Critique and Illustration by: Chris Talbot-Heindl
Last night, my blood boiled, my heart rate increased, and I got exceedingly embarrassed for a woman in the process of being an accidental racist in my own living room.
[And people wonder why I’m such a shut-in.]
In this day and age, when everyone is told that we are past such things as racism, I think we’ve let our filter down, and the true accidental racists are shining bright as infected, swollen zits on the proverbial face of our lives.
My coworker Eric and I like to joke about accidental racists that we deal with on a daily basis. You know the kind. The ones who begin an unbelievably racist remark with, “I’m not racist, but…” [If you need to premise your statement with that kind of disclaimer, chances are, you are a racist.] Most of our conversations about them begin with, “You wouldn’t believe what this customer just said to me…” Because, to us, it is truly unbelievable and unconscionable that people could be that oblivious to their accidental, but quite blatant racist remarks.
At work, I’ve gotten a lot of, “Make sure it isn’t in a Mexican neighborhood, you know how Mexicans be…” “I’m not racist, but I can’t stay in a hotel in the black part of town…” all the way to, “I’m glad you’re not black, Asian, or Middle Eastern. No one can understand them…”
These statements, no matter how innocently meant, make my blood boil. I get upset because I know that this is the way that people feel. They have the anonymity of being on the phone and being a case number, and they feel the right to spout their racism freely. I am simultaneously angry that their paradigm exists, frustrated because I have to continue to serve them kindly despite their despicable behavior, and embarrassed for them. That’s the most frustrating part, is I get embarrassed for them!
The woman flapping her yap in my living room was your typical over-talking, look-at-me sycophant. Which means, if I wasn’t actively wearing my noise cancellation headphones with something blaring directly into my ears, I was going to hear every racist comment she made. And it just so happens that the group in which she was being accidentally racist against also happens to compose ¼ of my heritage.
She began, “Japanese people…”
When you begin your sentence with a group of individuals whose ancestry comes from the same area, the only way you can end that sentence without being a racist is “…have their lineage from Japan.”
But little missy finished, “…are all really weird,” “…have weird beliefs.”
I wanted to blurt out something akin to “what an incredibly ignorant and racist thing to say.” But instead, I looked toward my husband for strength and bit my lip, all the time making “what the fuck?” eyes his way. It was a teaching moment, but I knew the only thing that would dribble out of my mouth would be hostile and not at all teacher-like.
I missed the opportunity, so I thought I’d collect myself and write about it instead. Please, those of you reading, the next time you hear someone being an accidental racist or quite blatant, please for the love of all that is holy: tell them. Calmly. Not like I would have last night. Tell them and teach them.
Let’s stop sentences like “Japanese people are…” before they start.