentiments in strong terms, I attempted to write something positive, speaking to what is best in my fellow citizens, and attempt to re-appropriate the patriotism theme.
Below, my response to the "Muslim Stamp" email: