I have lived in Shepherdstown for 18 years. I love this town for its progressive accepting demeanor and its general human kindness.
I have been to every Winter Choral Concert that my daughter has performed in.
This year will be her last at Jefferson High and I was looking forward to hearing her sing with her classmates, whom I have begun to know, if only by recognizing them on stage. I have watched them mature and carry themselves a little more gracefully each year they come closer to the end of high school life.
The lights dimmed. The music hugged the room as the first number started. Singers and dancers blasted out of the wings in full swing and regalia, satin dresses swishing, tuxedoed young men sliding dance style across the floor. They were on!
That's when I heard it. To my right, several rows back, just before they began to sing. "Hey darkie!" What?! Time halted for a split second. Did I really hear that? Surely I did not.
There happened to be two lovely African American young ladies on stage, blending seamlessly in a very complicated dance routine. Girls I have seen turn from shy coltish, giggling kids into wonderfully talented confident performers over the last few years. I notice how fluid the show is, how beautiful the costumes are. Each child is a unique individual, and as a group it becomes a beautiful complete painting. Suddenly it felt as if Christmas had just been splashed with cold dirty ditch water from a passing trash truck.
In this time of great social change, with much needed awareness coming to light as never before, we think things like this must surely be in the past finally. As much as we would like to believe racism isn't alive and well, it is a mind splitting reality check when one is sitting an a packed auditorium, filled with attentive parents, relatives and friends, supporting the kids they love, and sending them on in life with as much positive experiences as they can, only to have one insensitive person throw ice water on the parade with a mean and thoughtless remark such as that one.
I am sincerely grateful that the music on stage was loud enough that perhaps those girls did not hear. But I did. I know that half the section I was in did, too. Why did no one speak up? Perhaps it was not because we didn't hear or care. Perhaps it was because we did not want to make things worse, ruin the moment or point to something unpleasant. If we don't engage in or acknowledge bad behavior, is that just a form of acceptance? Or is rising above it and not giving him the power he was looking for actually a more effective solution? Or perhaps we just did not want to believe a person has the ability in his heart to even think and say something like that. So in essence, maybe we chose not to hear it at all.
I closed my eyes, sent that guy far away from my mind, and my heart was filled with the festive sounds of the Season. I think I clapped louder than usual this year, and was very grateful for the musical gifts I received that evening.