Musings on racism

I originally posted this in my LJ, but I thought it might get a wider discussion here.

It’s never going to end, is it?
Last night I went out to the local bar for a beer or two. It’s a place I frequent to get some “me” time. I am not really into the bar scene, but I am something of a regular. I’m the weird guy who sits down the end of the bar and keeps to himself. I am likely to be quietly reading a book or watching the Os on TV, keeping to myself while drinking a Rolling Rock or two. I am certainly not anti-social, but when I go out it’s to unwind, to just relax and be myself, by myself. I have little interest in impressing people with how much I can drink or how boisterous or tough I am, as I said, it’s “me” time.

I was talking to another of the regulars; I’ll call him “Bill”, mainly because it’s his name. I’ve talked to Bill a bit before, and if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say he likes me. Certainly I have found him to be congenial before. He’s starting his own business, and I like to think I’ve given him a tip or two, because that’s what I do for work, I help small businesses.

Anyway, someone who was drunk loudly talked about “shooting poolies”, referring to pool, of course. It was picked up by the bar and bandied back and forth with amusement. I joked to the guy down the bar “I love Poolie season. Me and my buddies, we take a couple of coolers full of beer and some rifles and have a good time.” He responded “Yea, it’s like shooting niggers up against a wall. It doesn’t count if you hit them below the waist.”

I have no idea what he meant by that last part, but Bill bantered back with him. For me, it was like being doused with a bucket of cold water. I immediately withdrew from the conversation and picked up my book and started reading again. I noticed that Bill didn’t come out with anything like the other guy had said, but he conversed in general terms about hunting with the other guy. At one point he turned aside to me and said “Jesus, I’m talking about shooting niggers” to me under his breath. The impression I got was that he knew it was wrong, but had been sucked in by the conversation.

I am so sick of this shit. I realize that drinking in a Dundalk bar is not the place to find enlightened attitudes, but I am so sick of the fact that just because I am white, racist people assume that I will share their views. I am sick of the fact that racism, while still not a spot on what it was 30 or 40 years ago, has learned to go underground and only rears it’s ugly head in circumstances it thinks are “safe” (because we’re all white here, doncha know?)

Do I think it’s better than it was before? Yes, absolutely. My parents raised me to be color blind and I am teaching my son the same thing, and I’ll teach my unborn child that way as well. Those attitudes are growing, and will continue to grow with each generation. The next generation, and the next after that, and the one following, they will all find this kind of prejudice more and more foreign to their experiences. Good for them. I am disgusted because it’s not that way now. It’s like someone denying that gravity makes things fall. It’s stupid and it’s WRONG.

Actually, I don’t think we humans will ever escape it entirely. It is my fervent belief that one day, it will be confined to the types of people who today belong to the Flat Earth Society. You know, lunatics. Meanwhile, I will seethe and nash my teeth at the stupid, ignorant, IDIOTS with whom I have to share this Earth.

Coda:

What could I have done? Challenged him on it? I don’t think so, that would have only lead to a fight and wouldn’t have changed his mind a wit. It was a classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. I chose don’t, and have to deal with my bitterness and cowardice here on the SDMB. I honestly can’t think of a single thing I could have accomplished if I had been vocal to a drunk racist, and I am somehow ashamed of that fact. It gets even more ridiculous when you consider what happened at the end of the night. I was coming out of the bathroom, and Racist Asshole was going in. The song playing on the jukebox was “Sweet Home Alabama”. He was singing along with the song under his breath. As I passed him he happily sang “Does your conscience bother you?” The irony almost made me physically sick.

Life In These United States: 2004. We have along way to go, don’t we?

I can understand you letting it go. Racist dicks like that are probably never going to see reason, and might start getting nasty if pushed.

I have an otherwise perfectly nice neighbour who is quite xenophobic in her views of immigrants. I gently try to point out they are just normal people like us all, and perhaps she should be more tolerant considering her late (white) husband was an immigrant as well. That is an easy situation in which to disagree with somebodies views. By contrast, I was once in a situation somewhat similar to what you decribe, and said nothing. Afterwards I felt dreadful that I did not have the courage of my convictions to say something. I thought about it a lot afterwards and could almost justify my inaction, but in my heart I felt a coward.

Oh well, just my 2c.

They weren’t being racist, (“poolie” isn’t even a race!) they were just talking about killing people and mentioned the bullet recipient’s probable continent of origin, like literary genius Mark Twain!

(Hyperbolic parody.)

Probably best that you don’t. Ignorant people don’t want to talk about it because they flee from debate. For them, it’s best to be sneaky and say some cowardly and vile shit.

Not in that bar, and not in any one I’ve given patronage.

Shit, I remember this one time in Los Angeles. I was sitting at the bar of The Elephant Bar, bucking for a table for my wife and another couple. Friends of ours. I’d ordered a Bombay martini, up, with two olives. Oddly, that seemed a reasonable entrée for the fellow to my left.

He was a little drunk and a lot sad, but in a man’s man’s way. He was alone for the first time in twenty years. But he was remarkably well-traveled.

