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.