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Somebody just called you a nigger, now what?

“Look at that nigger with the dog,” a young man said clearly and brashly to his female companion.  I try to protect my dog, Gabby, from danger and she does the same for me. The other day she gave two young men walking toward us such an evil look that one of them stopped and said, “Wow, she really protects you.”

Linda S. Wallace with her dog Gabby

As careful as we are, no one can sidestep trouble all the time. It taps me on the shoulder far too frequently. While walking in Midtown Memphis Friday night Gabby and I sauntered past a sidewalk café where patrons were enjoying dinner. “Look at that nigger with the dog,” a young man said clearly and brashly to his female companion.

My first thoughts were of Gabby. If I got upset, what would Gabby do? After walking a half block, I turned around so I stood facing the young man. Our eyes met for a few, very uncomfortable moments before he turned away and began to stare at the bank parking lot behind him. (Parking lots are a much under-used conversation for date nights, don’t you think?)

I continued to stand and stare without uttering a word. If I had had my camera with me, I would have taken his photo and posted it on my blog along with this article. (I now suspect that is exactly what the young man feared.)

Gabby, meanwhile, was happily sniffing a flowerbed, without any idea of the drama around her. “Come Gabby,” let’s go home,” I said. We enjoyed the stroll home, as we were the couple that stood tall, not the one who blinked.

Now, I’m not going to launch into a debate about free speech or racism. That’s not my point, at least not today. Rather, I’d like to offer that young man a motherly warning.

The next time you decide to show off while at dinner, the target of your insults may have a camera and you might find your photo plastered over the Internet and discussed as widely in workplaces as scandal-plagued New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and his shorts.

(Linda S. Wallace is The Cultural Coach. Read her blog, Cultural IQ, at http://theculturalcoach.typepad.com/cultural_iq/)

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