If you want to pick a sports figure as an inspiration and a role model, Serena Williams is a pretty good choice. On Saturday, Miss Williams won the French Open, the latest achievement in her illustrious, title-filled twenty-year career. Making her debut at the tender age of 14, Miss Williams fought hard to emerge as a true champion in the field of professional tennis, maintaining her ability and competitive edge into an age when most of her contemporaries have retired. So how did the judgmental world of social media congratulate Miss Williams on her latest victory? Well, some took to Twitter to call her "disgusting" and "manly." Others expressed more vicious sentiment, some with a decidedly racist tone. Miss Williams has been on the receiving end of sexist and racist slurs her entire career.
On the same Saturday, Mrs. Pincus and I attended a wedding. Aside from the bride and her parents, we didn't know any other guests. After a lovely and traditional ceremony in an historic rural church, we gathered at the outdoor pavilion of a nearby country club for the celebratory reception. Amid the open seating, Mrs. P and I chose an empty picnic table and chatted and watched as other guests filed in. A couple, slightly older than my wife and me, approached and asked to join us. We smiled, offering a gesture of welcome. As we enjoyed our dinner, we made informal small talk with the couple, touching on the usual subjects of jobs, relationship to the bride, the weather and travel. We mentioned that we had just returned from a cruise. We spoke briefly about our trip before they began tell us of a cross-country drive that they recently took. The gentleman spoke about some of the unusual things they encountered and happily reported (with a sardonic tone) about a hotel they visited that was — and I quote a man that we had only met twenty minutes prior — "filled with blacks." My wife and I were silently horrified.
My son is a disc jockey on a local Philadelphia radio station. In addition to other responsibilities, he hosts an all-request show every Saturday afternoon. In the current age of technology, requests are submitted via Twitter, Facebook and email, as well as the good ol' telephone. On this very same Saturday, he received a call by way of Katie, the young lady who sometimes answers the phone for him. A woman phoned to ask: "The guy that's on the radio right now... Is it E. Pincus?" Katie, the phone-answerer, replied, "Yes." The caller continued the line of questioning. "Is that his real name? Or is it a name he uses just for the radio?" Having no clue where this inquisition was headed, Katie answered, "That is his real name. Is there a song you'd like to hear?" She tried to get the caller back on track. But, the caller persisted, "Is he Jewish or does that question make me a bigot?" Katie immediately disconnected the call and shook her head in disbelief.
My friend Randi works for the local office of the Anti-Defamation League. She often organizes and facilitates in-person seminars about tolerance. Her presentations discuss bullying, antisemitism, racism and other topics to help educate the uneducated. She travels city-wide, to schools, to youth groups, to senior centers — anywhere that is willing to assemble an audience and willing to open their minds. Whenever I see Randi I tell her that, based on what I regularly witness, she will have job security for a long, long time.
I can't wait to tell her about Saturday.