Interview with a racist

This post is not even peripherally related to BDSM, but if you have been following along or you know me at all you will see how it is something that I care about, so it kind of fits.  For those of you who were hoping for a juicy story about pain and suffering or another rant about feminism, or even an instructive piece about how shibari can be employed to give an under-the-clothes reminder that is even more intimate than a collar, you might be a little disappointed.  But if want to hear about my weird day today, follow along and be entertained and just a bit frightened.

So – I was in a car accident a few years back.  I’ve mostly healed, but I still have a hard time sitting for long periods of time.  This has led me to the habit of taking a walk in the afternoon every day when it’s not raining outside, and today it’s not raining.

There is a popular cafe downstairs in the building where I work.  It’s right next door to a very popular local and independent bookstore, and pretty close to the Stanford campus as well as lots of businesses, so it’s pretty busy pretty much all of the time.  My walk was well after the lunch rush, and the tables come out onto the common area in front of the building, so there is really no way I cannot walk through the cafe to get to the elevators to go up to my office.

Today as I was passing through, I saw two young men, probably college students, of indeterminate ethnicity take a seat at an empty table next to a table with an older Caucasian woman.  They were being slightly effeminate, and a little bit boisterous, but by no means over-the-top in their behavior.  They were not dressed in rainbow colors and they were not displaying any flags that I could see, but their presence was obviously quite disturbing to the woman at the table next to them.  She put a very intense look of disgust on her face, gathered up her things, and moved to a table three tables distant.

I saw this whole thing go down as I was merely walking through, and had no intent of doing anything in the cafe at all, but I got this mental worm embedded in my head and wondered to myself – is she upset because they’re loud, or is she reacting to their apparent sexuality, or is it their race that has her upset?

Ordinarily, I’d file it away as yet another case of Peninsula old-money conservatism and just keep on going, but for some reason today I decided that I wanted to know what was going on, so I went over to her table, took the seat across from her, and said, “Pardon me, ma’am, but I can’t help but notice that you seemed uncomfortable with those young men over there and felt the need to move away from them, do you mind if I ask why?”

She looked at me over the rim of her reading glasses in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen since my English teacher would do the same thing to me in high school when I was being a smartass.  But eventually she let out a long sigh and answered me.

I wish I had been recording what she said, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to start recording things on my phone, and I didn’t have anything on which to take notes, so I’m relating what she said as best I can, from memory.  I have a very good memory though…

“Well, see, here’s the thing.  The damned gay Mexicans are ruining this country.  Those two are just another part of the problem.  They should be deported back to wherever they came from and leave all of us good folks alone.  I can’t even enjoy my book here anymore without having to hear their squealing and watch them paw each other in public, it’s obscene!”

I should mention at this point that I do not believe that either of the young men in question are of Mexican descent.  I can’t be certain, but they looked more Fillipino to me, not that it matters in the least.  They were acting slightly effeminate and were definitely well dressed, but they could just as easily be metrosexual hipsters as homosexuals; I have no idea.  I was positioned to be able to see them while she spoke at me (as opposed to to me) and I never once saw them touch each other, let alone paw each other.  They were talking in a rather animated fashion, and I could not quite make out what they were saying, but it did not seem to me that they were squealing about cocksucking or anything so interesting – I think they might have been talking about baseball…

“I remember when this area was actually nice,” she continued.  This is Menlo Park, California we’re talking about here.. it’s one of the most affluent communities in the country, and therefore the world.  “People here used to be the right kind of people you know? Like you and me.”  The emphasis was hers.  I felt like I wanted to say something about being the “right kind of people” myself, but before I could get a word in, she was off on her tirade again.

“And I remember when the Mexicans knew their place too!  The only time you would see them is if they were mowing a lawn or going to church, and I bet those gays don’t even go to church, you know, because even the Catholics don’t like ‘em.  And now we even have them in my church! It’s so I don’t even want to go anymore.”

