If I’m being honest, stories about Black people remaining calm in the face of racism just don’t do it for me. To be clear, I’m not mad at Black people for remaining calm—we all have a right to an emotional response of our choosing—it just always seems like the media and social media responses to these incidents always devolve into Black tranquility porn. It’s almost as if racism isn’t the center of the story, Black passivity is.
Recently, a video has gone viral that shows a Black man in Texas confronting a white Dillards employee who allegedly called his son the n-word. He said his son and other witnesses overheard the slur, according to CBS News.
“It’s unacceptable, you shouldn’t do that,” the father, identified as Muhammad Karim told the employee, who reportedly said his name was Homer. “You don’t know the impact of what you’ve done to my son. But maybe you were unaware.”
Yeah, I’m not about to play the game of pretending white people don’t know the impact of their racial slurs, but whatever.
Not only did “Homer” not deny using the slur, but he erroneously tried to blame it on a leg injury. In the video, he’s seen repeatedly lifting his leg up as if to emphasize his injury while pretending it has literally anything to do with him calling a Black child the n-word for no apparent reason.
“You hurt your leg, so you said f***ing n****?” Karim asked. “Treat human beings with respect and morals and values,” the father says. “Now I have to go home and correct my 10-year-old not to be a damn idiot.”
So, after an investigation into the incident, Dillard’s said in a statement if found “Homer” was “in clear violation of our standards, and his employment with Dillard’s was immediately terminated.”
So, that part is all well and good—I’m still just uncomfortable with the media focus on how calm Karim was, especially since he talked later about how the incident traumatized his son.
“A tear came out my baby’s eye and he said, ‘Dad, you didn’t hear what that man just called me?’” Karim told CBS.
He also said it wasn’t easy restraining himself from giving into anger.
“The Prophet Muhammad says ‘don’t be angry. Don’t be angry. Don’t be angry,” he said before adding, “I’ll be honest with you—I was angry. I was livid.”
As he should have been.
Again, it’s Karim’s prerogative how to react to racism aimed at his child, but let’s not act like it wouldn’t have been perfectly appropriate if he was louder, more aggressive, and visibly and audibly angry. It would have been seen as perfectly understandable if any parent whose child is attacked verbally or physically by an adult reacted with notable anger. But not everyone faces societal pressure to dodge the “angry Black man/woman” stereotype.
Visceral anger is a natural response to bigotry. It should be viewed as appropriate, or at least perfectly understandable. Displaying grace in the face of racial hatred is all well and good if that’s how a Black person chooses to handle it, but it’s not a thing that should be given the gold star of respectability politics.
It’s a good thing the employee—who said he had been at Dillard’s for 20 years—was fired, though. It’s a shame how Black people can’t do something as mundane as shopping in a Department store without fear of walking into modern Jim Crow.