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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Zek Versus The Middle Schooler


A while back I was hanging out with my girlfriend at her job as an organizer for community programs at a San Francisco middle school. We were getting ready to go to a belated "holiday dinner" with her coworkers.

She was new on the job, and so I'd never visited before. We met up outside the school, and then she took me inside. Once got into her office-area I was instantly introduced to a bunch of random people/coworkers. Some of them were middle-school students.

Among them was this one girl who, upon realizing I was her boyfriend said, "Hey! He's White! That's messed up."

Now, in these kind of awkward situations, I'm typically the jokester, and my girlfriend is the one taking things seriously. But in this case, I honestly felt insulted -- while she laughed it off with her standard comment: "Wait, what!? He's White!?"

Thankfully, there was this small boy who managed to call the girl out, saying, "That's racist."

(He gets two thumbs-up in my book.)

Anyhoo, back to the topic at hand...


Would ya'll be feeling insulted like I did if a kid said something racist? Or is what the girl said even racist?

(For background information, the girl was White, possibly special-needs but I doubt it. The boy was Asian, likely Chinese.)

I know a part of me just wants to laugh it off and roll my eyes at "those crazy kids", but it just isn't that easy this time. Something about the way I was focused on, the way I was being called out for dating a Black woman as somehow "messed-up" really bothered me.

And what bothered me even more was the fact that nobody aside from a tweeny boy had anything to say -- not even a small comment!

Maybe I'm taking this too seriously? Maybe I'm making a mountain from a mole-hill? Maybe all of this is just over-sensitivity?

Except the problem is: if the girl were an adult, and I were anything other than White, those questions would sound like victim-blaming and other Classic White Denials of Racism.


So back to my partially-rhetorical question: should I feel insulted? Should I be upset or angry or at least annoyed? Is what this girl said racist? And if not, then at what age, or in what situation would such a statement BE racist?

Iunno, I feel very conflicted about the whole thing, and just thinking about it again makes me wish I could go back in time to that moment and say something. I wish I could have a mulligan, a do-over, an extra life to play that short interaction anew and make good on my honest-to-gawd feelings.

Y'know what I'd say? I'd ask the girl -- to her face -- why it's messed-up that I'm White. I'd ask her what she means by that. I'd ask her if she's never seen an interracial relationship before. I'd question the whole set of presumptions she indulged in to reach the stage where a comment like that even becomes a thought in her head!

But fuck it. I can't go back in time. There's no button I can push to redo. It's just what it is, and that's whatever, I guess.



Cheers

12 footnotes:

Jasmin said...

I forgot you said you were going to blog about this story! Now that I've heard it, I can add some details (for you and the readers):

1. I didn't hear/witness this--things were so busy in the office I'm not sure if anyone did.

2. I didn't know the girl was White until you wrote it here. Interesting--I could probably figure out who she is because you can (seemingly) count the number of White kids on one hand at my school.

3. Given that there are so few White kids, I wonder what her comment says about her feelings on being the minority at school?

Mira said...

I can't tell you how to feel, Zek, and I'm not sure I can tell you how I'd feel in this situation.

However, I know I feel a physical pain when somebody disapproves of interracial relationship. The combination in question (black woman/white man, etc) is irrelevant. And not just interracial relationship; hearing something like this about dating outside your group in general (based on ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc.) insults me. I am not sure why.

I guess it's because it goes against everything I am as a human being. I don't know. I am not saying people should date only outside the group, but I honestly don't see dating within the group as more "normal" or "natural".

In this particular case, however, I'd act as an adult (or at least I'd try). You can't see a tweeny girl as your opponent. I mean, there's a huge imbalance between you two (in terms of age and maturity, for start), so I don't think you should take that as an attack from a "real" attacker.

On the other hand, it's sad to hear kids her age (well, at least some kids) share her opinion, and even worse to know nobody else reacted. (If they did hear what she said).

I am not sure I understood this:

if the girl were an adult, and I were anything other than White, those questions would sound like victim-blaming and other Classic White Denials of Racism.

What difference does your race make?

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: iunno. i know some people heard because the other kid was talking to them about it.

but i do wonder what the girl's comments reveal about being a/the minority at school...

@mira: for me, i think my being of a different race makes me situation different in this case. i'm not regularly subjected to racism in america the same way most minorities are, and so when i talk about my experiences with it they'll always be isolated incidents, as opposed to part of a larger structural oppression.

at least, that's what my mind says, but my heart, of course, feels differently.

