It wasn’t too long after the 2016 election and the incident in Charlottesville that I came across a post on Facebook. It was a simple meme that read, “Could we just go back to when we pretended you weren’t racist?” I won’t say what the correlation is to the increase in racial tensions and hate crimes. But I will say that there has been a change — and not for the better.

There is prejudice that’s a little more insidious than hate crimes. It appears in the increase in the number of comments your neighbor makes, or your coworker, or the person standing in line in front of you at the store. But they’re there.

I was recently out to dinner at a local restaurant during restaurant week. It was one I hadn’t been to in a while, so I was looking forward to going with several friends. During a lull in the conversation, I began hearing the conversation at the table next to us. Was this because I was listening in? Maybe. But mostly it was because the person talking made no attempt at keeping her voice down. Based on the topic of the conversation, you would have thought they would have.

The topic was a male child who did not make the cut to get into a particular boarding school. I thought okay, I could see how that would disappoint the woman speaking — the child’s mother — and perhaps make her angry towards the school. But that wasn’t the case. Instead her anger was towards another child. — a child who did get in — and the reason she believed the other child was admitted while her son was not.

Her reasoning went something like this: Of course it was because he was Hispanic, you know, she said, none too quietly. That was the only reason he got in. You could tell because his name was Hispanic.

The fact that this woman felt comfortable enough to have this conversation, which went on for a good five to seven minutes, at a volume loud enough for other diners to hear wasn’t the only disturbing part. What was also disturbing was that no one else in her party — which included an African-American man — said anything. Was it because they didn’t want to make a scene, or for some other reason? I have no idea. But I think it at least merited a, “Let’s not talk about that here.” But nothing was said. Everyone at that table remained silent.

I don’t understand how they could all remain silent, but I especially don’t understand how a member of a minority would not speak up in answer to such blatant prejudice.

It’s striking that someone would feel relaxed enough to speak like this in a public place in a voice loud enough that other people in the restaurant would be sure to hear. Is this the new normal?

I don’t think my opinions will change the racist views of anyone who reads this. However, I will ask one thing. One small thing. Can we please go back to the days when we at least pretended you weren’t racist? Can we please keep this conversation behind closed doors where it belongs? I would like to feel that I only need to change the mind of a select few rather than society as one massive group. It makes the job less daunting.

I have no children who have been either accepted or rejected from a boarding school. I should be so lucky as to think I could afford that. But maybe, just maybe, that child with the “Hispanic name” got in because he achieved it. Maybe the “Hispanic kid” worked his whole life and spent all his free time working towards the goal of getting into such a school. Because you know what? It happens.

Let’s all go back to quiet, so some of us can go back to pretending.


Ellen Hoil is a resident of Riverhead.

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