I was watching a programme about the history of musicals last night and there was an interview with the gracious Rita Moreno. She was talking about a scene in the film which has always disturbed me and brought me to tears. It is the scene where Anita [Moreno], against her better judgement goes to the drugstore to give a message from Maria to Tony. She is met with name-calling and, in the film, by physical attack. Angry and humiliated, she tells them that Maria is dead thus continuing the tragic spiral of the story.
The scene is very upsetting and what was interesting about Moreno’s commentary was that she told how she broke down in the middle of the scene, much to the consternation of the actors. The director, Robert Wise let her sob for some time before continuing and even in the interview, when she was 75 years old tears came to her eyes. She explained that in her life, she had encountered prejudice, hurtful language and lack of respect. In that scene, all those past occasions came into play and confronted her.
So, we come to the incident of racist slurs towards the rugby player Samson Lee. Every time someone uses racist language, it adds to the sum total of prejudice and hurt of groups of people. It is irrelevant whether Samson Lee accepted an apology or not. Rugby has got this wrong. Banter is what we do with friends and colleagues: even then we are mindful not to go too far, and we know when we have. We expect our role models to set the highest standards and if they slip as human beings do, we expect them to step up and take the consequences. Rugby is a little smeared by it all. Rita Moreno thought she had everything under control with her tremendous talent and admirable stoicism but we all know that words can hurt more than sticks or stones and they can come back to us and hurt us again unexpectedly.