Lately people around me have gotten into the habit of using outright racial comments or the more insidious veiled racial comments around me. What would make them think that I appreciate this crap.
This was in an email from a family member today: “Heck, it looks like WHITE PEOPLE live there.” I’ve also heard stories about the black salesperson, the mexican grocer, the jewish cop, the “auntie joe” real estate agent, etc… You drive to the Home Depot to pickup migrant workers or day laborers, not Mexicans. I don’t care what the person’s race, ethnicity, religion, etc. is. Leave that out of the conversation.
I had a professor at San Diego State University, Dr. Gay, that taught us to look at the subtle racializing of people. He made us aware of how we react to people subconsciously. He also challenged us to overcome these actions.
When you describe a person as being a mexican grocer, you are adding a charged layer of information. You are inviting the listener to add their own prejudices to the content. That is an intellectually feeble method of making a story or description interesting.
My brother David is married to a lovely woman of Mexican heritage. My sister Karen lives in the heart of North Carolina. When you say “I bought some apples from a Mexican grocer this weekend, they were rotten.” How do you think Karen and David are going to react? Equally?
What did the grocer’s nationality have to do with the story? If you went to the local supermarket, it has absolutely nothing to do with your experience. You are simply adding a racial level to make your story more poignant. If you had gone to a Mercado, the story might be better described as: “I went to a mercado this weekend, a latin grocery store, my apples were rotten.” Do you see the difference?
Dr. Gay challenged us to find other ways to describe people. It’s not easy; you actually have to think. Instead of saying: “Joe is the black guy in the corner,” I would say “Joe is the tall guy in the corner with the red shirt.” My that was challenging, it required three more words. Further, I’ve gone past the simple label.
I describe neighborhoods by their architecture, businesses, crime rates, cost of living, etc. I don’t say East Palo Alto is full of (fill in the blanks). I’d say East Palo Alto has a higher crime rate than other neighborhoods. It also has an Ikea and the best taco shop I’ve ever visited. However, I don’t like the drug dealers in the parking lot, it’s a bit sketchy.” Our house in San Diego is in the “hood”. I love it. I love the vibrancy of the people, the diversity, and the noise. It could be described as a gay ghetto, a latin ghetto, a black ghetto, and even a North African ghetto. All of these groups live in North Park. To describe the neighborhood with one ethnicity would remove the influences of the others and that’s not fair to your listener.
Enough of the diatribe. Those that I wish would take my heed will probably not read this nor think it applies to them. But for those who do read this, please take Dr. Gay’s advice. Try for at least one week to not mention race, ethnicity, religion, etc casually. It’s perfectly fine to say that you went to an Indian restaurant or to Chinatown. But don’t say that you went to your Jewish doctor to get your boil removed. You’ll be surprised how many times you’ll have to stop yourself mid-sentence.
This is also more than being “Politically Correct.” That argument is full of crap. It’s how the blatantly racist talk shows have been able to excuse their “edgy” conversations. Make an effort to go beyond the excuses you’ve been given. Try to grow a little. I took Dr. Gay’s challenge, how about you?