HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — A 64-year-old craft store clerk said she couldn’t imagine saying it.
A 70-year-old retired librarian said it’s never been in her vocabulary.
A 58-year-old shop owner said she hasn’t heard the slur used in ages.
The 78-year-old gun and pawn store owner, in between buzzing people into a little shop packed with camo crossbows and long guns, told me it was not a word she’d ever uttered, and never heard any of her brothers say, even though “we’re of the older generation.”
Only one white person I talked to in overwhelmingly white Harford County admitted to using the hateful n-word to describe a black person, as their representative in the Maryland state legislature, Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford), recently had.
“And back then, my mother washed my mouth out with soap if I used a racial remark or any bad word,” said a 73-year-old retired Aberdeen engineer, who grew up near a construction site, where he “picked up a really good vocabulary.”
“I became a connoisseur of soaps,” Craig Herud said. “Lava was too gritty. Ivory was too foamy. The only tolerable one was Lifebuoy.”
But he was a little boy when he said those bad words. Barely 10.
Lisanti, the state delegate representing Harford County, northeast of Baltimore, is 51.
At her age, the Democrat should know better.
The entire state legislature thought so, too, unanimously censuring her last week. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) asked her to resign, and social media is on fire with similar calls for an end to her political career after she was heard, at an Annapolis cigar bar, describing a predominantly African American district in Prince George’s County as a “n----- district.”
She said she doesn’t remember saying it. So then it could linger in the world as hearsay and open conspiracy theories that some of the hopeful and heartbroken folks in her district want to believe.
But it was her explanation that left many others cold.
“I don’t recall that. . . . I don’t recall much of that evening,” she told The Washington Post’s Ovetta Wiggins.
Whatever, like we haven’t heard that one before.
But the damning part of her response was when she was asked whether she’d ever used the slur.
“I’m sure I have. . . . I’m sure everyone has used it,” Lisanti said. “I’ve used the f-word. I used the Lord’s name in vain.”
I scoured Harford County, which is 79.6 percent white and soundly backed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, for that supposed “everyone,” the white folks allegedly slinging around the n-word at cigar bars, craft stores or coffee shops. But if they use one of the most hateful — and hated — slurs, they weren’t admitting to it.
I did find people struggling to understand what is offensive and what isn’t.
“Do you say black or African American?”
“Is it okay to describe someone as black?”
“Can you talk to people about race? It’s so hard to know what is right these days.”
In my travels around Harford County, I ran into just one black woman. When I tried to ask her whether Lisanti should resign, she rolled her eyes and said, “You know what I think,” before rushing past me.
But even in a white, conservative part of Maryland, the n-word is not a mystery. It is an unequivocally hateful, degrading and insulting word. Ann Marie Herud, the librarian, found Lisanti’s use of the slur incomprehensible.
“As a woman, I was rooting for her before this,” said Herud. “And I was just shocked, really shocked, to hear she would say that.”
Bobbi Barrow, the 78-year-old gun and pawnshop owner, said she’s heard people in her shop say it. She asks them to leave. So she was disturbed by Lisanti’s behavior.
“But she should not resign for this,” said Barrow, who knows the delegate personally and as a popular community leader.
Lisanti is in her second term in the State House after serving on the city council and as the city manager of her hometown, picturesque Havre de Grace.
The lawmakers “ who voted against her?” said one of the gun and pawnshop employees. “They’re not perfect people. They just haven’t gotten caught.”
“Everyone” also says they’re not racist, right?
Others brought up Virginia’s racism scandal, where the governor and the state attorney general admitted to wearing blackface in their college days.
“Those men are all still in office, why should Mary Ann have to resign?” one person asked.
The Virginia crisis isn’t over. But there is one big difference.
The Virginia incidents happened decades ago, in a different era and before years of additional growth and learning.
In Lisanti’s case, this was in 2019, a matter of weeks ago.
And she’s had decades to get this right.