It’s a little story, but it says a lot about the world we live in.
Last week, British conductor Matthew Halls was removed as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival, allegedly due to a joke he made.
He and a friend, classical singer Reginald Mobley, were talking about the pre-Civil War days and Halls, putting on an accent, asked “Do you want some grits?”
That seems to have gotten him fired. Apparently, an unidentified white women overheard the line — which she thought was a racial slur -- and reported Halls to the University of Oregon, which runs the festival. (The University disputes the decision was based on this, but says it won’t “disclose details about a personnel matter.”)
Mobley, an African-American from the South, says “there was nothing racist or malicious about it.” He noted the two often joke around, with Mobley putting on a British accent and Halls doing a Southern counterpart.
Some are asking the Festival to reinstate Halls. Regardless, it’s a lesson for all of us. You not only have to watch what you say, you’ve have to watch for who’s listening.
For example, earlier this year, Lena Dunham created a stir when she tweeted from JFK Airport that she overheard “transphobic talk” from two American Airlines attendants. She also complained about the incident to American Airlines, who looked into the matter but have not been able to substantiate it.
Also this year, President Trump found a video that showed him symbolically beating up CNN, and tweeted it out. The video itself, if mean-spirited, was no nastier than the kind of humor regularly seen on late night talk shows.
But that didn’t stop CNN from tracking down the creator of the video, and, essentially, blackmailing him.
CNN said they wouldn’t publish his real name “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, [took down] all his offensive posts [and] said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior…”
However, CNN noted, it “reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
The guy may be a jerk, but the real story was that the president took his valuable time to spread the video around. Apparently, though, CNN is in the business of outing private individuals who don’t live up to their standards.
This last case is admittedly a bit different in that the person put out the video for others to see, though he couldn’t have expected the president would tweet it. Plenty of online communities of the right and left say outrageous things amongst themselves in relative anonymity.
But the big question is have we become a nation of hall monitors? When you hear something you’re not supposed to hear, it’s usually best to ignore it. Perhaps you heard it wrong, and friends are loose with each other, expressing themselves in ways they never would in public.
It’s really none of your business. If you must, confront the person directly, but don’t say “I’m tellin’!”
Because people are not perfect. If a friend says something you don’t like, fine, let them know. But the main thing you should ask of others is that they treat people with respect in official public interactions. What they think in their hearts is their business.
In “The Tattle-Tale,” a well-known episode of the 70s sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” youngest daughter Cindy learns the valuable lesson that eavesdropping and snooping on people, and then tattling, is wrong. What kids learned back then, adults have forgotten today.
Let private citizens be private. Don’t be a Cindy. (Don’t be a Jan either, though for completely different reasons).