At The Good Men Project, we love nothing better than a good story. And we’re particularly thrilled when stories beget stories. Even when they are about racism. Scratch that. Especially when they’re about racism. These were excerpted from our comment section on Jackie Summer’s post: The Most Racist Thing That (N)ever Happened.
“They Called Me Egg”
I grew up in the Bay Area. My high school was probably about equal parts various kinds of white and various kinds of Asian. There was a sizable Hispanic minority as well, though almost no black students. To us, race was just a joke. It was a way for friends to poke fun at each other. They called me “egg” (white on the outside, yellow on the inside) for having Asian friends and studying Chinese; I told them not to eat my dog. Etc. I joined the military and for the first several years experienced more of the same (though it was odd being around so many white people, and I did have to learn that not all people grew up with the same give-and-take that I did and that, therefore, race could be a no-go issue even among friends talking trash).
I did a job switch within the service and began encountering far more people from regions of the country which would not surprise anyone when I tell you that they were shockingly racist. The assumption seemed to be that because I was white, I was in their stupid racist club, and so I was exposed to bitching about the “goddamn cotton pickers” liking rap (because singing about your F350 is better than singing about your Escalade, of course) or white girls who have sex with black guys or whatever. I’m sure the conversations still happen but not usually around me anymore. Because I have gotten pretty heated and confrontational and, interestingly, most people didn’t fight back when I called them “dumb fucking rednecks” or anything else….they just tried to defend themselves as “not racist,” and then eventually shut up when it became clear that I wasn’t about to be conciliatory about their bigotry. (Not that I’ve never remained silent when I should’ve spoken up…)
So I disagree that racism going behind closed doors is a bad thing. Brutally shaming anti-social behavior and beliefs (like racism or sexism or homophobia or whatever) might not change hearts in the current generation, but most people experience enough different races that the issue isn’t ignorance anyway. It’s simple, naked bigotry. And forcing people to hide that fact about themselves will hopefully make it harder to be passed on to the next generation. And maybe, if people have to “act as if” long enough, their behavior will change their hearts in spite of themselves. There are, of course, the occasional amiable dunces who just don’t realize their behavior is offensive or contrary to reason and human decency. They can be taught. But I think that defeating prejudice generally requires a very confrontational approach.
I also don’t believe systems themselves can be prejudiced about color. The people in them can be prejudiced and it’s important to confront those people and start shaming/ostracizing/belittling the racism right out of them. And it’s important for otherwise well-intentioned people to honestly examine their own motivations (good luck getting that to happen). But I think that making the “system” the enemy is counterproductive. The enemies are prejudice and the attitude that race should be anything more than an irrelevant difference.
And a second story.
“Alone, and Carrying a Big Heavy Bag Around”
Racism concerns everybody, even the most favored class, since it can become a big deal for everyone the least you expect it. Here are the words of Martin Niemöller when the Nazi party came in power:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I remember a trip to Austin, Houston, and Dallas, where I was going to visit some researchers, and a friend studying his PhD. I remember going at bus station in Austin, and carrying around a very heavy bag. I went to a hotel behind the bus station, and when entering the reception, the white woman told me there were no rooms. I don’t think the hotel was cheap, but it was a very tall one, and had a big parking with all the parking places empty. I just really didn’t believed her that there was not a single room available. I had to go back to the bus station and ask a friendly hispanic woman working there where could I get a hotel, and she told me that I had to cross a highway walking to get to a Quality Inn. That highway had traffic, and there was no other way rather than running across it. It was a frightening experience, but I did managed to run with my heavy bag and get to the Quality Inn. Fortunately, the girl on the front desk was Hispanic, and I had no issues to get a room. On Dallas, I remember going to a pizza buffet restaurant, and those who were attending were white kids. I paid for my buffet and also for my beverage. I paid what was required, they gave me my change, but they didn’t gave me a ticket nor a cup. After eating a couple of pizza slices, I got thirsty, but couldn’t find a cup for drinking form the soda fountain. I then I went with the kids, and asked them how could I get a cup for drinking soda, and the guy told me “DUH! Pay For it!”. At that moment, I felt really bad, and I had no way to prove them that I did paid for my beverages, so, I had to pay for my beverage, twice. I had more small experiences with discrimination on this trip, but I don’t want to extend more.
The only persons with which I was able to have a conversation, was a black woman working at a Subway [very friendly], a black woman working as a bus driver on Houston very kind as well, and Hispanic woman working at the bus station. I also had a conversation with a white gay man at the UTD, and a guy from Zimbawe.
I did had a good gesture from a white man. The day I arrived at Dallas, at 3 AM. I’m from Mexico, and it was my first time alone on a trip, I was outside the dorm of my PhD-studying friend, I was knocking at his door very hard, but my friend was still sleeping. I went through all the campus seeking for a telephone to call him, but I couldn’t find any. I asked guys that were awake at that moment, but no one knew where a public telephone was.
I was getting worried about my friend not being at home where I was going to stay. And then after walking around the campus, and not finding anything, I walked to a private building, where there was a guard, and I asked him where was a telephone, and he offered to lend me his cell phone, and I was very thankful with him, and explained him my story. I offered him money as a way for thanking him , but he refused totally. When I left, he even told me “Buenas Noches”. I found this a very kind gesture, and he really helped me fix my problem.
Nevertheless, I really don’t think I’m ever going to Texas again. It is not very tourist friendly, and not even Hispanic tourist friendly.
This was the first time in my life I experienced discrimination, on a small level compared to the rest of the guys on this article and comments. But, when you are all alone by yourself, carrying a big heavy bag around, and not knowing anyone, those small events can make a big difference.
And finally, an insight.
“Somehow, being called a racist has become worse than being a racist.”
The most racist thing to happen to me was assuming that I need or want “white” America to apologize. There have been a lot of great debates about race on this site and this hit home. i don’t need help, or special treatment, but somehow, being called a racist has become worse than being a racist.
photo: bokchoi-snowpea / Flickr