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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mr. 500 & Isaiah Thomas

Greetings, friends. I've been in court most of the week working on the story I mentioned last week about child custody cases.

So, catching up, yet again, bully for me - this is my 500th blog post. If I didn't get lazy w/it from time to time I'd probably have hit that 500 mark six months ago. What can you do?

At any rate, the thing grabbing my eye most these days is the civil judgment handed down in New York City yesterday against the New York Knicks and head coach Isaiah Washington, by a former team exec who says Washington sexually harassed her.

A jury agreed.

So Thomas is a harasser.

This is strange to me on so many levels. First, I didn't know that Isaiah Thomas liked girls. I swear I'm not trying to be funny. I was a fan all through his NBA playing career in Detroit, but I always assumed he wasn't into women. Nothing wrong with that. I'm just sayin'. And don't ask me why I assumed that. Just call me brave or something for admitting my dumb assumption.

Moving right along, this case is also weird to me, because he and the plaintiff, the victim, were supposedly friends. At least Thomas says they were.

But the nuances of language and conversation can get very muddled between colleagues, friends, colleagues who are friends, friendly colleagues, any combination of such, OR between colleagues who aren't friends though one of them mistakenly thinks they are.

Using myself as the goat here, I can say with a straight face that over the years I have had exactly four really close female friends at work. And it has been in two different settings. When I worked in college as a machinist at the now-defunct Naval Aviation Depot on the Norfolk (Va.) Naval Air Station, I became friends with a woman, a fellow machinist, who was always trying to foist her chunky niece on me. I eventually went out with the niece, but that didn't work out. Ironically, I got my shallow comeuppance when I saw the niece about six months later and she was svelte enough to walk a runway. No, I did not get a second date. But I digress. The aunt and I were good friends at work. As you might imagine on a military base w/$20 million fighter jets all around us and weapons and all that crap there was a lot of testosterone. And the conversation was always locker room talk. And she was always squarely in the middle of it.

It never occurred to me that she might not have liked it, because she smiled and played along. In retrospect though, I wonder if she was just playing along to fit in. And I feel bad for her and how we talked around her...and how she talked around us.

In the other setting, I was at a newspaper - pre-Miami Herald - and I became close with three female co-workers at different stages of my tenure there. All three were like siblings to me. Our families met. Our significant others met. We even spent some holidays together. Our relationships started and remained platonic. But again, we were as tight as family, and as such we often talked trash to one another...the kind of trash that apparently got Isaiah Thomas in trouble.

I know the basics of not committing sexual harassment: don't say anything overtly sexual to a co-worker; don't touch a co-worker unless you're performing the Heimlich maneuver, etc., etc. But all the what ifs about when certain words and jokes are funny and when they're not confuses me, when the potentially offended person is a friend. My four female co-worker friends called me names from time to time that probably would have made my mother blush. And I'm certain I did the same with them.

Still, in the end I don't feel bad for Thomas. I guess you have to know when that smile and small talk at work constitute a real friendship and when it constitutes just passing the time. Might have saved the Knicks a few bucks. Plus that moron admitted in a videotaped deposition that if he had called the plaintiff a female dog - and he didn't actually admit doing as much - it was in jest, and he didn't think a black man calling a black woman the B-word was as bad as if a white guy had called her that.

Dummy. I hope the New York Knicks take every penny of the $11 million judgment out of his pocket.

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  • Thomas is scum. He always has been. I always figured that there was a good reason that Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley hated him.

    And, even though your comments section is usually a pretty level-headed place James, let he head one thing off for you, if you don't mind. Just because this woman worked for a Sport Organization does not mean that she should EXPECT that kind of treatment. I've heard that one enough on the net the last two days to want to strangle people.

    By Blogger Jay, at 6:56 PM  

  • I think she would have tolerated it if it hadn't become mean spirited.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 7:58 PM  

  • He didn't play the whole trial smart at all. Mayor Bloomberg is now being sued from when he ran Bloomberg Financial. Want to bet he'll settle and get it over without letting it go to trial after this fiasco.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 7:59 PM  

  • Congradulations on the 500th post, that is still an achievement! Well done! I really felt that it should be a stand alone comment.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 8:01 PM  

  • I think you mean ISIAH THOMAS. Throughout the post, you go back and forth between New York Knicks coach ISAIAH (sic) THOMAS, who was found guilty in court this week for sexual harassment AND actor ISAIAH WASHINGTON.

    I would make the correction so as to not tarnish your 500th posting. CONGRATULATIONS. That's an amazing feat!!!

    By Anonymous NYCway, at 8:36 PM  

  • "...he didn't think a black man calling a black woman the B-word was as bad as if a white guy had called her that."

    I thought it curious that so many TV news commentators (white, of course) revised Isiah Thomas' position on the B-word. They contended that he said, It's OK for a black man to call a black woman the B-word, but not a white man.

