At least once a week I hear about or I am exposed to a racist comment, and unfortunately it mostly comes from our White counterparts. Often it is masked in code where you only pick up on it after the fact, but many times it is openly hostile. White privilege is something taken for granted where blending in is normalcy, yet people of color experience prejudice behavior, stares, racist commentary, mockery, and other such inadequacies in an atmosphere of hostility, on top of everyday life. In a typical day we must all deal with problems related to work, marriage, children, money, bills, leisure, school, and other such factors. Now add the discomfort of not fitting in when you walk into a mostly-White grocery store, or having a drink at a bar where excessive stares can give you a sharp sense of anxiety, or simply dealing with someone in a work environment who has a substandard view on people of color. Many people will tell you that you are reading too much into it, but when you’ve had years of historical discrimination, it always causes a sting.
Here are a few examples from this past week. Yesterday I was working in the city of Hawthorne and was having a chat with an elderly man, a White, retired detective who lived alone in a six-unit complex, but refused to rent any of his units out because he didn’t like the people who wanted to rent. He kept telling me that the neighborhood had deteriorated and showed childish behavior by holding his nose, conveying that it stunk, and continuously giving the area a thumbs down. The most visible change in the area are visible minorities buying homes, mostly Latinos, and when I asked him about the change he simply laughed in an infant-like fervor. He had said enough and masked it in code, but nonetheless it was conveyed. Another example; my sister has been dating a White guy for the past ten years and recently she had dinner with his father and throughout the entire time he said things like, “Mexicans are just the help, they are lazy wetbacks, they can’t do anything progressive with their lives, they are only here to serve White people.” Openly hostile and confrontational, and my sister didn’t do anything about it. Another example; a friend’s child who was going to a school in Redondo Beach was bullied because kids made fun of his brown skin and because he was Mexican. The kid decided to get home-schooled instead. These are just a few examples from this past week, but the theme is constant.
The problem is that people think these are isolated cases, or that this type of thing doesn’t happen anymore. They talk about affirmative action and civil rights programs of the 60’s and 70’s, and how these programs should be eliminated or reversed because they’re historic and people are on the same playing field today, but that is false. Everyday racism is an oppressive energy that is psychologically damaging. There are many ways to deal with these situations ranging from: keeping quiet and not wasting energy on ignorant people, saying something nice instead to confuse the other person, confronting the person with aggressive behavior, but the best way is to confront with calm and educated posture. The first time I confronted a racist with this style was when I worked at the J. Paul Getty Museum and a woman denounced the Spanish language. I approached her calmly, educated her on her ignorance about language, exposed her lack of museum-etiquette and art awareness, and she walked away, completely embarrassed in a crimson tone, and her family apologized profusely. My co-workers, and the wealthy museum volunteers clapped in unison and hailed me a hero. It was one of the best feelings ever experienced.
So here are a few tips for dealing with everyday racism. If you have an ethnic background and can speak more than one language, teach it to your children or learn it yourself. Being bilingual or multilingual is a privilege not a handicap. Teach your kids or learn about the struggles of your people and the advances they’ve made. There are many heroes in the U.S. with backgrounds just like yours, you should be proud not embarrassed by them. Learn about the cuisine, history, culture, music, arts, and other such components of your ethnic roots. If you appreciate what your background is and its global contribution, you will feel better about yourself, your ancestors, and your people. If you’re embarrassed, then your children will be as well. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. There is nothing more threatening to a racist than an educated person. Don’t contribute to the dumbing down of society, and never try to retaliate with violence, it’s what they expect. And always…be proud of who you are and your people.