Please read this little fictional tale.
Let's say it is a very beautiful Saturday in Gulfport, one of those days we all know so well. You are with a few Gulfport friends at Salty's or O' Maddy's enjoying the afternoon along with a couple out-of-town guests who are visiting Gulfport for the first time.
You and your Gulfport friend's are sharing positive comments about the qualities we have in this town. Gulfport has an eclectic character, a vibrant arts community, regular Art Walks, a Fresh Market, fun festivals and events, fantastic dining with some of the best food you can get in the Tampa Bay area, cool shops, an interesting history, wonderful people, and we are at the forefront on Human Rights issues. Your guests are thrilled, and are actually looking to buy a home in the warm climate of Florida. Gulfport seems like a dream place to live, and you all agree that it is.
As you are relax with your friends, you notice a group of Gulfport folks walking onto the pier. You know a couple of them personally and recognize the rest as Gulfport locals. They appear to be having a good time, laughing among themselves as they walk down the pier.
Then all of the sudden, you see one of them open a bag of trash and toss it into the Boca Ciega Bay! Styrofoam, paper, plastic, other stuff start floating in with the tide. "Oh my God!," you think, "what on Earth are they doing?" Everybody in your groups sees this too and each has a stunned look on their face. You expect some kind of confrontation within the group on the pier, but instead everybody seems pleased and is still laughing, even high-fiving each other. Another in the group starts throwing trash into the water with even more laugher. It makes no sense to you, and you turn to one of your Gulfport friends and ask, "Did you see that?" They reply, "Yes, it is horrible." You suggest that someone should say something to the people throwing garbage into the bay and your friend states, "But we don't talk about that around here." Surprised you turn to another of your Gulfport friend's and ask them what they thought about what you all just saw. The friend says, "It is ugly and disgraceful." You agree and express that you believe someone should tell them to stop. Nervously your friend looks around and says, "Shhhhh, someone might hear you." You are flabbergasted, and confused. You look at your guests who look at each other shaking their heads in disbelief.
As the group walks back to leave the pier you see people you know hanging out and expect someone to stop them and ask why they threw trash in the bay. One does stop them, and then pulls out a bag of their own and starts pouring what looks like dirty motor oil into that water off the side of the pier. They all laugh hysterically, clapping their hands and each other on the back. The group continues walking off the pier and is received by nods, smiles, and winks. Nobody seems to be upset by what they did, at all.
You walk over to a different table where you see another of your Gulfport friends sitting with a small group. They also watched the people throwing garbage off the pier and you say, "Hey, let's say something to these people. That was very inappropriate and I am embarrassed in front of my guests." A good friend replies, "Yes, it is disgusting, but my advice to you is to let it go. If you bring it up you will be sorry. Seriously, just hush about it."
You walk back to your table and although the conversation has lost its energy, your Gulfport friends are telling your guests all about the great qualities this town has to be proud of.¬† By now your guests are saying how nice Captiva Island is, and that Dunedin is a pretty cool place to hang out. "And of course, Key West is really the greatest place of all."
The group from the pier walks by and you have to say something, "Hey, why did you throw that trash in the bay?" One of them says, "We weren't littering, YOU were!" and laughed. Another one states, "You are the litterbug, not us!" and they walk away still laughing and seemingly pleased with what they did in front of everybody.
Now you are getting a few dirty looks from other tables and feel as if your speaking up was disapproved of.
Your guests ask, "Does your community actually allow this kind of socially unacceptable behavior without question?" Horrified and speechless, all you can do is shrug your shoulders. You truly don't know what to say, you simply do not have an answer.
The purpose of this fictional story is to share an emotion felt by witnessing and being aware of something one feels to be unsightly and very offensive in Gulfport in full view of the public, followed by the frustration and helplessness to not be able to speak up against it. If you haven't figured it out yet, this story becomes less fictional if your replace "throwing garbage into the bay" with "making racists remarks and using racial slurs." Everybody has the freedom to believe what they wish, and to speak freely in private and within their circles, but when socially unacceptable racists comments are seen and heard on the streets and restaurants of Gulfport, on public forums read by anybody, and in social media, some people are greatly offended and the offending behavior is no less ugly than throwing rubbish into our waters and parks for everyone to see. Gulfport is receiving a lot of public attention locally, nationally, and even internationally, let's be as conscious of our social appearance as we are trying to be with our physical appearance, please. Good manners are not something we should dismiss. Let's keep Gulfport beautiful.