So a friend I haven’t seen for a while came to visit me recently (part of the reason I didn’t have time to blog on Sunday…Sorry!) He wanted a quick meal before going to see Man of Steel, so we went to the local Chinese Buffet. Good food, nice staff, big comfy booths, and Chinese music played in the background. A pretty cool place, if cheap to eat at.
We selected our food and sat down, discussing what we expected to see in the movie. About 10min into our meal, a black lady from 2 booths down came and stood next to ours. My friend and I looked up and greeted her. Honestly, I thought that maybe she just needed to borrow our Soy Sauce…but no. This was the following conversation:
Her (looking at me): Do you know who I am?
Me (puzzled): I’m sorry, no I don’t.
Her: So you don’t remember me?
Me (even more puzzled): I’m really sorry, lady…but I don’t. Do you shop at my store or live in my neighborhood?
Her (angry): What? No! I would never live anywhere near your neighborhood. You used to work for me. Apparently getting paid by a black woman is still not enough to make whitey remember them…huh?!
With that, she slaps our table and goes back to eating with the other black lady in her booth, who has also turned around to glare at me. My friend asks me if maybe she was my manager when I worked at CVS, or when I volunteered at the Wildlife Rehab. But no, my manager was a large white lady, and the Wildlife Rehab never paid me. I truly had no idea who this woman was, or how I had “worked” for her. It was bizarre, and it didn’t help that she and her friend/relative kept looking around the edge of their booth to shoot me dirty looks.
They finish their meal, and both walk over to stand at our booth again. Her friend/relative is sneering at me, hands folded over her chest. My “accuser” stands with her hands on her hips, and speaks:
Her: You’ve got some nerve, sitting here still. If I’d been as rude as you, I’d have felt ashamed and left. You still have no clue who I am…do you?
Me: I’m honestly very sorry, but no. I don’t.
Her (slaps the table again): You were my kids’ babysitter for a year! I let you in my house, trusted you with my children, paid you well because I felt sorry for you livin’ in that trailer park! I even…
Me: Whoa, ma’am! I’m not sure who you think I am, but you’ve got the wrong white girl. I have never been to a trailer park, much less lived in one. I did babysit for a black lady I knew from work…but she looked nothing like you. Her name was Mylissa, her kids where Aaron and Destiny, and her husband was a white guy named John. And you are not her!
Her: …Your name isn’t Amy? You don’t live down on Clark Street at the old trailer park?
Me: No. Like I said, you have the wrong white woman.
Her (looks down nose): Oh. Well, you have the same body type as her, and you wear the same makeup.
Me: I’m not wearing any makeup. This is my bare skin, my lips and cheeks are normally blush colored.
Her: Oh. Well, you honkies all look the same, anyway. Not my fault for confusing you with another blonde one. Whatever.
She slapped our table again and walked away, she and her companion pointedly not looking at us. My friend watched them leave, mouth agape, while I just sat there. After a bit, we finished our food and went to the movie where we proceeded to share a grape slushy and a box of Milk Duds. I think he realized that I didn’t want to talk about this strange occurrence…but I wanted to post it here before the details blurred in my mind.
I’m really not sure what to think about it. I’ve been called racial slurs before, but never twice in one (literal) sitting. Not that “honky” or “whitey” has the same connotation as the “n word”, but it still is a slur, and I didn’t appreciate being referred to that way. At least I wasn’t called a racist this time.
Of course, according to my former African-American Studies professor, only Caucasians can actually be racist in the US. All other “races” can be prejudice, and sometimes overtly so, but as their bigotry is not institutionalized, they cannot accurately be called racists.
Dr. Beverly Tatum, author of Why are all the Black Kids sitting together in the Cafeteria? Writes; “In the context of the United States, this system clearly operates to the advantage of Whites and to the disadvantage of people of color…Racial prejudice when combined with social power – access to social, cultural, and economic resources and decision making – leads to the institutionalization of racist policies and practices.”
I’m torn about this type of thinking. While part of me does agree with the Racism = Prejudice + Power model, another part of me worries that this creates a barrier to honest discussion.
Take for example that my experience at the buffet last night was not at all racist, only prejudiced. That if we kept everything else the same but reversed the skin colors…now it is definitely racist, no question about it. But what if she was Asian, and I was still white? Or she remained black, but I was Native American? Can a minority be racist against another minority…or is this necessarily prejudice?
Is it possible to have a frank talk about racial tensions when whites are always racist and everyone else is simply prejudiced?
How are we to even want discussions when, as my African-American Studies professor said;
“White folk come into this world dripping with privilege. The guilt that some of you experience from this is natural, and must be embraced if you wish to see people of color as your equal”.
When someone benefits from a system they did not create, or even want any part of, are they necessarily bad? When someone experiences disadvantages due to that same system, are they automatically good? I don’t know, but that’s how it is portrayed at times.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Please, feel free to comment about what I’ve written or chime in with your own experiences. Just remember to keep it polite and non-abrasive. This is a very difficult topic, and I want people to be able to speak freely. I don’t want to have to delete comments just because of slurs or denials of racism existing.
We all know that racism exists. Let’s try to work through it.