Augusta, Georgia County Supervisor Tracy Pyles (pictured) apparently had a momentary lapse of memory at a staff briefing Monday in front of reporters. Perhaps Pyles thought he had taken a step back in time, but as Pyles disagreed with the way in which an African American government reporter had written an article, he said, “You got it wrong, boy — uh, son.” As the word “boy” rolled off Pyles’ tongue and he tried to quickly self-correct, but it was just too late according to the News Leader.
Four other supervisors were also present at the briefing and when the News Leader asked if they had heard the derogatory word slip. They either denied hearing it or refused to comment on the matter.
Pyles, however, did man up and admitted he used the word “boy,” calling it an “error.” The man Pyles had been addressing was far-from-a-boy Calvin Trice, a 43-year-old black News Leader reporter. Pyles then went on to explain his verbal faux pas. “That has bothered me,” Pyles said of what happened. “It certainly came out, and then I went to ‘son.’ ” Pyles then defends his use of the word ‘boy’ by stating it was just a force of habit as he uses it constantly to address folks like his sons, colleagues and other business associates.
“It’s the way I talk to my sons here and say that. That was, as soon as it left my mouth, I knew it was going to be misinterpreted. “I have boys. ‘Listen boy, you can’t do that,’ “Pyles said. “That’s the way I talk to them. The fact that I think of Calvin no differently than I do anybody else, it came out, but I know the world looks at things differently.”
The term ‘boy’ was extensively used during the slavery and Jim Crow eras. White southerners in particular would demean black men by referring to them as “boys” to remind them of their subservient positions in society.
The Rev. Mildred Middlebrooks, the Waynesboro NAACP president told the News Leader how racism is still very much alive and Pyles’ use of the word boy, when he was clearly addressing a grown man, proves it. “There are some things that die, and there are some things that seem to be like the phoenix bird that have a rebirth whenever the person using the term … has a sense of big-headedness,” Middlebrooks told the News Leader.
What does Trice think about having Pyles refer to him as a ‘boy?’ “It came in the middle of a tirade against my report … that was expected,” Trice told the News Leader. “But when that word came up, that’s the only thing about that whole scenario that surprised me. That one word. It’s the first time it got uncomfortably personal.”
Trice said that “boy” is a racially charged word and he was indeed taken aback by it being used on him. “The context was obviously angry and that’s a term that when its been used against me was a racial slur, a put down,” he said.
Pyles’ apology to Trice finally came via email on Tuesday, late in the day and after the News Leader reportedly called the government supervisor for a quote. Trice had no qualms about accepting Pyles’ “I’m sorry” note stating, “I really appreciated it. He did mention, and he seemed to be sincere, that he hoped I haven’t felt any different from any other member of the media … and honestly that’s true. It meant a lot that he said it.”
But was the apology heartfelt???