Emerging Writer. Protest, by Susan Perretti.
Everyone has their limit, when they can no longer stand silently by. They must Protest, regardless of the consequences.
A new story by Susan Perretti, winner of the Hummingbird Emerging Writer Contest 2.
My boss at the college was pointing at one of our framed advertisements. The girl in the photo was a work-study student in our department: sweet, pretty, dependable, dark eyes, mocha skin, shiny black hair. She had been chosen because there was this push for more “diversity” in our ads. Most of our students were Caucasian.
It was two days after the planes crashed into the towers. That morning a receptionist had reported a call from a “Middle Eastern-sounding” male, sending the campus into a panic. Now Margaret was ordering me to call the ad agency immediately. “No more Arab students,” she barked. “We need to play it safe, avoid people like that.” The fact that this particular student was of Indian heritage didn’t seem to matter.
“But she’s a great kid, one of our best,” I protested. But Margaret shook her head, pulled the frame off the wall and walked away. I stood there, stiff, stricken, and then I realized my assistant Ann had overheard the whole exchange.
The next morning Ann was crying at her desk. We had all been emotional in the wake of 9/11, but there was no doubt Ann’s grief had been worsened by what Margaret had said the day before. Ann’s husband was Iranian, one of the “Arabs” Margaret wanted to distance us from.
When I saw Ann, a raw rage arose in my throat. Since Margaret had taken over our department a year ago, I had remained silent while she abused my colleagues. She especially targeted Jews, menopausal women, mild-mannered men. I had witnessed it all, stuffing my outrage. But that day something in me opened, like a dam bursting. I called the professor who investigated complaints of on-the-job harassment and told him everything.
An investigation began, and the college president, a Catholic nun, interviewed each of us. When it was my turn, she glared at me. “I must tell you,” she said, her body motionless except for the tapping of her pen on a notepad. “Margaret always speaks so highly of you.” I knew where it was going, but I was undeterred. “That may be,” I replied, “but she’s hurt a lot of people I care about.”
She scowled and jotted something on her pad. There were more questions. She didn’t look up when my meeting with her was over. I think we both knew I wasn’t the same person anymore.
Susan Perretti was invited by Hummingbird to submit a new, original story. Hummingbird Readers voted Susan’s story, The Promise, winner of the Hummingbird Emerging Writer Contest 2. Click here to read the winning story.
About the Author: Susan Perretti is a member of Herstory Writers Workshop, where she has been working on a memoir about breaking cycles of violence in the family and in the world as a peace activist. She and her husband Chuck live in Setauket, NY, and together have four children and two grandchildren. Susan is active in Building Bridges, an organization that fosters relationships and alliances among the diverse communities of Brookhaven Town.