Monday, March 29, 2010

On Being [Called A Racist]

This blog was cautioned against being written/posted by my girlfriend, who it bears mentioning, is often right about many things. However, my own thoughts run ahead of themselves and bear repeating. Though born a Leo, my ascendant sign is Cancer, the crab; I simply can't let things go so easily.

Tonight I was talking with the aforementioned girlfriend about this (and that) as she prepared for bed. I was not at home, but at a Borders bookstore downtown, near Union Square, sitting on a cushy black chair at the top level. There were a few people nearby, but all more than ten feet away, at least.

During the course of our conversation I retold an anecdote that had occurred this morning. My (relatively) new housemate, SBD was imitating black women he knew growing up in a town somewhere out Midwest. My girlfriend lives near that town while she's attending college. My girlfriend is also black, and appreciates as much as I do validation of our own joking experiences.

It all started somehow with the drop of the word, "trifling". By then it was too late for turning back. SBD says, "No, no, no, girls in [blank] always say 'trifling black ashy bitches!'. We laughed, and my other housemate shook her head in faux-exasperation.

Upon relating this story to my girlfriend, she also laughed (having said as much or similar herself) but an older black man sitting around about that ten feet away did not. However, I hadn't noticed him yet.

As our conversation continued, I talked to my girlfriend about inter-racial dating, and her experiences with white men versus black men. This is pretty basic conversational fodder for us. Again, I don't think the older black man appreciated it.

He calls over to me. "Hey, big mouth, why don't you shut the fuck up?"

"Hold on baby," I say into the phone. "Excuse me, sir?"

"You heard me. I don't appreciate your racist comments."


"Y'know, you're talking real loud, and people here are trying to read, and you're disrespecting everybody with that bullshit you're saying." He stares at me real hard, leaning forward from his seat.

"I'm just talking to my--"

He starts yelling, "I don't care. You need to shut up. Those racist ass remarks are disrespectful and insulting to everyone here."

"Umm... I'm confused. If I'm being too loud I can move. Do you want me to move?"

Now he's getting up out of his chair. "No, I don't want you to move. I don't care what you do, just as long as you shut the fuck up."

It's at this point that I just drop it. My instincts are screaming that if I keep trying to explain myself, this guy will literally beat the ever-loving shit out of me. And being the all-or-nothing in a fight kinda guy that I am, we'd probably both get kicked-out of the bookstore with bloody, broken noses.

So I quickly put my (confused) girlfriend on hold, grab my shit and go.

As I reach the lower-levels, I tell her the happenstance. She -- being the dear sweet goddess that she is -- tries to placate me/calm me/figure out what happened/control the fallout. (She really is stronger than me in a pinch.) I, on the other hand (besides different fingers) was fucking fuming. How dare that motherfucker call me a racist! I started conjuring up all the standards of white affront to being so labeled.

"I wasn't saying anything racist. I was just telling a story I'd heard, not saying it myself."

"He was eavesdropping on my conversation! And then gets angry when he thinks I said something I didn't."

"For fuck's sake, my girlfriend's black!"

This went on and on, around and around my head while my poor girlfriend has to suffer my bruised ego and tormented conscience -- and right before she was about to go to sleep no less!

But back to the strange sense of injustice I was/am feeling... for being misunderstood like that, without even a chance to explain myself for fear of personal injury. Was the situation really deserving of such an intensely personal reaction? Was it the combination of resentment over being circumscribed and imminent violence that unleashed such a torrent of emotions in me?

I'm really not sure why I'm as messed-up about it as I am... but I am. I am really upset over this.

What do I care what some random stranger thinks? What do I have to feel ashamed about? It was a misunderstanding that simply didn't get a chance to be resolved. I wasn't a coward -- just smart to avoid a fight. He didn't know the background of the conversation. He only knew what he heard.

Yet, at the same time, now there's one more black man out in the world who has a negative impression of white people. Because of me.

Because of me, racism is still going to exist in America. Not alone, but I've officially added myself to being part of the problem -- not part of the solution. Because of me, blogs like SWPD, or Abagond, or Siditty will continue to exist to criticize white people for their inability to completely redress racial inequality. Because of me... I feel like the smallest person in a room full of giants.

Maybe this is just all too dramatic. Maybe I'm blowing it up out of proportion? Maybe I'm just exaggerating, and when I wake up tomorrow it'll all feel like nothing but another random day.

But where I come from, racism is not like saying, "fuck you!" Being called a racist is like being called a "kike". Worse, it hurts more because it means you're on the same level as the KKK and Nazis. It compares you to the dregs of humanity, the most angry, disgusting, evil people to ever walk the Earth. "Racist" is a slur all its own, because of what it means, because of what it makes you out to be.

Y'know, this stuff happens to me quite often -- misunderstandings, bad communication, confrontations, tense situations, etc. I am a magnet for the awkward, the random, the crazy, and the bad. Murphy's Law applied to Entropy. Means: things will always go wrong exponentially.

Nonetheless, the situation deeply affected me, and for whatever reason I can't just let it go without somehow reconciling -- in my mind and heart -- the reality of what happened.

I hate being intimidated because of some eavesdropping asshole who prefers to get angry rather than listen.

I refuse to back down when I've done nothing wrong.

What has this taught me about race-relations? Don't talk about them in public over the phone.

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