In the space of a single martini, this man had held forth with every Indian myth in the book, stretching as far south to Machu Picchu, to Cahokia and finally to the Land of the “Eskimo”. And I sat, humbly, listening to the Top Sergeant as he expressed his bemused curiosity, his outright awe for the backwardness of the Indian. I took copious notes.

Next time I won’t struggle with my argument. I’ll know exactly what to say to him, or anybody like him who tries to spread foolish lies.

I hope that guy Bill is open to discussion, too.

When you say “every Indian myth,” do you mean that in the “them Redskins is a buncha shiftless drunks” sense, or in the “When the Great Spirit first breathed life on this land…” sense?

I’m guessing the former, but the latter would be pretty cool.

I have to say something, but it’s easier for me to get away with it without starting a fight. Usually it’s just a weak, “Now, now…”

I share your frustration.

I have some advice, assuming that the racist is the non-violent type who doesn’t belong to some weird dress-up-like-ghosts fraternity.

My father is a light-skinned black guy. Back in the day he could pass as white easily, so he was often privy to racist jokes and conversations. Anyway, one day he was working in a coal mine or some other dimly-lit place. One of the new fellas he was working with started talking about them niggers. My father bit his tongue (which I know was hard because he has a temper) until it was time for lunch. They went aboveground where the lighting was better, but the racist guy still couldn’t tell who was in his company.

They started talking about families and stuff, and it was during this time that my father decided to pull out his wallet and pass around pictures of his family. His friends knew the deal, but the racist guy was visibly shocked. Of course, the “I didn’t knows” stuttered out. My dad didn’t say anything though. The embarrassment was punishment (and hopefully correction) enough.

Maybe you could carry around a picture of a black friend or relative (if you have these) and flash it casually when you want to embarrass someone who’s being racist and hateful. You could also cut a picture of Halle Berry out from a magazine and tell everyone she’s your wife. :smiley:

There are times when the best thing to do is, in fact, to say something.
And there are times when the best thing to do is to remember that time is against racist jerks. Remember that it’s only a generation since the 1950s civil rights movement, and it will take several generations before racism is wiped out. So, you continue to fight for making the future better for our children’s children’s children, when racism will be as dead as the Medes.

I’m not sure what you should have done. I’d have likely done just what you did and opt out of the conversation. It’s not an argument that allows itself to be won.

And, honestly, while I hope and pray and act to bring about a color blind society, it should be recognized that human nature being what it is, there will always be those who believe that people from different cultures (even as minor a difference as skin color here in the States*) are less than human or real because of that.

Frog, Fairy, Bitch, Dyke, Sand Nigger (a twofer! - insult two different groups for one term), Wop, Nip, Kike, Bohunk, Raghead, Sassanach, Kraut, Gaijin, Honkie, Mick, Wetback, I could go on.

Some of those terms have been perverted from their original racist tones, turned into jokes by embracing the term. In the most part, however, they’ve simply fallen out of use as new groups become the focus of attention. Heck, we’re growing ideological ephitets, now: Repugs, Demobrats. Removing the ‘personhood’ of someone or a group of someones you don’t like makes the group less of a threat - and that’s why you have to keep fighting against it. I’m not saying that you should give up, just recognize that this kind of behavior will be with humans forever.

*Compared to the differences between East and West, or other wildly divergent cultures, most Americans of whatever color have far more in common with each other than not.

Another Baltimore racism story:

Probably about 2 years ago, I was in a pawn shop in Hampden looking through the guy’s CDs (you can usually find something in all right shape for a couple bucks).

Anyway, the guy says, “I got more stuff behind the counter,” and I said, “you got any hip-hop back there?”

“What’s that?” he says.

“You know, like rap.”

He goes, “oh, you mean that nigger music.”

I said right to him, “I’m not buying anything from anyone who talks that kind of shit” and walked out of his store. Never been back in since.

Probably an easier situation than Weirddave was in.

Before I moved to Baltimore, I heard that there were somewhat recent (early 90s) KLAN marches in Hampden. No cite. Hampden’s traditionally been known to be pretty racist. That wouldn’t happen today.

At least, for one, even if the “disease” is still there, some of the symptoms are fading.

It will be interesting when a lot of the old folks start dying off. The younger generation in these racist neighborhoods are definitely into black culture, at least superficially. And some pal around with black kids, to an extent.

I’ve always thought shunning was the answer to this problem. Not hard-core Amish-style shunning, but just a gasp, and a complete disengaging from the interaction.

I don’t end up around loudmouthed racists very often, so I’ve never had a chance to employ the idea, but it seems to me that polite agreement confers the notion that what they’re saying is acceptable in society. And argument just gets their dander up and makes them argue, and they get a little rush from being persecuted by those nigger-lovers. So if instead you simply refuse to engage them, they get a clear signal that what they’re saying is unacceptable in civil society, without the opportunity to turn themselves into martyrs. People care a whole damn lot about what others think, and if these folks see that their views are not popular, they’ll probably slowly change a little. Or at least they’ll learn to shut the fuck up.

So I applaud your response; I think that’s exactly right-on-the-money.