Sunday, August 07, 2011

Anatomy of a Racist Encounter

You attend a 3-day, 10th annual event because of your husband. You see people you only see once a year, and some people that you see throughout the year. You have nice conversations about a variety of things with a variety of people. You talk with a 78 year old man, CI, about many things, and a couple of times he makes slightly in-poor-taste remarks about people of different ethnicities. You scrunch up your face to show distaste, and he backtracks and conversation goes on. You think to yourself, well, he's of a "generation".

You are at a final-evening banquet sitting with 3 people you see once a year, one of whom you've had good conversations with for 2 days, let's call him DD. The conversation turns to politics - local Texas small town mostly. There are big drought issues and land issues and two of the locals don't agree with how the city has decided to deal with things, and they start in with, "once you become a politician, it seems you become an expert in everything you know nothing about."

Then the 3rd person, DD, interjects an awful racist remark, "oh, like that ____ ____ ____ ____ over in the White House." The other two don't allude to DD's statement and just keep talking. You're stunned into shocked silence and not quick on your feet and still processing the fact that this person has literally let his racism hang out in public airing just like that. The conversation has continued. You're still stunned and really uncomfortable and want to say something, but don't know how or what or with what tone. You're angry with him, and you're angry with yourself for staying quiet. Isn't that the same as pretending what he said was okay? Doesn't that give him another vote of confidence that other people think like he does? You excuse yourself and don't return to the table. The evening ends.

And here's the thing. Now you have one more chink in your armor of trusting that people that you meet and that seem nice really ARE nice. That most everyone you meet that SEEMS human judges others on their character first/mostly and not on their race/sexual orientation/wage-earning. And you wonder when it will come out when meeting new people or talking with people you've known for a while. And what about the other 2 people at the table? Did they think the same way as DD because they didn't say anything? Do I have to wonder about them? Or were they flabbergasted like I was and are wondering the same about me?

And mostly you're still upset with yourself for letting it slide at the time and not knowing the right thing to say and the right tone, so that the person knows that he's offensive, and it is not okay and beneath his humanity. You don't think you can change his views, but you think that you should speak up. You keep thinking about it. You hope you come up with a phrase or two that will be on the tip of your tongue next time. But hopefully there won't be a next time.


  1. "Whoa! I must be in the wrong room!"

    I'd want to say lots more, but perhaps it would be better to say that, scrunch your face, and leave?

  2. Yes, that's something of the tone I'm looking for. I guess, sadly, I have to get a boat-load of them stuck in my head to be ready to pull out at a moment's notice since I apparently can't think on the spot.

    Other possibilities???:
    * ooh, you're giving white people a bad name.
    * did you really just say that?
    * put your racism away.

    Must keep thinking, but thanks for the idea.