You Gotta Say Something

There are times we need to speak up. Terrible things have taken root in our world because good people went along and said nothing. Maybe you’ve begun to notice things, our indifference, or the unequal measures we use. Maybe you felt uncomfortable as something was said or done in your presence, and you know it was wrong or unfair. Maybe you witnessed bullying, slander, sexism, or racism. I think God let you see that for a reason, and the fact that you notice is good. But what good is it, if having seen it, you do nothing, say nothing and let it pass? One might say such things call for human decency, the better angels of our nature, to not be silent anymore.

But what to do? Every situation is different, but in general, use your voice, platform, power, and privilege to speak up for and protect those with less power and no voice. Do it as if God is watching you. When you know better, do better.

In 2015, I stopped at a Jack in the Box in Killeen, Texas. Black women were working near a fryer. I heard a woman loudly fussing at them, “I’m going to string you up! I feel like stringing you up!” Then a large middle-aged white lady, a manager, came around the corner. A young Black woman, just learning the register, took my order. The white manager stood next to her and looked at me like we had this white understanding between us. She said something like, “Sometimes I just feel like stringing her up.” I responded, “You need to find another term,” which she brushed off as she reached for something under the counter. This was demeaning, specifically to every non-white person in that place.

At that moment, I looked at the young cashier’s face, saw her discomfort, and said to her, “I’m sorry. I’m embarrassed.” The white lady stood up and said it again. So, to her face, across the counter, I firmly, directly, and kinda through my teeth said, “You need to find another term.” She abruptly went to an office. The cashier nervously confessed it was her first day on the job.

Regarding that “I’m gonna string you up conversation,” I contacted Jack in the Box’s corporate offices with the facts. Andy (of corporate) asked in detail about the circumstances, assured me of actions they would take. Starting above store manager level, they would train and coach management.

I suggested they need to change that culture, perhaps reach out to employees of color who submitted to such an environment, working for minimal wages, and assure THEM this is NOT the climate Jack in the Box approves. Perhaps they’d add some meaningful gesture that acknowledges the problem and declares Jack’s commitment to fix it. I gave him a lecture about the gravity of lynching terms, its reality, and the intolerable conditions that kind of talk creates. I told him I shared with my FaceBook audience that I’d go back to see what Jack in the Box does and said, “impress me.”

In the following months, I went by several times. I’d buy something and watch them operate. The atmosphere IS better, so completely different. That is what good management does, and I was impressed. On that basis, I remain a customer.

Especially if you look like me, I am asking you to see when justice is unequal, to observe today’s bullies, and become aware of unsafe and unacceptable environments, especially where you walk among them. If you see it, God let you see it.

But seeing is not enough. You gotta say something. Because silence gives tacit approval, and what terrible things have taken root because people who knew better said nothing and went along? Use your voice, your influence. What decent human is silent as others are preventably made to suffer? Not me. You?

By Frank Robinson

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