Natasha W said...

I don't think you should be bothered, at least not very much. There are a lot of people (i.e. full grown adults) who will think and say this about you two: this is only the beginning. At least this girl could possibly blame it on inexperience. If you take the time to be bothered by these people, you will spend a lot of time frustrated.

I would take it as a compliment that someone's so concerned with me. Yay, attention. :)

Zek J Evets said...

@natasha: this is true, and while normally it doesn't bother me. i guess what really made it feel more serious to me was that it felt like (to me) that the incident was either unnoticed, or glossed over.

however, despite my annoyance, i still laugh about it because it is kind of ridiculous.

Natasha W said...

Zek,

I think some people pay less attention to and/or see it is a less of a problem if the person being discriminated against in an interracial pairing is white. That isn't "right", but I understand where the mentality comes from.

I could see my SO getting offended by something like that, but only if the girl was black. He's sensitive to how black people perceive us, but not white people. He'd just make a sarcastic remark like "that's the reason everyone hates them" and laugh if off.

Hopefully Jasmin was there to reassure you. :)

Jasmin said...

Natasha,

LOL, I was there, but I completely missed it. And it's not like my office is that big. But this was literally my second day at this job, so I didn't know anyone well, and so I was very self-focused. Plus it was after school, so I wasn't expecting any kids to be around (they come in and out to sign out of the after school program, but that's it).

Babe,

Besides being an isolated incident, it also involved you + another White person. Stuff like that doesn't really bother me, but even if it did, I guess I'm too caught up in the fact that this was a White kid at a school that has very few White people. Why did her parents (if she got it from them) send her here? And is she just going to be dateless for the next 5-6 years?

Jasmin said...

I forgot to add, like Mira said, her being a child makes a difference (somewhat). She's not threatening or important (sorry), so even if people did hear, they may have just rolled their eyes and let it go. I don't think anyone noticed, though, to the point that you say. The room was bustling with activity and most of the people in there had something they were supposed to be working on, so it's not like she walked into a silent office and started yelling.

I'm sorry it bothers you so much, but I agree with Natasha: this is just the beginning.

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: wait, but shouldn't anything that involves me and bothers me concern you?

however, it is true that she's a white girl at a school with few white kids, and that does make her behavior seem strange, if not downright foolish! i imagine she'll be the wall-flower for a while yet =P

nonetheless, the way you describe other people being too busy, or just rolling their eyes if they did notice seems to me to be a case of ignoring, or letting it pass -- which is something you've talked to me about before. it doesn't matter that she's not threatening or important, because what she SAID still feels WRONG.

but i realize that it's only the beginning, and i'm comfortable with that. i just felt that it was something i needed to write about to properly deal with. for me.

Jasmin said...

Babe,

wait, but shouldn't anything that involves me and bothers me concern you?

It's not that it doesn't "concern" me, but this happened a month ago, and you haven't said anything about it since that day. So I read this as a retrospective on something that's no longer a pressing issue for you. If it was, I assume you would've said something, as you've done for the past year-plus.

You've characterized this as being "wrong", but you haven't talked much about how it made you feel. If it hurt your feelings, then that is a building point. But it being universally "wrong" is just your opinion, and since I disagree, there's not much for me to add.

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: it's pressing for me in that at the time i didn't really have the chance to react, or understand it properly. but looked at retrospectively, i feel bothered that i didn't/wasn't able to react in a way that would feel honest to me.

however, i agree i don't think it's universally wrong. i think it just rubbed me the wrong way, and maybe i'm being a little defensive about it...

Mira said...

Zek,

I understand you were hurt- and it's not like there was no reason for you to feel hurt. But a tweeny girl? You should be above that.

Now, about the fact you are white. I don't think whites don't have any right to complain when discriminated against based on race. But since the girl was white too, I don't know, I am not sure if I could see it as threatening to YOU. When a person is against people of their own race dating out, it's usually because they think there's something wrong with another race, not their own.

So in this case, this could actually be an "attack" to Jasmin, not you. At least that's what I would think. (Not that an "attack" made by a middle schooler is important).

If the girl was non-white then yes, one would think about the possible implications, and whether whites "have a right" to raise their voice against racial prejudice.