Have you ever made a seemingly innocuous comment that still managed to offend people? I may have done that Thursday night in class. This summer I am taking Group Therapy. As part of the course, we have groups during class time and then journal about the experience afterward. This was our 4th meeting and the group seems to be gelling. Its a diverse crew, as most of my classes have been.
The discussion tonight turned to life in and around Washington D.C. with most of the participants saying that they would rather live somewhere else. One member said that she and her husband chose to move here from rural New England where they grew up in order to experience some diversity (apparently, rural New England is pretty white). Someone mentioned something about the Pacific Northwest, and having lived there I pointed out that the Northwest is pretty white in its own right. I told them how when I moved out there I realized after about a week that I had not seen any ethnicity other than whites and a few Asians, so I asked a long-time resident, “Are there any black people in the Northwest?”
This was not a value judgment or criticism, just an observation as to how different the environment of the Northwest was for me. However, some of the group members appeared uncomfortable after I made my remark. Shortly after, we ran out of time so there was no real follow-up to my comment. This leaves me wondering: Did I step in it? Was I out of line somehow? Was I wrong to use the expression “black people” instead of African-American? Afterwards I asked my classmate and friend Sean (who as it happens, is black) if anything I said was offensive, and he said no.
It all turned out to be nothing in the end. The next time we had class nobody said anything about or treated me any differently. I was worried over nothing (which, as Christine will attest, is a bad habit of mine). Regardless, thanks for your feedback.