Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today

I had a process deciding whether to use this prompt.  Do you know the reference?  It’s from a Cole Porter tune, and would do well with a trigger warning, so here it is.

** Trigger warning **

This is a song wherein a society lady is wronged by her lover, kills him, is sent to prison, then pulled from the prison by a mob and lynched.  How could this be a light pop reference?  Well, Cole Porter, that’s how.  So my trigger was the lynching.  My question was, is there subtext or is this a face-value witticism?

I was introduced to this song via Bette Midler’s 1990 rendition – a rowdy, upbeat romp – but I didn’t pay close attention to the lyrics until last week when a flight of fancy prompted me add it to my Pop (Culture) Quiz.  When I listened to it with fresh ears, the EDI red flag I’ve developed since the ‘90s popped up and waved decisively.  Half an hour of YouTube videos later, I had learned that Ms. Midler’s finger-snapping version is an outlier; all others I found were slow and sorrowful.

I’ve spent several hours researching the song, consulting with my EDI mentor Kyana, deciding whether to keep it on my quiz, and writing this post.   Some may say that this time was not spent “working”, as I wasn’t actively bringing in money during these business hours.  But this is not a rabbit hole: it is the boots-to-the-ground work of anti-racism, and it’s a core value for me in living my life and building my business.  Whether we’re talking about marketing strategy, technical expertise, or anti-racism, we need to examine our goals, plan our actions, and, when in doubt, consult an expert. 

So: if this reference elicits such a loooong exploration, why even use it here?  After my conversation with Kyana, I decided to use it precisely because it’s a way to open an anti-racist discussion in my practice. 

This is exactly the type of moment anti-racist leaders mean when they talk about embracing discomfort.  Here’s how this has gone down for me:

What’s my takeaway?  In the end, it doesn’t matter what Cole Porter’s intensions were in writing the song, how many people have recorded it, or what their motivations were.  When deciding to use a reference, I need to understand how my use might affect others.  I’ve learned that when I get that little queasy feeling, I need to listen to it.

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today, Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today
She is sorry to be delayed
But last evening down in Lover’s Lane she strayed
Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

When she woke up and found, that her dream of love was gone
Madam
She ran to the man who had lead her so far astray
And from under a velvet gown
She drew a gun and shot her lover down
Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

When the mob came and got her and dragged her from the jail
Madam
They strung her from the old willow cross the way
And the moment before she died
She lifted up her lovely head and cried
Madam
Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

Miss Otis regrets… she’s unable to lunch today