One of my biggest disappointments in my new profession is the amount of racism still present. I work for a paid department that has a handful of volunteers at 3 of the 9 stations. It was clear by the end of my first week in the academy that this was very much a good ole boy system. But nonetheless I was thrilled to finally be in my profession of choice, and still am.
While a probationary firefighter I was on the back of an engine at a different station than I normally am. This station happens to have not a single minority on this shift. (Unlike my assigned station.) While en route; to what sounds like a total BS EMS call in the project, the operator and acting officer begin to use the “N” word several times. Initially talking about the likely race of our patient, people walking on the side walk, and how many points one would receive if one of them would happen to be run over by the engine.
After our return to the station I happened across one of my class mates from the academy. I, in a light hearted way (not to rock the boat too much as I was still a probie) mentioned how racist some of these people are. I made mention that they must not know I am married to a black woman. He agreed and we kind of chuckled at their ignorance.
Cut to a week or two later the two bigots find them selfs on the medic for a shift and we run in to each other at the ED. They had obviously been informed of my interracial household (not to mention my army of black, hispanic, jewish, asian, and indian close friends.) They began tripping over them selfs apologizing for their use of racial slurs. I brushed it off and moved on.
In my time on the job, I have heard a captain use the “N” word, a senior firefighter, a firemedic, an engineer, countless firemen and a recruit. I have spoken with other people from other departments and unfortunately this isn’t very uncommon. This broke my heart.
I am in no way justifying this racism. But after years of working at a firehouse in the middle of a project, with rampant system abuse, drug use, violence and everything else we are witnessed to, it isn’t hard to imagine someone generating a negative opinion of an entire people. You constantly see the worst of people. Day in and day out, it’s like Groundhog Day. I have come to the conclusion I am pretty well immune to this folly as I am married to a black woman, my best friend is jewish, my other best friends are black, asian, indian and everything else. I live in an almost all black neighborhood. I see my friends, some of the best, hardest working, honest people I have ever met live the opposite of these negative stereotypes. I see my neighbors walking to their cars, leaving their low to middle class homes to go to work. At work I see the minority, the ignorant, the entitled, the junkies, the criminals. At home, I see the side of the majority. The law abiding, the hardworking. Many of my co-workers live in rural areas and have limited encounters with people outside of their race. They are the truly ignorant.
Despite part of my youth spent in a very southern, rural and racist part of the country, I was able to see past the hate. I could see that these people were just like me. They had 10 fingers and 10 toes, they had red blood, they were like me in every way except the most superficial of ways.
I love how the fire service has a long history and holds to it’s traditions. I hope this is one tradition we can finally put to death.