Josna Rege

8. Bad Role Model

In 1970s, Stories, United States on March 3, 2010 at 1:51 pm

I must have had my license no more than a year when this happened, while driving our parents’ Plymouth Valiant  down Harvard Street in Allston-Brighton with my sister Sally. I was seventeen and Sally, eleven or twelve. At the Brighton Avenue intersection it seems I ran or jumped the red light, because a blinding strobe light and a terror-inducing siren soon forced me over to the curb.  As we waited, frozen with fear— it always seems an age—a Boston policeman  lumbered over and cocked his head in the window.

“Are you from the islands or what?”

Come again? I didn’t get it, so I waited some more.

“Are you from the islands or what? Don’t you know what a red light means?”

I  hastened to tell the officer  that I was sorry, must have missed it while talking, wouldn’t do it again. Servility and abjection on my part. Exit Boston Police Officer. Cue to breathe again.

But Sally, who had and has always had a powerful antenna for injustice, was furious and deeply disappointed in me.

“He made a racist remark! What happened to your politics? Your feminism? You’re always spouting on about standing up for your rights. Why didn’t you stand up to that man?”

“You’re absolutely right, Sally. But there’s a time to speak up and a time to remain silent. When a cop has caught you breaking traffic laws, it’s not the time to challenge him. Best to accept everything he says and to apologize profusely.”

This is still my firm belief. But that day I felt like a hypocrite and a bad role model.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

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  1. Gotta know which fights to pick. Great story – you crazy “islander” you!

  2. Neat story. It’s tough to be the big sibling sometimes!
    Have you and your sister ever talked over this event again since?

  3. You were wise – discerning your battles is what its all about.

    • Yes, Don, especially with people wearing uniforms! Still, sometimes a different, more confident response can be more successful than grovelling: see a friend’s very different experience in The Golden Boy . (But that approach is risky and very much depends on who you are.) Thanks for your comment. J

  4. You were right. It was a good example for Sally. I didn’t even know you had a sister.

  5. Glad you think so, Kristin; though I don’t remember if I articulated my reasons to Sally as clearly on that day as I did in the story. My sister figures in dozens of my stories, though I don’t always mention her by name. In general, though, I try not to tell other people’s stories on this blog, even those of my own family members, without making it clear that I’m telling them as I experienced them. I’ll have to ask Sal if she remembers this incident, and if so, how she remembers it.

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