The email from Mr. B did not particularly stand out. Like many, he took issue with a column I had written explaining why African Americans would vote for Mike Bloomberg over Donald Trump in a presidential matchup.
“Im glad your the voice for all of the American colored population. #TRUMP2020,” he wrote, exactly how it is printed.
After reading it, I did what I always do when I receive emails containing racial epithets or other hateful remarks.
“Don’t bother emailing me again,” I fired back. “The use of ‘colored’ crossed the line. You’re blocked.”
But Mr. B’s response was different from the combative, name-calling responses I usually get from people I block. (I can still read them in junk mail.)
“Im sorry, didn’t realize that,” he wrote. Another email followed.
“I’m actually sorry, i thought i heard Biden use the term so i thought it ok. Did not mean to offend”
There was no #TRUMP2020 hashtag on either of his responses.
The next day, I called him at the number listed on his email.
“Hello (Mr. B), this is Dahleen Glanton from the Chicago Tribune.”
“Oh, my goodness. Hello ma’am,” he answered, obviously shocked to receive a call.
“I’d like to talk to you about that email you sent using the term ‘colored.’ Did you really not know that was offensive?”
Turns out, he did know. But he said he didn’t mean it in the way it appeared.
“I don’t type good on the phone,” he explained. “I was trying to find a word that represented all nonwhite people.”
“So you meant people of color?” I asked, remembering that former Vice President Joe Biden refers to “communities of color” on his presidential campaign website.
“Yes,” Mr. B said. “If I went up to you, I would never call you that. I realize it’s offensive.”
Suggesting that they conflated the phrase is a common excuse for using the c-word. Others try to hide behind the NAACP’s use of it. I was relieved that Mr. B acknowledged calling black people colored is wrong.
I once encountered a group of teenagers in Chicago who apparently did not. In 1989, while covering a protest march against racism in predominantly white Canaryville and Bridgeport, I stopped to interview some teens who were watching from the sidelines.
They were courteous in explaining why their neighborhoods had been mischaracterized, but several of them used the word “colored,” repeatedly. I was stunned at first, and then a little frightened. The 800 marchers had gotten away from me, so I abruptly stopped talking to them and ran to catch up.
That was more than 30 years ago, in a neighborhood that was known at the time for its bigotry. It is hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t know better in 2020. Any use of the word would have to be intentional.
Perhaps Mr. B is sincere. Maybe he’s just playing me. No one can know for sure.
Mr. B described himself as a 58-year-old former Marine who lives in a northwest suburban Chicago neighborhood that has only four or five black families. While he says he knows some African Americans, he doesn’t socialize with them.
A Trump supporter who used a racial slur, I naturally assumed that he is a bigot. For some, the #TRUMP2020 hashtag is more than a mere campaign slogan. It is used to symbolize a defiance of political correctness. It’s an in-your-face pronouncement that “I support Trump, and I’m proud of it.”
Mr. B agrees that Trump can be “a jerk,” but he likes his policies.
“Which policies?” I asked. “And have any of those policies benefited you personally?”
He likes that his investments are going up. He likes Trump’s tough stance on the border, but he also believes that “Dreamers” should have a clear path to citizenship. At the same time, he wants to see immigrant criminals kicked out of the country.
When I asked my followers on Facebook whether I should forgive Mr. B, most people — black and white — answered with a resounding “no.” Some white Facebook friends urged me to be more forgiving. Some knew people who used the term too.
I weighed each response carefully, and sent this email:
“(Mr. B), I actually believe you. I looked back at your previous emails and saw that you have not been offensive. We disagree on issues, but that’s OK. Please don’t use that term. It’s very disrespectful. I will continue reading your emails if you choose to write. Thanks and best wishes to you.”
“Thank you, as much as we disagree at times i do try be respectful and have no desire to hurt anyone. 58 and still learning. Have a nice day.”
Again, the #TRUMP2020 hashtag was missing. That’s a good sign.
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