    Your statement more accurately reflects what he actually said.

    But let me confess: along with Isiah Thomas, I, too, am a "Dummy."

    I happen to agree with his statement. First, let me say that I find the word offensive and repugnant, and should only be used when there's clear and unimpeachable reason for doing so.

    A comic might get away with using it, for example. A pet owner may refer to his female dog using the word without bringing down the wrath of PETA.

    That said, in defense of Isiah: when a white person says the B-word to a black woman, the denigration is multiplied; it is multiplied by her history, the history of her mother and her grandmother--all the way back to slavery.

    That is, all black women who might have been subjected to the word and didn't have the power to resist or object.

    It's as though all the historical hurtful and hateful slurs that white men have leveled at black women over the years have been rolled up into one spiteful white ball and thrown in her face.

    I would find that hard to countenance.

    If, on the other hand, a black man (a rapper, for example) hurled the B-word in the direction of black women, I would not only be offended but hurt; offended because, given the history of black women in this country, it magnifies the insult; and hurt, because in his ignorance or callousness, he ignored the history of black women in this country.

    In either case, I would find it hard to countenance.

    Therefore, when I compare "hurtful" and "hateful" with "ignorance" and "callousness," I find that the former is more offensive.

    By Anonymous thefirstdomino, at 4:13 AM  

  • 500!!! Yea!!! I'm coming up on 200 and it's weird so bully for you, James.

    Here's the thing. I really wish that I could care. I'm trying here, but I can't get all excited about it. I'm having some media problems this week. As a woman, and a black woman, and a sometime bitch at that, here's my thing- I work in a building full of truckers and salesmen. Some of them are my friends. When they say something that offends me they get either 'the look', a swat and "don't be an idiot" or we have a conversation about it. It depends on how offended I am. I haven't ever had to go to my boss, but I would if I felt the need. They've learned what the lines are and I've learned theirs. I have a hard time getting worked up about this case though. She's got more than enough money to soothe and he didn't lose more than he could afford so... that's the way the cookie crumbles when you're an idiot, I guess.
    About the name calling: If people would act like they're at work when they're at work we would all have a lot less problems. I personally don't care what you call me as long as the N word doesn't pass your lips, but it's always better to err on the side of caution. Basic rule- Don't be an idiot.

    By Blogger WNG, at 9:02 AM  

  • Jay, no one's suggesting she deserved it. I'm not anyway. But, as always, thanks for the comment.

    Hammer, that's an interesting point. It does sound like he and the other guys took this from a jokey sort of thing to an outright mean-spirited thing.

    Monty, you are correct. Bloomberg will have that thing settled and sealed w/a nondisclosure before we can blink.

    And thank you. I hope I can deliver 500 more posts more quickly than I did the first batch.

    NYCWay, you are right. I did slip "Washington" in there. Good eye. It's been corrected. And thank you. Five hundred more, coming soon.

    TheFirstDomino, I always appreciate your comments, but we're gonna have to remain on opposite sides of this issue. I won't lie. I have female friends with whom I use that word and we laugh, because it usually comes seconds after they've called me a body part or something else vile. My hypocrisy aside, outside of that no-gray-area joke zone with extremely close friends who aren't offended the word has no place. My logic goes to the same reason my buddies - the one's who are also black - and I mutually agreed a couple of years ago to stop using the N-word with each other, even in jest.

    WNG, thank you. And well said. Your last line sums it up nicely: don't be an idiot!

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:48 AM  

  • Im currently working in a male dominated field, and I experience various degrees of sexism every day (from being called honey, darling, and sweetie by my supervisor to having men ask me very graphic questions about my sex life). Is it enough to complain about? Not yet. Will I ever complain? Dont know.

    But I do know this - I would LOVE IT if I were treated like an equal and judged on my performance in this position.

    Makes me wanna wear a burqa sometimes, lol.


    By Blogger Lola Gets, at 11:00 AM  

  • You didn't know that Thomas liked girls, right?

    But did you know that Bill Laimbeer was a Sleestak? Really.

    By Blogger dmarks, at 4:15 PM  

  • congrats on 500!

    Dummy. I hope the New York Knicks take every penny of the $11 million judgment out of his pocket. perfect!

    By Blogger savannah, at 8:34 PM  

  • "About the name calling: If people would act like they're at work when they're at work we would all have a lot less problems."

    I like your comment Wng. If we would act at work the way we act at home, and act at home the way we act at work--that may work, too, at least for me.

    You see, I act better at work than I act at home...and am taking my own advice to heart.

    But for the boor that acts badly at work and at home--perhaps he should only be allowed to work at home. That would work, too!

    By Anonymous thefirstdomino, at 9:36 PM  

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