Sunday, November 13, 2011

If Only You Had Yelled Fire

We were told to yell "Fire!" when threatened. We were told, in college, that if we were attacked, if we were followed or felt uncomfortable, that the best thing to do was yell "fire" because if you yelled "rape" or "help" no one would come. People look the other way they said, but people will always come to see a fire.

After college I went to work in a small home furnishings store. When one of my fellow employees described her kitchen decor as "black themed" I was intrigued. When she continued, describing her Aunt Jemima wall art and her Mammy cookie jar I found it to be offensive, and I said so. In my next review I was told to get along with the other employees, I was told that I was not expected to agree with everyone but expressing my opinion was unacceptable and that I needed to remember we all have different taste. I was told to keep quiet, look the other way and act as if offensive remarks didn't bother me. And I was told that if I couldn't do this there would be a note in my file as to my inability to get along with others. It seems I was told, in my first job and my first job review, to tolerate racism, in whatever form it presented. I should have yelled "fire", because maybe then someone would have listened.

It's much easier to keep quiet, to look the other way when someone tells an offensive joke, to keep walking when someone needs help. Sometimes you have to do more than dial 911, you have to bravely walk in and offer a hand to the one in need. Sometimes, as an adult, you have to know when to yell "fire". Because if you don't, you lose your job after an amazing 46 year career, and all you had to do was stand up and say that's not right.

1 comment:

Marion Williams-Bennett said...


It takes courage and personal strength to stand up and say "That's not right."

When we look in on these communities or cultures that tolerate this, it seems to me that they are groups where the individual is lessened somehow. That being part of this huge, important community - Penn State, the Catholic Church - becomes more important than doing what is right as an individual.

But shouting Fire could have changed the lives of so many children who were hurt by this.


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