Again, I was about to say something, and she launches into it again.

“Well, except for Margie, who watches my grandkids and helps clean my daughter’s house, she’s good people, Christian, you know.  I’m sure that she wouldn’t let her son be gay.”

I think I was actually sitting there with my mouth open at this point.  This woman was a caricature of a person that I didn’t think existed anymore.  Perhaps I’m too sheltered in my little utopian bubble of acceptance and inclusion, but this woman had no trouble at all spewing vitriol at me, a complete stranger, just because we have the same skin tone.  I wasn’t really sure what to say at this point, and rather regretting sitting down to speak with her at all.

“And that’s not even the worst of it,” she continued.  “They live in all of those new apartments and they get special deals because they’re not white and all the young white kids like my daughter who live in the same complex have to pay three times as much just because she’s white.  It’s not fair!  It’s reverse discrimination is what it is.  Obama is ruining this country and I hope they shoot him before he gets voted out.”

I won’t even go into the factual inaccuracies of that statement, I was pretty well flabbergasted that I was hearing an apparently educated and generally affluent woman condone assassinating a sitting President.  There have been rumors floating about ‘the coming race war’ since the Civil War, but it’s things like this that make me wonder if it might not become reality, and that’s a scary thing.  Mind you, I have not said a word since asking her the initial question yet.

At this point, I was almost afraid to try to say anything, but I waited a few moments, and then when she didn’t launch into another rant, I broke my silence.

“How do you know that I’m not gay?” I asked.

She had the good sense to look at least a little bit embarrassed at this point, but she quickly turned it around and gave me a hard stare, “Well, at least you’re white, and I don’t believe you’re gay anyway, you don’t have the look.”

“I don’t have the look?”

“No, I can tell.”

“You can? Just like you can tell that those young men are Mexican?”

“Well, they might be a different kind of Mexican, maybe they’re from Venezuela, that would be even worse, they might be supporters of that guy, whatshisname..”

“Hugo Chavez,” I supplied.

“Yeah, him.  He’s a communist.”

“He’s dead.”

“Good. That’s a start.”

“Ma’am, I’m going to leave now.  Have a wonderful afternoon.”

“You’re not really gay are you?”

“As far as you are concerned, I am.” I said, though I felt a little bit guilty about the lie almost directly afterwards, but I wanted to shake her confidence in her world view.  It didn’t work.

“Traitor,” she said to my back as I walked to elevator and went back to work.

What a weird day…

It’s been several hours now since that event, and I wonder what I could have, or should have done differently.  I wonder if I should have tried to persuade her to be more tolerant, or if I should have attacked her right back, but I think that perhaps what I did was the best I could have.. I was polite, I let her speak, I didn’t interrupt, but I let her know that I disagreed.  At least, I meant to, but I’m not really sure that I did.

I was off balance the whole time.  These are things that I simply don’t deal with anymore since I’ve ostracized myself from my father and his side of the family.  I feel true compassion for all of the LGBT people in other, less accepting parts of this country and the world in general, who have to put up with this shit on a daily basis.

I’m not sure how to classify this entry, but I’m still Rant.

Rant off.

One thought on “Interview with a racist”

  1. I’m pretty sure you did the right thing. You could have tried to change her mind, but in my experience, trying to reason with people like her is a fool’s errand. They just dig their heels in deeper and shout their vitriol even louder. You provided her with evidence that a gay man could be polite, dignified, confident, and, well, white. Perhaps that example will create a bit of doubt, even if it’s tiny, that will make her question her beliefs. I had an experience a few years ago that brought me out of my own “acceptance bubble” and reminded me that racist, closed-minded people still exist, and I still remember how jarring the incident was for me. I think it’s great that you engaged her in conversation, and I think it’s great that you wrote about it. It helps to remind those of us who surround ourselves with like-minded people that we cannot become complacent. Ignorance is still out there, and still being used to oppress people, so those of us who fight for equality need to just keep on fighting.

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