Monday, October 05, 2015

How Do You Best Respond to Racists On Both Sides?

I never know what to say when folks act a fool about something as meaningless as race and skin color. One big positive I will say about my mother is that she never once denigrated people over their skin color when I was a kid. She some times says borderline racist statements now, but during my formative years she was largely silent on the issue. But I'm finding that silence is very unhelpful now.

Earlier today I was out and about at the laundry mat washing and drying my oversized comforter for my California King sized bed. It will not fit in either my washer or dryer so when I laundry it there is an obligatory visit to the same laundry mat I visit when the stupid expensive European dryer does it's every 18 month let's die.

While I was there I noticed a woman who had brought a pile of those Rubbermaid storage tubs with lids, the heavy duty ones in different colors. I sat watching her sort each person in the household's clothing, sheets and towels into their own labeled tub. I thought what a great idea that was, however on my way out of the laundry place I smiled and told her what a clever organizing idea that was and her response floored me. She told me not to patronize her just because I was white and she was black. I didn't know what to say because my saying something to her about her laundry skills had nothing to do with my looking down upon her or trying to somehow treat her differently than anyone else. I was just expressing admiration for a great organizing tip.

A few months ago I had a long internet conversation with a Louisiana lady I know, Heather, who has had internet bully troubles. We ended up talking about how daily kindness was about the only way to fight back and make a difference in this world.

My smiling remark to the lady in the laundry mat fell into the category, every day I try to speak kindly and encouragingly to a stranger, at least once a day, sometimes to everyone that crosses my path. Has nothing to do with race, class or anything else, just those folks that life throws in my path.

I hate that we've become so racially divided in this country that a simple remark meant kindly can be misconstrued as something else entirely. If you had asked me before the election of President Obama if racism was still alive and well I would have denied it. But as time as marched on I'm seeing so much more racist words and behavior. It's sickening.

During my trip down to Florida and back up I witnessed two very racist incidents that I'm ashamed to say I did not confront the offender. The first happened when Jim and I stopped for gas and lunch in South Carolina at one of the big truck stop gas stations on the interstate. As I stood in line to get a drink I overheard some big white rural-looking dude make a nasty remark about the black family checking out at the register, a mother, a father, a teenaged son and son of perhaps ten or so. When the man uttered the n-word and made his remark the entire line froze, you could have heard a pin drop. The rude man disappeared quickly, no one said anything to him. But when I got outside I saw that the nice looking black family was parked next to us and the momma was upset, wanting to go confront the man for saying something horrible in front of her kids like that. I wanted so badly to tell them how sorry I was by how they'd been treated, but I chickened out. I merely told them how cute their two dogs were, both dressed up in costumes and standing on the back seat, both sets of tails wagging.

On the way back to Virginia we stopped at a hotel in rural Georgia. I got on the elevator to trek out to the car to get my delicious chocolate coated coconut candy. Two young black ladies got on the elevator and were joking about chocolate and I joined in the chocolate conversation. We were all laughing. But when we got to the floor below the one we'd gotten on the doors opened and a family of four stood there. They were white. The woman said, "I'm not riding in no elevator with no n-word!" and stomped off with the young daughter towards the staircase. Again shocked silence, but the father and son got into the elevator and the father, who I admit I was judging silently due to his shaved head and copious tattoos. He apologized for his wife and told the two ladies not to pay any mind to his durn fool wife. It put a damper on my evening, leaving me yet again to wonder how and why people are still behaving this way, seeing first hand how hurtful it is to perfectly normal people just trying to live their lives.

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