Racial slurs happen in the everyday routine. Speaking up makes a difference, especially in the everyday routine.
Greenfield is a blue-collar neighborhood in the city of Pittsburgh. My wife and I have been living here for years.
I took the car down to the full-service gasoline station for gas and a checkup of oil and whatnot. The young guy, early 20s I would say, filled the tank, checked things out and went to get a gallon of window washer fluid. He pulled out a knife to break the seal on the gallon jug.
“Nice knife,” I says.
“Yeah, you can’t buy these anymore,” he says. “I carry it all the time in case some (racial slur) attack me.”
I says, “Hey buddy, I don’t use that kind of language and I don’t associate with people who use that language. Where’s your boss?”
The boss came out and I told him what the kid had said.
“You’re fired,” the boss says.
“Wait a minute,” I says. “I don’t want to see nobody fired, but I do want to make a point and have this kid clean up his act. He’s hurting himself, creating problems in the neighborhood and can cost you business with an attitude like that. But the solution is not the street.”
The boss chewed out the kid, but he kept his job.
Couple of days later, I’m walking down the street and
the kid’s working. “Hi, Mr. Schrecengost,” he says. Polite. Not smart. “Mornin’,” I says. “How’s it goin’?”
“Better. Much better,” he says.
Maybe no white person ever talked to this young guy about respect for people and how words show attitude. Don’t know. Do know that speaking up, right then and there, taking action, makes this a better place.
– Joe Schrecengost, member, Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees, United Steelworkers of America, Pittsburgh.