Saturday, March 27, 2010


I think I've mentioned before that I live in a fairly diverse area of Big City. There's a wide mix of socioeconomic and racial groups, and many of the families we encounter and hang out with are mixed-race, in every possible permutation. There are also lots of gay and lesbian parents, lots of families built through adoption--lots of different-looking families, in other words. Parents here tend to be of a progressive stripe--people who are really sincere about social justice, who try really hard to teach their kids about equality and getting along and all that jazz.

All of that to say that I don't encounter blatant racism all that often around here. Once some middle-school-age boys made ching-chong noises at me while I was walking down the street (and boy was I PISSED) but that's rare enough that it really sticks out in my memory. So my "responding to racism" muscles are weak, I guess.

Today we were at a birthday party for a little friend of Bat Girl's. It was a small gathering--I knew all the kids at least by sight from the playground, and most of the parents by name. I was the only non-white person there. It happens sometimes.

Someone had an older kid who had recently broken his foot, and we were talking about it, so the only parent there whom I did not know started talking about how he broke his foot once. He is a professional dancer, and he broke his foot while on tour in Seoul, South Korea. The doctors there wanted to put a pin in his foot, but he wanted to wait until he got back to Big City, so he endured an 18-hour trip home in total agony so that he could be seen and operated on by the orthopedic surgeon to the Big City Ballet.

Sounds reasonable, right? Except this is how he told the story: "So the doctors at the hospital in Seoul were like, [squints eyes and talks in singsongy ching-chong voice] 'We fix! We put pin in foot!' [normal voice] And I was like [speaks loudly and slowly in that "You don't speak English so you must be mentally challenged" voice] 'No way! I am going to the U-NI-TED STATES OF A-ME-RI-CA!'"

I was so stunned that I just kind of smiled and nodded. No one else reacted to it either, of course. And I didn't want to make waves at a social gathering. So I let it go by, even though I was seething inside.

And now I am furious with myself. I wish that I had said something. Ideally something that specifically called him out, like, "Dude, is the ching-chong voice really necessary?" But even something milder like, "Actually, the doctors in Seoul are quite excellent. My uncle is one of them." (Again, I think that it's perfectly reasonable for a professional dancer to want to have a foot injury treated by an American physician who specializes in treating dancer's injuries, instead of by doctors he doesn't know in another country. It's the WAY he told the story that was so offensive.)

If it were just me, I could forget about it. But Bat Girl was within earshot. Chances are, she didn't hear it and wasn't paying attention if she did. But it was an opportunity for me to model a response to racism for her, and to let her (and the other kids) know that that kind of behavior is unacceptable, right when she's at the age where she's absorbing everything I do. And I missed it. I don't want to bring it up now, because if she didn't hear or notice, I don't want to make a big deal about it. But I worry that she did hear and will take away the wrong lesson (that it's okay for someone to act like that, that it's okay not to say something).

On the other hand, maybe it was a good reminder that I've gotten too soft. I wasn't prepared for that moment because I've started assuming that something like that would never happen. But now I'll be prepared. And next time, I won't let it go by.

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Blogger K77 said...

Total asshat. I'm sorry you had to hear that, I hope BG is never subjected to such dickheadery.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about you!

That's a pretty surprising story. If you are friends with some of the other adults there, maybe ask them about it and see if they were weirded out, too, maybe make yourself feel better by being derisive about that guy.

The problem with being on the alert for that stuff is that you'll be stressed out waiting for it. But now you'll be primed if it comes up again.

8:32 AM  
Blogger JV said...

That's really crappy, what a jerk. I can understand your feelings all the way. I'm sorry it happened, and I know the feeling of wanting to kick myself for not being quick at modeling the right response...

9:44 AM  
Blogger caramama said...

Who acts that way? Who says things like that? I think your story says way more about him than you.

But I totally understand being stunned and not having a response. I've been in situations where I am stunned and don't know how to respond and miss my opportunity. I'm still wondering about one of them. I'm sure you'll come up with something now for cases like that.

1:58 PM  
Blogger MsPrufrock said...

Who and the what now? I am unfortunately witness to shocking racist behaviour quite regularly, but it never ceases to amaze me how amazingly ignorant some people are.

The Dude's side of the family are appalling racists and I kick myself each time I fail to say something. However, I have told The Dude that if anything is said in front of P, they will need to understand that we won't be visiting anymore until they change their ways. Obviously they'll always say inappropriate things, that's their gig - I just don't want them ever said in earshot of my kid.


8:51 AM  
Blogger Thalia said...

Bollocks. I'm sorry that happened and that the guy concerned was insensitive enough not to realise it was entirely inappopriate. Here's to you posting the story of what happens the next time you're in a similar position and you intervene...

2:48 PM  
Blogger OneTiredEma said...


Maybe 7 or 8 years ago I was at a social gathering and suddenly the conversation veered to a place where people (in their TWENTIES! who went to NYU!!!) were letting fly with just insane amounts of homophobic comments. I was so stunned I couldn't even come up with a proper response that didn't involve a lot of nasty gestures. Taxman saw that I was about to explode and guided the conversation elsewhere--I was upset that I didn't address it. In my own home I totally would have, but it's hard to set the rules when you're not on your own turf.

2:15 AM  

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